Fad or Fiction? The Hollywood set are certainly jumping on the Dried Food bandwagon. Whats it all about, is it worth investing in a Dehydrator? Modern life sees us working all week, so buying fresh food daily, which is obviously the best way to eat, is just too impractical. So we have to preserve food, by using tins or freezing it.
While Gwyneth Paltrow , Madonna and Demi Moore may advocate raw food diets, and many experts agree that it is good to include raw food, it has to be acknowledged that a balanced diet should include some cooked items, indeed prof Steve Jones ( genetisist ) has shown that the majority of the human race no longer possess the enzymes necessary to process nothing but raw food, so some cooking is essential if we are to eat properly.
Well, anyone with an interest in diets and nutrition will be trying to follow the advice – “eat real food , not factory processed food and most of the problems that cause obesity will just go away” and will be buying a food dehydrator, the evidence for it retaining the essential goodness in food, when preserving its shelf life, is overwhelming.
Unless you are fortunate to live in California or Italy, where you can reliably dry your fruit and veg outside in the sun, you’re going to need a bit of help. In more humid climes the drying out period will just be too long or impossible to achieve without a dehydrating machine of some sort. Today there are many professional and domestic models available and the running costs are really quite good when you compare the time it would otherwise take and the cost of buying commercially dried goods. However, if you’re looking to buy, make sure your choice has at least a 500watt heater / fan, or the drying time will be unacceptably long ( or may not be able to make those tasty chips )
Also for the “preppers” , you will be looking to stockpile things to keep going if disaster strikes, like water, fuel and food. So if say the electricity supply is no longer reliable, dried food would be ideal , they need no refrigerator, whereas frozen food will quickly spoil if it defrosts. By using your low power consuming dehydrator, when the power is available, you can quickly build up a stockpile of very tasty food, that will last indefinitely with no refrigeration.
There are many claims made for these machines, but what do they actually do? There are two main methods used to preserve food ( disregarding adding chemicals of course ) By dehydrating the food, rather than cooking it, you destroy far less of the nutrients:
- Dehydrating – typically only 5% of the nutrients will be destroyed
- Freezing – typically 50% will go!!
- Canning – typically 75% of the nutrients will be destroyed!!
In particular, vitamins A and C are preserved very well, also minerals like potassium and magnesium, when dehydrating.
What Can be Dried or Dehydrated?
Fruit, vegetables and meat. These are the things that you need to preserve. If you buy strawberries for instance and they aren’t eaten within a couple of days, the decay is obvious. Fish decays rapidly and will smell bad even next day sometimes. Sliced packets of sliced ham aren’t too bad, the ‘use by’ date is usually quite a few days but beware, many suppliers are still using nitrates to increase the shelf life, which has been shown to have side effects. If you see colors being refracted in the packet, it is possibly indicating added preservatives, so avoid it. If you buy freshly cut meat, you’ll never see these effects. It is basically the moisture content in any food which makes it go off quickly.
Why Not just use the Oven?
Its just a matter of practicality. You would run out of space quickly, you would be unable to adjust the temperature properly, it would be inefficient as the oven space is huge compared to the thinly cut food which you need when drying it, it is rare to find an oven which has a perfectly even temperature, they are nearly always hottest at the top, (indeed it is a feature which cooks use to good advantage), but no use to dehydrate anything.
How do you use a Dehydrator?
To prepare meat for the dehydrator, it should be cut thinly and layered around the machine, for fruit and vegetables it should be at a low temperature for a long time, for meat which has more health issues if not heated quickly, it should be started at a higher temperature, which may be lowered later. Most units have a timer, but its not essential. Drying out can take a long time, check out the instructions with each machine to get a rough guide and some of the more specialist books, which are available in the side bar, for more details in preparation and usage.
Most dryers have separate shelves for your food, you can separate meat from fruit and veg easily. Some machines have a number of layers or shelves and some are stacks, which you can add to if necessary. There is ventilation, to allow the evaporating moisture to escape and a fan, to keep the heat even over all the layers.
The heat setting is usually between 100 and 150 Fahr. or 38 and 68 Cent. Its not hot enough to cook the product , only dehydrate it slowly. Time to complete a drying may be between 5 to 15 hours, fortunately you won’t get any surprise big bills for electricity, they are remarkably cheap to run.
How do you know when dehydration is complete
To test, put a sample in a sealed jar, if it causes condensation, the process is incomplete. You’ll soon find the optimum time for your particular model and type of food, don’t worry too much about over doing it, almost all products, certainly fruits , make delicious ‘chips’ snacks , if you allow it to go crispy!
How does it taste?
It has to be said, having tried several recipes, it actually enhances some ingredients. I found it brings out the sweetness of some fruit like bananas. Thinking about it, raisins ( dried fruit ) are often used to sweeten dishes. Elle Macpherson , another advocate of dried food, says it can help with tiredness and bloat. It is true that more alkaline foods will aid digestion and raise the oxygen level in the blood, which when low will cause tiredness
Once Dry, How do I store my Dried Food?
You have to eliminate, light, heat, oxygen and contaminants for maximum storage time
If its packed correctly, certain foods will last indefinitely. If you are preparing tasty snacks then this is less important as it will probably be used quickly, but for long term use, take preparation and storage seriously. So choose a storage jar, box or pack which is big enough for your food. Pack it in ‘use in one go’ sizes, you want to be opening the pack and consuming the whole contents, without resealing for later. So choose the size of pack suitable for ‘meal size’. Store in a cool place. Beware meat and fish that has been stored a long time, best to boil the contents, on opening. Vacuum packing will eliminate most of the air from the pack and would be a good idea for fish and meat, but still be careful, reject anything that smells bad. At worst certain bacteria which can survive even airless conditions, can be fatal, at best give you a nasty case of indigestion. Ensure hygienic conditions when packing your food.
What models are available and What Price?
I’ve done some reviews of the most popular ‘domestic’ size dehydrating machines, which are all selling like hot-cakes , the comments from buyers are very interesting and I’ve tried to point out the features found in top, professional dehydrating machines. To check out the selection and my recommendations Click here
If you have a dog, or like us, several…. and you are aware of the price of doggy treats, get a dehydrator today, it will pay for itself in no time, our pooches, absolutely love the meaty snacks that it produces, the little ones ( poms ) are amused for hours with a big dried beef chip… RESULT !