Food has a substantial impact on our lives. Besides the fact that we cannot survive too much without it, we have transformed cooking into a hobby. Food is not only necessary but also enjoyable and very tasty. But have you ever thought about dehydrating it? That’s a great idea especially when you’re camping.
Dehydrating food is so simple and effective! It helps us preserve our food, which contributes to reducing waste. There are so many people starving out there, yet we still throw away enormous quantities of meals into the trash, being inconsiderate. Besides being emphatic towards the environment and the poor, food is also consuming our money significantly. Dehydrating is the best way to start respecting food and yourself.
- How Dehydrating Preserves Food
- Why you Should Dehydrate for Backpacking
- How to Pick the Best Dehydrator
- The Best Foods to Dehydrate
- How to Prepare Food for Dehydrating
- Dehydrating Certain Foods
- Meat and seafood
- Storing Dehydrated Food
How Dehydrating Preserves Food
Dehydrating has the role of restraining the growth of mould, bacteria and yeast. When we dehydrate food, we eliminate moisture by using low heat and constant airflow. It is a method used since ancient times when people had little to no equipment.
Therefore, it can be done by anybody, almost anywhere. However, modern technology comes in handy by making the process a lot faster and more effective. Nowadays, we even have a specialized device: a food dehydrator that we are going to discuss later in the article.
Why you Should Dehydrate for Backpacking
When we are going on a trip with only our backpacks, in a place that does not have shops, we must keep some food with us. Usually, backpacking food comes in cans, and there are just a few options available on the market. But they’re not all too tasty!
By dehydrating your food, you diversify your meal options when you are away, and you can eat just as healthy on a trip as you eat at home.
Other benefits of dehydrating for camping are:
- You have the chance to control your calories and nutritional intake. Each person has different needs when it comes to nutriments. Some people have allergies or intolerances. Others cannot stand a specific ingredient. While canned food cannot respect everyone’s needs and wishes, dehydrated food can. You can decide how much salt, gluten or pepper you add, and you can omit the foods you do not normally eat.
- It is cheaper. Buying food every time you decide to go on a trip can create a budget problem. Dehydrating your food allows you to reduce expenses in the long run.
- It is more time-efficient. Rehydrating works pretty fast, especially legumes, grains, and vegetables.
- You can bring food you thought was impossible to carry. Meat is great for keeping yourself full for a long time and offers you energy and strength to move forward with your adventure, but it is an absolute pain to take it on longer trips. Dehydrating seems to be the best solution to this problem.
- It saves space. Dehydrated food takes half of the space your regular food would take. Additionally, it reduces the weight of your backpack, allowing you to move easier or pack other things you have always wanted but never had space for them.
How to Pick the Best Dehydrator
Choosing your first dehydrator can be confusing. Each company presents its product as if it is the absolute best gadget around. However, there are some things you surely need to consider when deciding on such a tool:
- Storage: decide if you have enough space for a solid unit. If not, do not worry! There are plenty of models on the market that you can disassemble into small pieces.
- Timer: there are a few models that have a programmable timer. It will allow you to program the machine to shut itself down after a pre-set amount of time. However, this feature is not such a plus. Foods dehydrate differently and not at a specific time. You will soon find out that the food is dehydrated when you feel like it is, and it rarely takes the same amount of time.
- Temperature settings. Whatever other great features a dehydrator has, if it does not present with adjustable temperature, do not buy it. Certain kinds of food dehydrate at precise temperatures. It is not safe to dehydrate all foods at the same heat.
- This aspect also depends on your needs. If you plan on dehydrating for weekend trips, just once in a while and a small quantity of food, then a small unit should work. On the other hand, if you wish to dehydrate a lot of food in a short period, you should look for a high-capacity machine.
- Fan position. There are two big categories of dehydrators: dehydrator with horizontal flow and with vertical flow. The first ones tend to be more efficient, as they have their fan in the back of the machine and dehydrate more evenly. The second category, usually stackable dehydrators, have their fan on top or bottom of the device. This positioning can lead to uneven drying, but they are cheaper.
- Plastic vs metal dehydrators. The metallic models are more expensive but better for the environment and safe to put in the dishwasher. Some models have a glass door that allows you to watch the progress constantly without opening the unit.
Still not sure which dehydrator is best for you? No worries, we have three different options for each budget and preference.
This model has vertical flow, but it is an excellent choice for beginners that are not sure if this whole process works for them. It holds some of the best features for a dehydrator, including the variable temperature we insisted on earlier. It is also BPA free and can be disassembled. The cost should not be an issue as you can find it between $65 and $90, but at most providers, the price is under $70.
This model uses the horizontal flow and has a high capacity of 6.5sqft. You can safely put it in the dishwasher. Also, it is super quiet and not as expensive as you may think. For a model with a transparent door and timing features, the costs are relatively low (up to $200).
People consider this model to be the best dehydrator around, but not everyone can manage the price (it can go up to $350). These types of machines are worth the price, but only if you are seriously thinking of giving up commercial backpacking food.
The Best Foods to Dehydrate
There are very few types of food that do not dehydrate well. Some of these are fats, nut butter, avocado, eggs, dairy products, and olives. Besides these pretentious foods, the rest you can dry quickly at home.
You can also dehydrate ingredients or whole meals, depending on their components.
Some of the simplest meals to dehydrate are sauces (that not include the NO ingredients listed above), grains, rice, pasta, fruits, herbs, vegetables, meat and seafood (as long as they do not have too much fat) and legumes (beans, lentils).
How to Prepare Food for Dehydrating
First, we should learn about the heat. We have mentioned it before, so there must be something relevant about it. Dehydrating your food at the wrong level of heat can lead to improper drying. Low temperature leads to potential bacterial germination.
High temperatures lead to case hardening, which means that the exterior dries in a short period while the interior remains fresh, catching moisture inside. Moisture leads to bacteria and mould.
After you finish the process, you should check the food for any moisture. Cut it into pieces and gently squeeze it.
We decided to list the right temperature for some of the most often dehydrated foods:
- Grains: 145°F/aprox. 63°C
- Herbs: 95°F/aprox. 35°C
- Poultry: 165°F/aprox. 74°C
- Beans and Lentils: 125°F/aprox. 52°C
- Vegetables: 125°F/aprox. 52°C
- Meat and Seafood: 160°F/aprox. 72°C
- Pre-cooked meat: 145°F/aprox. 63°C
- Fruit: 135°F/aprox. 57°C
Now that you know the correct temperatures, you are ready to start the process.
- Make sure your desk is not a mess, and there are no wet surfaces or equipment. Also, dry your hands before touching the food. There is no need for gloves, but you must wash your hands as often as possible, before and after getting in contact with the food, dehydrated or not.
- Do not expect even drying if you cut your food in a thousand shapes and sizes. Cut it as uniformly as possible. For slicing, you can use a mandoline, but be careful and use safety gloves. An egg slicer will also work for smaller items.
- Pretreat your foods to maintain their colour, flavour and texture. Pretreating also shortens rehydration time and extends shelf life.
Some of the processes for pretreating fruits and vegetables are:
- Fruit juice soaking. Cut your fruit into slices and soak them for 3-5 minutes into the juice of a lemon, orange or lime. Be aware that this pretreatment will possibly alter the taste of your fruits.
- Sulfite Dip. For long-term storage, this method works wonders. However, experts do not recommend it for people with asthma or sulfite allergies or sensitivities.
- Ascorbic Acid. This pretreatment is efficient in stopping browning and does not alter the taste of fruit. Soak sliced fruit into a mixture of one teaspoon of powdered ascorbic acid and two cups of water. Keep inside for 3-5 minutes.
- Dipping your vegetables in boiling water then moving it fast to cold water can help maintain colour and taste.
Dehydrating Certain Foods
First, make sure the sauce you want to dry does not have big chunks of tomatoes or any other food in it. If it does, but you love that sauce, then blend it. Spread the composition on a nonstick sheet or parchment paper in a slim, smooth coat. Drying can take up to eight hours at 135°F.
If you want to speed up the process, at about five hours, flip the sauce. In the end, you should have a pliable coat of food that is not by any means gluey.
Grains, rice and pasta
Cook rice and grains as you would usually do. Dry them at 145°F for six to twelve hours. They should be super hard but breakable into pieces. Be careful with the temperature! While rice and grains might dry at lower heat levels (125°F) some bacterias survive this warmth (such as Bacillus cereus).
Cook the pasta ordinarily, drain it, then spread evenly on the dehydrator trays. It should be ready in about six to twelve hours, at a temperature of 135°F.
Dehydrated fruit can be an excellent, healthy snack, but you can also add them to your breakfast, mixing them with oatmeal. When drying fruit, you should know that different methods work for different types of fruit.
For examples, bananas, apples, and kiwi dehydrate better when sliced into thin pieces. Pineapple is tastier when cut into small pieces. Raspberries and blueberries dry as a whole, while you can blend fruit mixture to create fruit leathers.
Whatever fruit you have, dehydrate it in a single layer at 135°F. Timing depends on the type of fruit. Apple, for example, dries in six hours. However, dehydrating berries might not be the most exceptional idea, as it can take multiple days.
Test the fruit before storing it by cutting a few pieces in two and squeeze. There should not be any moisture or water coming out.
Vegetables, just like fruit, dry differently depending on their consistency, size, and way of eating. Fibrous vegetables or the ones you would cook before eating should be steamed or blanched before dehydrating. Some examples are corn, carrots, potatoes of any kind, asparagus, etc. Soft vegetables do not need this pretreatment (mushrooms, zucchini, spinach, etc.).
Slice your vegetables into tiny pieces or slices, except corn, peas, and spinach that do not need to be relocated. Using frozen veggies can save you a bunch of time, as they are already sliced and thawed.
The right temperature for vegetables is 125F, and they will take between four and twelve hours to dehydrate, depending on the vegetable and the machine you are using.
Meat and seafood
Using canned or pressure-cooked chicken is the best option for improved rehydration. Before drying, wash and dry the canned chicken.
If you decide to cook the meat yourself, do it at 165F, then tear it apart, rinse and dry it. Spread the chicken evenly and dry at 145F. It should be ready in 6-12 hours.
Ground beef works best with breadcrumbs and dried seasonings. Cook the mixture over medium-high heat, constantly breaking it apart. Once cooked, chop the composition into smaller pieces and sponge with a paper towel to absorb as much fat as possible. Spread the mixture evenly and dry at 145F, 6-12 hours. You can blot the meat again once in a while.
Cook medium-sized shrimps (or buy precooked, frozen ones, but thaw them before drying). Then slice them into small pieces. Spread evenly and dry for about six hours at 145°F.
Storing Dehydrated Food
Before storing the dried fruit, you should take the time and condition it. What does conditioning mean? It is simple, place the cold, dried fruit into an airtight non-plastic container. Let it sit for a week while constantly checking for condensation. If there is any moisture, place the fruit back into the dehydrator. Shake the container to keep the pieces from sticking together.
If there are any signs of mould, throw everything away. If there is no sign of moisture, condensation or mould after one week, you can go ahead and store the fruit.
The whole point of dehydration is to keep food away from moisture to make it last longer. Therefore, you should make sure that the food is completely cool, that the containers are dry and that your hands are clean.
For short-term storage, you can use a zipped bag and place it in the fridge. Before taking the food out of the bag, let it adapt to room temperature to avoid condensation. Do not use this method to store food for more than two weeks.
For a longer period, store your dried food in airtight containers (preferably glass), in a dark and dry place.
One of the best methods for long-term storage is vacuum sealing. Some bags and jars can go through this process. It removes all the oxygen from the container. This way, the food will last longer and will be safer to eat. Another option is using a Mylar Bag, which has an oxygen absorber.
Dehydrating may take some time, but the result is worth all the fuss. We are not only saving money, but we also contribute to saving the Planet. The process itself is simple, and if you thought about rehydrating your food, do not even worry! You only need water and a source of heat. The fastest way is to soak and simmer, but boiling in a bag works, too (mainly if you use Mylar bags to store the food).
Make sure you stay safe and dehydrate your food in proper conditions. If you do so, enjoy your trip with warm, tasty food!