Preparing food for survival
Food dehydration and storage - How to dry your own fruits, vegetables and other foods
Dehydration is an alternative to canning and freezing fruits and vegetables. If you have a surplus of fruits or vegetables from your garden, but lack the canning equipment or freezer space, drying may be an alternative process for you to consider.
Dehydrated foods have a number of advantages that include:
- A low-cost way to preserve food that is free from concerns about botulism
- Dried foods require less storage space than canned goods
Dehydrating your own produce does require time and some knowledge of food drying fundamentals:
- Select the best fruit and vegetables.
- Prepare foods to be dehydrated as you want them to be served.
- Keep pieces uniform in size and thickness for even drying.
- Foods should be washed before drying.
To prevent browning, steam or coat light-colored fruits and vegetable with lemon juice or ascorbic acid. Steaming or blanching also is recommended for vegetables to inactivate enzymes that cause vegetables to mature, or toughen during drying.
Select the drying method and equipment that you find easy to use. Foods can be dried in a conventional oven, a commercial dehydrator, or in the sun. Drying times vary with the method and foods chosen. The Excalibur 3900 Food Dehydrator is another great choice as well.
Maintain 130F to 140F with circulating air. Remove enough moisture as quickly as possible to prevent spoilage.
If the initial temperature is lower, or air circulation is insufficient, foods may undergo undesirable microbiological changes before drying adequately.
Nutrients can be lost if the temperature is too high or humidity too low. Moisture may be removed too quickly from the product's outer surface. This causes the outer surface to harden and prevents moisture in the inner tissues from escaping. When testing for sufficient dryness, cool foods before testing.
Know when your food is dry: Some foods are more flexible when cool than warm. Foods should be pliable and leathery, or hard and brittle when sufficiently dried. Because vegetable are so dry, they do not need conditioning like fruits do.
After Drying (for fruit only)
Allow dried FRUIT (not vegetables) time to condition. When dry, allow fruit to set for four to 10 days before packaging for storage. The moisture content of home dried fruit should be about 20 percent. When the fruit is taken from the dehydrator, the remaining moisture may not be distributed equally among the pieces because of their size or their location in the dehydrator. Conditioning is the process used to equalize the moisture and reduces the risk of mold growth.
- To condition the fruit take the dried fruit that has cooled and pack it loosely in plastic or glass jars.
- Seal the containers and let them stand for 7 to 10 days.
- Shake the jars daily to separate the pieces and check the moisture condensation.
- After conditioning, package and store the fruit.
Seal the dried food: Dried foods are can be subject to insect contamination and absorption of moisture if they are not properly packaged and stored immediately. Allow foods to cool completely because warm food causes sweating which could provide enough moisture for mold growth. Package dehydrated foods in tightly sealed containers.
Choose the right containers: Glass jars, metal cans or boxes with tight fitted lids or moisture-vapor resistant freezer cartons make good containers for storing dried foods. Heavy-duty plastic bags are acceptable, but keep in mind that they are not insect and rodent proof.
- Fruit that has been sulfured should not touch metal. Place the fruit in a plastic bag before storing it in a metal can.
- Pack food tightly.
- Pack food in amounts that will be used in a recipe.
It is important to store food in a cool, dark and dry place. Food quality is affected by heat and the storage temperature helps determine the length of time that food can be stored. The higher the temperature, the shorter the storage time the food will stay viable to consume. Most dried fruits can be stored for 1 year at 60ºF, 6 months at 80ºF. Vegetables have about half the shelf-life of fruits.
Use foods within six to 12 months in order to enjoy their best attributes.
Check dried foods frequently during storage to see if they are still dry. Glass containers are excellent for storage because any moisture that collects on the inside can be seen easily. Foods affected by moisture, but not spoiled, should be used immediately or dried again and repackaged. Throw out any food that is moldy.