DRYING FOODS CAN BE DONE WITH A DEHYDRATOR,SOLAR DRYER OR OVEN
Drying foods at home gives you the option of the best quality and varieties that are either purchased by you or come fresh from your garden. The other good advantage is that drying at home allows you have and enjoy those dried fruits and vegetables that may not be available at your local store.
There are many reasons for drying foods but in today's world it gives you the opportunity to store dried food that,because of national emergencies,could become scarce or even non-existent. It is also good if you are a backpacker and enjoy carrying some dryed foods along on the trip. This procedure,which ever method you use,will defintely increase the shelf light. We are going to explore here the different methods and advantages of each in drying foods.
It is a dissimlar operation than canning where it is extremely important that you follow the exact instructions for packaging and processing times to ensure that the food will be safe for consumption. All of the decisions about food size,food pretreatments,packaging and food mixtures are strictly up to you. Drying foods, in reference to length of time,is more a simple test performed by you.
Drying foods in a dehydrator is far superior to other methods at it results in the best quality dried foods. Although we are going to cover the other methods because it may not be convenient or economical for you to employ this method. One of the most important attributes of the dehydrator is its flexibility. It does not need sunny days for drying or monopolize your oven. There are many good electric ones on the market just make sure it has a thermostat and a decent method of air circulation and understandable instructions.
Here are some hints that may assist you in purchasing your dehydrator
- A thermostat should have a temperature with settings from 130 degrees to 150F
- Blower or fan for warm air circulation
- Stainless steel shelves or food-grade plastic but not galvanized screening
- Loading and unloading that is fairly easy
- The exterior of your dehydrator should be either hard plastic,steel or aluminum
- A good quality appliance usually has double-wall construction with insulation between the walls to reduce the heat loss while using your dehydrator.
- A heating element that is enclosed.
- Make sure your food dryer has a minimum of four trays up to ten trays
- Available replacement parts
Drying foods with the help of the sun is nothing new but using a solar box to collect the ray's of the sun makes the drying temperature much higher and the drying time is short. You can either buy or build a solar box but you can also use a kitchen window box if it faces south or southwest.
There is the possibility that you can construct a solar dryer. You will have to research on line the many ideas and blue print designs for a good solar food dehydrator. However I can highlight the qualities of a good solar dryer. The following is how it needs to perform:
- It dries food quickly and dries as well as a good electric food dryer
- A good venting system that allows easy regulation of drying temperatures and airflow.
- It is easy to load and unload and relatively easy to clean.
- No difficulty in setting it up and taking it down with little need for assembly
- It should be weather resistant and keeps the food dry during a rain
- A sturdy solar box for a long life of use in the outdoors.
- It must be pest safe by the utilization of screening on vent openings.
- The food trays must be of the same quality as its electric brothers being of food safe materials.
It is not that difficult to maintain the solar dehydrator for drying foods. The box should be placed in the sun facing south. Speed drying will proceed a lot faster if someone can be present to reposition the dryer as the sun moves across the sky. This is one of the disadvantages of the solar dryer. However the food will dry without this pampering but just somewhat slower.
Then you can use the oven for drying foods in small amounts. The advantage here is you have little or no investment in equipment and the weather will not be a factor. Oven drying does result in a safe and usually tasty food it will not be as high quality as the other methods.
Oven dried foods become more brittle,darker and has less flavor than food dried in a dehydrator. You should test the oven temperature with a thermometer prior to the drying foods for about one hour. The door should be in a propped open position as you would during drying. The temperature should be maintained at 130 to 150 degrees F. This temperature level will make it necessary for you to check your oven to see if it can achieve these low temperatures. It also may require you to place a fan next to the oven to increase the air flow.
Yes this is tricky. If the oven maintains a temperature too hot your drying foods will become cooking foods and now will be dinner instead of food storage. The opposite situation of a cool temperature will find your food not drying fast enough and may spoil.
DRYING FOODS SELECTION BOTH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES
It is best to begin with fruits that appeal to you the most. You should give some thought to the use of the drying foods and in this case dried fruits. Are they going to be used for lunch box snacks,berries in muffin or cake batters or stewed fruit? It is important to use top of the line fruits making sure that fruit is completely ripe,firm,and heavy for its size. Fruits should be dryed immediately because fruit is very fragile.
PREP FOR DRYING FOODS(FRUIT)
A gentle washing of the fruits in cold water before drying will remove insects,dirt and bacteria. Pay extra special attention to washing of fruits where the skins will not be removed such as cherries and prunes. It is not a good idea to soak the fruit because this could result in nutrient loss and may infuse too much water absorbed by the fruit. You should pit or core and cut the fruit into closely equal parts in either halves,quarters or slices.
A breaking down of your product during storage from working enzymes is less serious in fruit and vegetables. The reason for this is the higher level in acid and sugar which mitigates the action of enzymes. There are ways that you can treat fruit although I don't find it necessary. These include the following:
- ASCORBIC ACID/CITRIC ACID DIP
- A SALT SOLUTION DIP
- SYRUP BLANCHING
- HONEY DIP
- SULFITING PROCEDURE
NOTE: IF YOU USE PRETREATMENT REQUIRING YOU TO SOAK THESE DRYING FOODS IN A WATER MIXTURE,AN INCREASE IN DRYING TIME WILL RESULT BECAUSE OF THE ABSORPTION OF WATER. THIS SOAKING SHOULD NOT GO BEYOND ONE HOUR
I personally like the ascorbic acid approach since it does prevent fruits such as apricots,apples,peaches and pears from browning when cut. It also increases the vitamin C in the dried fruit. The ascorbic Acid solution is made by combining one-half teaspoon of absorbic acid crystals or three crushed 500 milligram tablets of vitamin C using one quart of water. Stir it thoroughly until dissolved and then add the fruit to the solution and stir until all the fruit is coated. The fruit should only be in the solution for five minutes. A quart of solution will take care of eight cups of fruit.
I would be cautious with two of these applications. If you are sensitive to salt intake then I would choose another method. There are many people who should not eat foods treated with sulfites or food soaked in sulfties. If you are going to use in drying foods,place label on it so stating.
Vegetables should be good ,fresh and tender. Try not to use vegetables where they appear not to be quite to full maturity. Vegetables that are less than mature will have a weak color and very poor flavor. Of course, the opposite can be said for over mature vegetables that have a tendency to be tough or fibrous.
What was true for fruits is true for vegetables wash in cold water before drying. If you notice any soil accumulated on the product,wash under clean and running water. You should never let vegetables soak in water.Vegetables should be treated to peeling and trimmed and then cut or shredded into equal pieces.
DRYING FOODS AND PRETREATING VEGETABLES
The pretreatment of vegetables involve blanching as in heating in boiling water or steam. Most vegetables need to be blanched prior to drying to aid in the destruction of enzymes that will invoke faster deterioration. Blanching accomplishes several important things. It stops vegetables from developing a bitterness,it precludes browning and aids in the elimination of an off flavor and cleans making vegetables softer and easier to rehydrate when you are ready to use.
In steam blanching you need to use either a steamer or make a steamer out of a kettle with a tight fitting lid. A wire basket,a sieve or colander should be placed inside the kettle. The drying foods need to be above the water level and add two inches of water and begin heating until boiling. Now place the container of your choice,mentioned above,with loosely packed vegetables into the steamer and cover the kettle tightly while continue to steam.
Water blanching is accomplished by filling a kettle with enough water to cover the food. The water should be brought up to the boiling point and then slowly stir in the vegetables and cover your kettle with a tight lid and boil.
Blanching times are tricky and are impacted by altitude as higher altitude requires longer blanching times. Blanching time is also impacted by the amount of vegetables,the thickness of your cut pieces and the texture or type of vegetable. Vegetables should feel and taste firm but still remain tender. DONOT FULLY COOK,but heat them completely through and test this fact by cutting a piece in half. Sufficiently blanched vegetables will appear cooked or translucent near the center.
AFTER BLANCHING THEN WHAT?
Using your colander or sieve,drain your vegetables and dump them on to your drying tray. Then spread your blanched product across each drying tray and place them in your preheated dehydrator so drying can commence while the vegetables are still warm. In spreading your product on to the trays, make sure you do so in a single layer. It is possible to dry different types of vegetables together but it is best to dry vegetables with a similar drying time. It is not wise to mix onions and peppers and other strong foods because they have tendency to transmit their flavor to other foods.
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