Dehydrated Food is Time-Tested and Healthy
Food drying, one of the oldest methods of preserving food for later use, can be an alternative to canning or freezing, or complement either method. Drying foods is simple, safe and easy to learn. Fruit leathers, banana chips and beef jerky can all be dried year-round at home with modern food dehydrators.
Drying removes the moisture from the food so that bacteria, yeast and mold cannot grow and spoil the food. Drying also slows down the action of enzymes (naturally occurring substances which cause foods to ripen), but does not deactivate them. And because drying removes moisture, the food becomes smaller and lighter in weight.
Foods can be dried in the sun, in an oven or in a food dehydrator using the right combination of warm temperatures, low humidity and air current. In drying, warm temperatures cause the moisture to evaporate, low humidity allows moisture to move quickly from the food to the air, and air current speeds up drying by moving the surrounding moist air away from the food.
Two advantages of drying to preserve food are that it is economical and tasty, but it does change the nutritional value. Although there is a loss of certain vitamins and minerals, the calorie content stays the same, but will be concentrated. The fiber content remains the same. One ounce (about 6 small) of grapes is about 20 calories, but one ounce of raisins is about 85 calories. It is a great way to eat fruits and vegetables, but because the dried food is lighter in weight, the sugar and nutrients are concentrated in the recommended serving size of one-quarter cup.
When considering food dehydration as a food preservation method, remember that there are different ways to dry food and using a variety of methods that vary by location, and what is being dried. After drying, store the food properly, check periodically for spoilage and use within the recommended amount of time for the best quality.
For more information and recipes, visit the National Center for Home Food Preservation at nchfp.uga.edu.
Katie M. Sotzing, MS, is a county extension agent with Texas Agrilife in Kaufman County.