Your oven can’t quite produce the same results.
I’ll be honest —I have a few gadgets in my kitchen that I have not touched in months. However, I am always interested in playing around with new tools and dehydrating foods is my newest obsession. It’s this recent obsession that has taught me that a dehydrator is one of those tools you don’t know you need until you’ve used one. But once you do, there’s no going back.
HOW DOES IT WORK?
Dehydrating is a method of preservation. The water content in your food is drawn out, and you are left with a dried version of the ingredient with a more concentrated flavor. A dehydrator works by evenly distributing heated air via a build-in fan around food placed on mesh trays. Most foods properly dehydrate between 95°F and 165°F; at these temperatures, it takes several hours for the moisture to fully evaporate. In other words, low and slow is key for dehydration.
Think of a dehydrator as you would a slow cooker—you set it and forget it. You can safely leave it running while you’re at work or running errands. Most dehydrators have an automatic shut off button to ensure it will turn off when finished.
WHAT CAN YOU DEHYDRATE?
The most popular foods to dehydrate are fruits, vegetables, and meats. Dehydrated foods keep their nutritional value intact because they are processed at such low temperatures. Meat leathers, such as beef and chicken jerky, can be made with customizable marinades in order to control the sodium and spices. You can also dehydrate potatoes, sweet potatoes, and taro roots to make a healthy alternative to fried chips. Practically any fruit is game to be dried: cherries, strawberries, blueberries, apples, bananas, and pineapple name a few. Peppers are also a great candidate for drying out, as you can make awesome custom blends for seasoning if you grind the dried pods. If you’re interested in making your own specialty food gifts, dehydrating a blend of herbs and citrus peels is an easy way to make a gourmet spice blend.
WHY WOULD I BUY ONE?
This gadget could be a smart investment for anyone looking to cut-down on overly processed, store-bought snacks—especially if you have kids at home who eat them on a daily basis. Dehydrating your own snacks saves you from having to read the fine print on labels (at least a few of them) and fret over added sugars/high sodium levels. Not to mention, dehydrating food also gives you a sustainable thumbprint because it helps to reduce food waste, as well as cutting down on plastic use from food packaging. The items you dehydrate can be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place for at least a year, and even longer with proper dehydrating and storing practices.
BUT I HAVE AN OVEN
Now if you are wondering if you can use your oven instead of a dehydrator, you can (well sort of). Most home ovens’ lowest temperature only reaches 200°F, and proper dehydration is accomplished at lower temperatures. There are a few hacks that recommend propping the oven door slightly open to achieve a lower temperature... but to me, this is less of a “hack” than it is a completely inefficient use of electricity. If want to save your electric bill from skyrocketing, stick with an actual dehydrator. Plus the texture of your final product from a dehydrator is roughly a million times better than that what you can achieve with the oven. No one likes crunchy beef jerky.
WHICH ONE SHOULD I BUY?
There are few models of dehydrator on the market that have stable tray or trays that pull out, but the most popular dehydrator on Amazon is currently the Nesco FD-75A Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator, which boasts over 3,000 reviews. Among the positive feedback, commenters have noted that the product is quiet when it’s on and has the ability to hold a good amount of food at one time. It also comes with a special tray to make fruit leathers.