Dehydrating food is cost-effective effective and rewarding. Using a dehydrator prepares foods for snacking or storage while taking minimal effort. Cooking, canning or freezing preserves food. But, the process often depletes vital nutrients. On the other hand, by dehydrating food sufficiently, the nutritional value remains. Dried fruits and vegetables provide an abundance of fiber along with vitamins A and C. Dehydrated produce is also a good source of a variety of vital minerals including magnesium, potassium and selenium.
Drying foods give meat, produce and herbs a longer shelf life. Keeping food refrigerated or at room temperature naturally encourages deterioration and molding over time. But, by greatly reducing the moisture content, packaging and storing the end product in a cool, dark place, the food lasts for up to 12 months.
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Many people enjoy eating jerky or dried fruits. Dried herbs are commonly used in meal preparation. The cost of the same items made in the home is a fraction of the sale price. Thus, dehydrating saves money in the long run. Garden vegetables that are not immediately consumed need not go to waste when the home has a dehydrator. Fresh fruits are easily made into leather or roll-ups, which are a healthy snack alternative. Fruits can also be sliced and used to make trail mix. Buying produce in bulk is also often cost-effective. By having a dehydrator, the purchase is sure to last long enough to be enjoyed.
Dehydrated foods are also easier to store, as they require less space. The preserved products are additionally portable. Take fruits, vegetables, meats and herbs along for meals at work, on camping trips, hikes or any other activity away from home. Using the foods in meal preparation merely entails rehydrating the foods as needed.
How Dehydrators Work
Food dehydrators available for home use are relatively small appliances that are FDA-approved for drying all types of foods. The devices have some type of mechanism that generates heat, which is circulated through the unit to extract the moisture from the food contents. Once the food is sufficiently dried, bacteria and mold cannot grow. Thus, the foods last longer lengths of time without spoiling. The dehydrated end product is then packaged and stored or consumed as desired.
Types of Food Dehydrators
There are a variety of food dehydrators available for home use. They differ in size and features. But, basically, the devices fall into one of two categories. Some dehydrators have the drying fan units integrated into the base or top of the appliance. Perforated trays are then stacked on top or below the mechanism. The other version entails a self-enclosed box-like compartment into which the perforated trays slide in and out. The heating unit and fan are typically located in the rear of the devices. There are additionally dehydrators that use convection to create heat and do not require a fan.
There are advantages to each category of dehydrators. Stacked tray versions circulate the warm air along the unit’s outer walls and through the central channel. The process continues until the food is dried. The devices also enable the user to adjust the number of trays needed to dry particular batches of food. Stacking appliances are also the least expensive. But, despite the ability to stack trays extremely high, the air may circulate unevenly. So, the food closest to the heating element dries faster, which necessitates rotating the trays.
In shelf dehydrators, the air flows horizontally from the back of the appliance to the front. The units are often preferred, as they dry foods more evenly. The lack of a central channel also enables users to place food slices on the entire tray. The trays do not need rotating. Having the ability to slide the trays makes it easier to check the dehydration process. But, the cabinets limit the number of trays that may be processed at one time.
Some units use convection to dry food. The heat is created by an internal element, which is typically integrated into the base of the device. Convection dehydration requires less electricity while enabling the appliance to function silently. However, convection heat takes approximately double the time to dry bulky or moisture-rich foods. Plus, the longer it takes to dry the food, the more the unit reduces the flavor of the end product. But, convection dehydrators are preferred by some for the fact that they do not have a fan that may draw airborne contaminants into the device. Ensuring the space in which any type of dehydrator is used remains clean eliminates the problem.
Home-use dehydrators come in a myriad of sizes. Some easily sit atop a counter and may be kept there when not in use. Other devices require more space due to their overall larger size. All are powered by simply plugging the unit into a common household outlet. The devices typically have controls that enable the user to set the device to the desired temperature. Certain models turn themselves off once the dehydrating process completes. Others must be manually turned off.
Features to Look for When Choosing a Food Dehydrator
- Even air flow – Quality dehydrators contain a heating element and a fan. The combination ensures that the air travels evenly across the entire surface of each tray. Dehydrators use 300 to 1,000 watts of power. They may have fans measuring four to seven inches in diameter. A few models have two fans. But, they make more noise during operation. Otherwise, expect the appliance to sound similar to a typical household cooling fan.
- Adjustable thermostats – An adjustable thermostat is a feature that the dehydrator should possess. The thermostats enable users to set the temperature between 95 and 155 degrees Fahrenheit. Different types of foods require specific temperatures to dry efficiently. Thus, a model that enables the adjustment makes the unit more versatile.
Food Dehydrator Usage
Regardless of what type of food dehydrator someone selects, there are a few things to consider to enhance user experience.
- Simple washing – Upon receiving the package. Unpack the device. Wash the trays in warm, soapy water. Wipe down the interior of the cabinet or the fan base with a soft, moist cloth. Insert the dried trays and run the dehydrator for up to 30 minutes while empty. Although the units and components are made with food-grade, BPA-free materials, they may initially emit an odor during the first operation. Operating the device empty reduces the problem in order to not affect foods.
- Clean the area – Before drying foods, make sure that the food prep area is clean and possibly disinfected to prevent contamination by surface or airborne organisms.
- Consider environmental humidity – Properly drying foods requires that they are processed to remove up to 95 percent of their moisture content to prevent bacterial or mold growth. The dehydrating process may take longer or become inefficient if operating the appliance in an area where air conditioning units are also working. Similarly, do not use the dehydrator in an area where an open vent or window is emitting a breeze.
- Be patient – It might be tempting to dehydrate foods at a higher temperature than recommended to shorten the processing time. However, a warmer setting processes the foods from the outside inward. Thus, the external surfaces may feel dry but moisture remains hidden inside, which promotes microbial growth and spoilage.
- Food preparation – Use a mandolin or a similar device to ensure that the food items are close to being equal in thickness. Otherwise thinner slices process more quickly, which leaves thicker items partially dried. Certain fruits and vegetables may require blanching or steaming for five to 10 minutes before processing. The action merely helps retain the color and flavor of the foods. Low-acid foods may require spritzing with lemon or lime juice before processing. However, make sure the surfaces are dry before dehydration by patting with a paper towel. Foods rich in fat do not dehydrate well. Dehydrating alters the flavor and commonly renders the items rancid.
- Boost dehydrator efficiency – Not unlike using an oven, consider warming up the dehydrator briefly before adding the food trays.
- Food storage – Properly processed foods may be stored in tightly closed canning jars or plastic freezer containers and kept in a cool, dark location or the freezer. But, using a vacuum sealing appliance greatly reduces the amount of air that comes in contact with processed foods, which lengthens shelf life.
The Best Food Dehydrator – Reviews
1. Excalibur 2900ECB
The Excalibur 2900 measures 19 inches x 17 inches x 12.5 inches and weighs 22 pounds. The cabinet is made from durable ABS plastic, which is free of toxins. The top of the device features the on/off switch and a thermostat knob that enables users to select a temperature ranging from 105 degrees to 165 degrees Fahrenheit. There is also a guide next to the thermostat with recommended temperature settings for specific foods. However, the device does not have a timer. But, the commercial-size dehydrator is designed to turn itself off automatically upon the completion of the dehydrating process.
The Excalibur uses 400 watts of electricity when plugged into a standard wall outlet. The sizable dehydrator contains a rear heating element and fan to emit warm air horizontally throughout the interior. Moist air escapes through the side vents. In this way, all of the trays receive even heating.
The unit comes with nine trays that measure 14 inches x 14 inches. Together, the trays provide up to 15 square feet of space on which to place food slices for drying. The trays are designed with a poly-screen material in a fine mesh that prevents leakage or spillage.
The versatile unit easily dehydrates meats, fruits, vegetables and herbs. Remove some of the trays and use the Excalibur for raising bread dough, making cheese or yogurt. The device is ideal for families or individuals who enjoy gardening, buy foods in bulk or who process game meats.
The door of the dehydrator easily removes in order to load or unload the trays. The Excalibur interior, trays and door are quickly cleaned with warm water and mild dish soap.
2. Magic Mill MFD-6060
The Magic Mill dehydrator measures 14 inches x 17 inches x 18 inches and weighs 23.9 pounds. The device easily sits atop most countertops. The cabinet is made from stainless steel and comes with six stainless steel trays, two fine mesh trays and two fruit leather trays. The trays measure 13 inches x 12 inches and are dishwasher safe when washed according to the instruction manual. The interior of the device enables users to process up to seven pounds of food. The appliance also comes with a set of oven tongs.
Simply plug the unit into a household outlet. The powerful Magic Mill uses 600 watts of electricity. The device comes equipped with a rear-mounted heating element and fan that circulates the air horizontally. The top front of the unit has push-button controls for on/off, + or – and temperature setting. The thermostat regulates the internal temperature from 95 degrees to 167 degrees Fahrenheit. The dehydrator is also equipped with an automatic shut-off should the device overheat.
The timer that programs the Magic Mill to function for 30 minutes to 24 hours. A digital display illustrates all of the settings and counts down the dehydration time. Once the timer runs down, the device automatically turns itself off. The front of the unit features a glass door that opens sideways for easy tray loading or unloading.
The dehydrator is ideal for preparing great quantities of all types of meats, fruits, vegetables, herbs, nuts and more.
3. Nesco FD-75A
The NESCO FD-75A is made in the U.S.A. and the ideal dehydrator as a starter unit. The FD-75A is the stacking tray version that stands 22.1 inches tall, has a diameter of 13.9 inches and weighs 7.75 pounds. The exterior surfaces are opaque to prevent light contamination during the dehydration process.
The unit comes with five 13.5-inch trays. However, the dehydrator functions with up to 12 trays if desired, which are sold separately. Along with the device and trays, the package includes two fruit roll sheets and two flexible screen trays, which are ideal for drying liquids or smaller items that may include herbs, spices or flowers. Accessories additionally include three jerky spice packets and a 52-recipe instruction book. The NESCO appliance is covered by a one-year warranty.
The FD-75A dries foods via NESCO’s patented Converge-a-Flow method, which forces warm air from the top of the unit to the sides of the trays. The air is then circulated across each tray and back up through a central core and out of the vent. The top of the device features a powerful warming fan that uses 600 watts of power. The top-mounted thermostat has seven temperature settings ranging from 95 degrees to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply turn the dial to the correct temperature and plug-in the unit to start the dehydration process. The lid also features a quick reference temperature guide for dehydrating various types of foods.
There is no power on/off switch or timer. So, users must monitor the time by using a basic separate timer or by watching the clock. At the end of the determined processing time, merely unplug the appliance. The base and trays may be washed in a dishwasher. However, they cannot go through the hot drying cycle. Or, simply wash the components by hand in warm, soapy water.
4. Gourmia GFD1680
The compact Gourmia GFD 1680 is the ideal dehydrator for people who do not require a commercial-size unit. The appliance measures 12.75 inches tall, 13.75 inches wide and 17.75 inches deep, which makes it the perfect size for counter or tabletop use. The unit weighs 17.25 pounds and is constructed of heavy-duty ABS plastic. The device comes with six plastic trays measuring 13 inches x 12 inches that are BPA-free. There is also a fruit leather sheet and a drip tray. The package also comes with an instruction manual. The Boston-based company covers the appliance with a one-year warranty.
The top front center of the unit bears the LED control panel. Three buttons on the left side of the read-out set the temperature, processing time and decrease the settings. Three buttons on the right side of the display start/stop the dehydrator and increase the setting increments. The temperature has eight different settings that range from 95 degrees to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The time is increased or decreased in 30-minute increments to program the dehydrator for up to 19 hours.
The front of the appliance features a transparent door that magnetically locks to seal the heat within the unit while enabling users to monitor the drying progress. A fan to the rear of the dehydrators emits the warm air that circulates across all of the trays. The moist air is then removed via the vent located on the top of the Gourmia. The dehydrator uses 480 watts of power.
Simply fill the trays. Insert them into the unit, plug in the Goourmia. Push the start button and set the time and temperature. The appliance does the rest. Clean the interior of the device using a soft cloth and warm, soapy water. The trays and drip tray are also easily hand washed in warm water and soap.
4. Elechomes 6 Trays Dehydrator
The portable Elechomes dehydrator is a compact unit measuring 11 inches in diameter and 10 inches in height. The device weighs a mere five pounds and stores easily on a countertop. But, despite the unit’s diminutive size, the appliance comes with a nice set of features.
Each dehydrator comes with six stackable trays that are 10.2 inches in diameter. The trays are designed in such a way that the stack may be adjusted for height to accommodate thicker foods. The BPA-free trays are also safe to wash in the dishwasher without going through the drying cycle. The base cleans quickly using a soft, damp cloth. The package additionally includes a mesh screen, a fruit roll sheet and an instruction/recipe booklet. The trays and top of the unit are transparent to watch the drying progress.
The base of the device features the heating fan element that circulates warm air up the sides of the trays, across the trays and up the core chamber. Moist heat escapes via the top vent space. The sturdy plastic/metal base has a digital display flanked by the power on/off button, the time/temperature button and the +/- buttons.
The thermostat maintains the internal heat from 95 degrees to 158 degrees Fahrenheit. The time enables the unit to run for anywhere from 30 minutes to 72 hours. The Elechomes plugs into a standard wall outlet and uses 400 watts of power.