For the HOME dehydrator, there are many
options available in foods you can dehydrate.
Although you can dehydrate just about anything, shelf stability and SAFETY are key to deciding what I will put my work and time into. After much research and experimenting, I have found that I am most successful with items that do not have a high oil/fat content which can turn rancid, drastically shortening the shelf life of your food. Most of these items fall under the heading of “animal products”, but there are a few exceptions from the plant world as well.
Fruits and Vegetables
Vegetables. Most vegetables can be dehydrated.
Vegetables dehydrate well, but because they contain less acid than fruits, vegetables typically need to be dried until they are brittle to insure safety. Vegetables are usually pretreated by blanching. I steam most of my root vegetables that are low acid for safety.
Cooking before dehydration give you almost instant meal prep. If you are using them for MREs or “instant” meals, it is best to steam them until just tender.
Fruits. Most all fruits can be dehydrated.
- Fruit leather is the homemade version of a fruit roll-up and is usually made from pureed fruits.
- Fruit can be treated to keep its color by acidification (lemon juice for instance).
- Cutting them thinly is important to full drying. Fruits should be conditioned before long-term storage.
- Some fruits (such as berries, grapes and cherries) dry well when left whole, though they will take longer to dry. However, the skin of berry fruits must be pierced or popped before dehydrating.
The key is to know when the item is dry. Most fruits should contain 20 percent moisture or less when dry. To test for a fruit’s dryness, cut several cooled pieces in half. The fruit should be pliable but not sticky, and there should not be any visible moisture, nor should you be able to squeeze out any moisture. If sliced thin enough, fruits will dry to a crispy state when left in the dehydrator. Berries should be dried until hard.
Exceptions:There are a few exceptions, like avocados or olives which have high oil content that do not dehydrate well. While water does evaporate in the dehydration process, oils and fats do not, leaving a layer on the food that does not allow for full dehydration of the water inside.
To learn what produce can benefit by these techniques, check out our downloadable Dehydrator InfoGraphic Charts.
Meat & Poultry
As long as meats are low in fat content, you can dehydrate meat and poultry. Turkey, chicken and low fat-content ground meats are good choices.
- For jerky prepared from ground beef, use meat that is at least 93% lean.
- For whole muscle beef jerky, trim meat of excess fat and slice no thicker than 1/4”.
- Partially freeze meat to make it easier to slice.
- Slice the meat with the grain if you wish to prepare chewy jerky.
- Pork products are marbled with fat, therefore hard to trim, so they are not considered safe for home dehydration. Please note: Fats will not break down to dehydrate and will cause rancidity.
- If wild game is used to make jerky, the meat should be treated to kill the trichinella parasite (which causes the disease trichinosis) before it is sliced and marinated. To treat the meat, freeze a part that is 6 inches or less thick at 0ºF or below for at least 30 days. Freezing will not eliminate bacteria from the meat, only the parasite.
- Chicken and other poultry must be cooked fully before it is dehydrated. It can then be shredded and dehydrated at a temperature of 160°F/70°C. until fully dried.
Be sure that you understand the correct procedures for dehydrating meats before you begin. Meat and poultry need higher temperatures and special handling for safety. Raw meats can be contaminated with microorganisms that cause disease. These harmful bacteria can easily multiply on moist, high protein foods like meat and poultry and can cause illness if the products are not handled correctly.
Within a dehydrator or low-temperature oven, evaporating moisture absorbs most of the heat. Thus, the meat itself does not begin to rise in temperature until most of the moisture has evaporated. Therefore, when the dried meat temperature finally begins to rise, the bacteria have become more heat resistant and are more likely to survive. If these surviving bacteria are pathogenic, they can cause foodborne illness to those consuming the jerky. Remember, dehydrators do not “cook” the meat.
More on Dehydrating Meat & Poultry safely can be found here.
Here is an article for Dehydrating Ground Meat.
Dairy Products and Poultry Eggs
Dairy and eggs are not safe to home dehydrate, so I purchase the powders for these commercially. Cheese, milk, sour cream, etc. contain fats and live bacteria that are not safe to home dehydrate.
Eggs, because of the risk of salmonella and other bacteria, are best bought commercially as well.
Herbs, Flowers, and Spices
Most herbs and spices do very well in the dehydrator. You can keep herbs on their stems so that you do not have little bits of leaves blowing around when dehydrating. It is best to use the lowest temperature you can (95-100°F) so as not to burn off the essential oils contained within these little powerhouses of flavor. I shred roots to help with a faster drying time.
Once you taste your own ginger, garlic, and turmeric powders, as well as the many herb blends and seasoning mixes you can prepare yourself, you will never go back to store-bought bottles again! Drying Methods for Herbs & Spices can be found here.
Sauces, Broths, and Syrups
Some liquid ingredients may be dehydrated as well. I usually dehydrate, grind, and use these products as powders, adding them to my cooking. Be aware that these items can take days to dry.
To successfully dehydrate, these products NO fats/oils can be included in their ingredients. Broths need to be carefully skimmed of fat. It is best to cook these down to a thick, “spreadable” consistency when dehydrating; otherwise your time is greatly increased.
Syrups fare better in the dehydration process if combined with unsweetened applesauce first to thin the sugar status at a ratio of 2 parts applesauce to 1 part syrup (or jelly/jam/preserves). Otherwise, you may just end up with a sticky mess that never dries.
Nuts, Legumes, Grains, and Seeds
Soaking makes seeds, nuts and legumes easier to digest and the nutrients more easily absorbed. Sprouting, then dehydrating seeds is another option.
Toasting (which neutralizes some of the enzyme inhibitors) is another step I recommend for flavor/texture purposes, or if the ingredients do not need to be soaked due to lack of, or very minimal, enzyme inhibitors. Again, these are not always good candidates for long-term storage, because of the oils in them, but will store for 6 months to a year if dehydrated and properly sealed.
Uncooked items like white rice, quinoa, and pearled barley (because the oily hulls have been removed) can store for 5 years or longer. Anytime you dehydrate cooked grains, to have a safe product you need to dehydrate these at a temperature of at least 145°F/63°C.
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