Food dehydrators are household appliances that remove all water from fruits or vegetables, to obtain only dried food.
Dehydrators are often victims of negative prejudices: indeed, it is mistakenly thought that they are only too expensive appliances that take up far too much space in the kitchen, that they are used only 1 or 2 times a year, and that they are only used to dry apple slices.
In reality, dehydrators are much more than that: they can be used to dry all kinds of vegetables and fruits, such as mushrooms or bananas for example, to dry herbs or to make dried meat, although it must be recognized that in general, their price is high and they do not go unnoticed on the worktop.
Food dehydrators help preserve the nutritional benefits of fruits and vegetables while creating healthy snacks for any craving of the day.
A brief history of the food dehydrator
Food drying is not new, quite the contrary. Before the appearance of electrical appliances, fruits or vegetables were dried by placing them in the sun.
Modernity has brought devices containing trays but above all offering intelligent openings that protect food during the dehydration process. The heat source is more constant and homogeneous, which is not always the case with the sun.
How does a food dehydrator work?
A food dehydrator works electrically. Fruits and vegetables are dried on different trays thanks to the hot air that circulates between the holes in the trays. The water evaporates equally and simultaneously on each slice, washer, or piece of food.
Depending on the type of food and the model of the dehydrator, the drying time, as well as the temperature, vary greatly, from a few hours to a few days.
To dry vegetables or fruits, the first step is to cut them into thin slices or slices, or pieces equally, so that all the slices or pieces dry at the same speed. Dehydration is over when food seems dry everywhere and there is no sweaty part at all.
For some fruits that oxidize, such as apples, for example, it is better to dip the slices/slices beforehand in a vinegar or lemon solution, although this is purely an aesthetic reason.
The results of dried foods may seem surprising: indeed, slices or slices can change color, weight, and shape if we compare their initial condition with their final condition. For example, apple slices, with drying, will brown slightly, will be lighter, and will have a little perimeter.
Some foods will be crispy at the end of the drying process, perfect to bring a crunchy texture to your breakfast for example.
The benefits of food dehydrators
Since food is not cooked beforehand, and there is no addition of chemical agents or preservatives, all nutrients and flavors are preserved. Moreover, it sometimes happens that the flavors stand out even more after the drying process.
Drying food extends its shelf life since dried fruits or vegetables can easily be stored for several months. In addition, this drying method reduces the growth of bacteria and significantly minimizes the decomposition of food, 2 phenomena that take place by leaving food for several days at room temperature or in the refrigerator.
Another advantage of the food dehydrator is the saving of money that is made as it is used because buying dried fruit can quickly become very expensive. Similarly, if you have a garden that produces fruits and vegetables in large quantities, it is not always easy to be able to consume all the products before losing them. Being able to dry them thus avoids the waste that can occur during harvests.
Finally, thanks to the food dehydrator, you can eat dried fruits and vegetables at any time of the year, even if it is not the season. Indeed, as it is possible to keep dried food for many months, you can eat food that is only found in summer in the middle of winter! Not to mention the fact that dried foods make up delicious snacks, much healthier than sweets, chips, and other very sweet and caloric snacks.
What foods can be dried?
Some foods are very frequently dried and appreciated for this reason. Dried fruits can be added to the morning cereal bowl or protein cereal bars. The following dried fruits are often found: apples, mangoes, apricots, prunes, pineapples, bananas, or grapes.
As for dried vegetables, they can be incorporated into soups or snacks, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, or herbs.
Some recipe ideas with dried food
Dried fruits or vegetables are an ideal snack and easy to transport wherever you want, but these ingredients can also be prepared in several other ways.
Consuming dried fruits and vegetables is simply another way to consume them while preserving all their nutritional qualities, which is not always the case when cooked.
Dried foods can be incorporated into dishes to bring another texture, such as placing slices of dried apples on an apple pie. You can also dry vegetables and use them as chips, which is an ideal and very original aperitif.
The different types of food dehydrators
Food dehydrators are of two different types: they circulate air vertically or horizontally.
While the orientation of the food, which is itself vertical or horizontal, is a difference between the two types of dehydrators, they work completely differently and each has quite distinct advantages and disadvantages.
Regarding vertical dehydrators, they have a fan located either at the base of the device or at the top, and sometimes even both. Food is usually arranged on round trays, stacked next to each other.
On the plus side, these are the most affordable dehydrators in terms of price. They work very well for most fruits and vegetables, but it is difficult to use them to make dried meat for example.
Smaller and compact than horizontal ones, vertical dehydrators do not take up much space on the worktop. For some models, it is even possible to add trays, as soon as you realize that you need more.
On the other hand, on the disadvantage side, they do not dry food as evenly as horizontal dehydrators. In addition, sometimes it is necessary to change the order of the trays so that all food dries optimally. For foods with a lot of juice, cleaning can be an ordeal, as the juice flows to the bottom of the device. Finally, vertical dehydrators offer relative stability, as they are very light devices.
As for horizontal dehydrators, they have a fan located at the back of the device, like a traditional oven. Food is usually arranged on trays that are used as mini-drawers.
On the plus side, they are simpler to use than vertical devices and dry food evenly. As soon as we place food on the trays, we let the device take care of everything, until the work is finished, without ever intervening.
With horizontal dehydrators, you can dry everything, whether it’s fruits, vegetables, herbs, or meat. In addition, if different types of food are placed there, the flavors have no risk of mixing (a risk present with vertical dehydrators), since the air circulates horizontally.
On the other hand, on the disadvantage side, they take up more space on the worktop and are more expensive than vertical devices. Nor can they be extended by adding trays, as is the case with vertical devices, but on the other hand, you can save space by removing unused trays. Moreover, for the record, if we remove all the trays, we can use the horizontal dehydrators to make yogurt or to raise the bread dough.
Factors to Consider When Choosing a Food Dehydrator
When you want to buy the best food dehydrator, the choice will depend on your particular preferences and how you plan to use it. However, having a good idea of how these devices differ and what options they offer can help make the right choice, having all the information in mind.
Air and heat distribution
Scientifically, dehydration of food is a rather simple concept. It is necessary to “simply” keep the food at a temperature not only constant but also high enough for enough time, to remove all the water from the food.
In practice, the biggest challenge is to ensure that heat is distributed evenly for all slices/washers or pieces of food placed in the dehydrator.
And since some of the food will be located opposite the fan, making sure it gets the same amount of heat as the ones near the fan is the real challenge.
Before buying a food dehydrator, you should find out about the manufacturer and what they have to say about the heat distribution of each model. What has been done to ensure that all parts of food dry the same way?
Horizontal food dehydrators perform best on this side, but many vertical models include additional fans to improve air circulation.
Ease of use and cleaning
The vast majority of food dehydrators are easy to use. The main difference between the models is whether the arrangement of the trays needs to be changed during the drying process. To avoid this problem, it is, therefore, necessary to ensure that the device distributes the heat and circulates the air evenly; in this way, it will be useless to change the trays of place.
Ensuring the perfect distribution of heat and air results in energy savings for users: as soon as the device is running, there is no need to monitor it until the drying of the food is complete.
The ease of use of a food dehydrator is also based on its cleaning. It should be borne in mind how many parts the device has, how easily these parts are assembled and unsweetened, and how many of them can be cleaned in the dishwasher.
All these features will greatly vary the cleaning of the device after each use.
The price of a food dehydrator can oscillate between thirty euros up to 10 times this price, or even more.
The most expensive devices will have a greater capacity so that they can dehydrate a large amount of food at the same time. They will also have an impressive heat distribution so that each piece of food is dried evenly. In addition, they will have interesting features, such as a thermometer or timer that further facilitate the drying process.
As for the least expensive devices, they are quite capable of drying food, but not just any. In addition, they will not dry them as evenly as more expensive devices. They will sometimes require some maintenance during the dehydration process, such as having to change the trays of place, and they will last less time than more expensive devices.
If you are buying a food dehydrator for the first time, it is better to choose a model that is between the two price ranges listed above. Depending on the characteristics you most want to have and the type of dehydrator you want to use (horizontal or vertical), you should consider spending between 100 and 150 euros.
The size and capacity of the device
As is the case when using most small appliances, consider how much food you want to dispose of in one use. It’s the same for food dehydrators: you have to consider the number of trays available and the amount of fruits or vegetables that can be disposed of on these trays.
And if you decide to buy a dehydrator, it is one more appliance in the kitchen, which takes up a certain place, either in a closet or on the worktop… so many elements to consider.
With small models, especially vertical dehydrators, the space used will not be very large, but their capacity will also be less. These small devices are very practical if you want to dehydrate food only a few times during the year.
On the other hand, if you have a lot of vegetables or fruits in the garden, it will be better to be able to dehydrate as much as possible at once. In this case, the larger models will be the most convenient, but they will also take up more space.
Since food dehydrators work with fans, most models can therefore be expected to make a lot of noise. However, the average decibel level will vary from model to model. If the noise emitted is an important criterion, it is, therefore, necessary to dwell on this characteristic and choose a device recognized to produce little noise.
Unfortunately, the decibel level does not often appear in the list of device features. It is therefore strongly recommended to inquire as much as possible and to consult the opinions of other users on this subject.
Access to food
Having easy access to food during drying is an important criterion. With a vertical dehydrator, access to food is less easy than with a horizontal device. Indeed, if we dry different types of food that require different drying times, to access the different trays, it will be necessary to remove all those that are before it, at the risk of reversing their contents, in addition to reducing the heat diffused by the device. It will therefore take longer to dry the remaining food.
On the other hand, for horizontal dehydrators, it is enough to pull the desired tray, like a drawer, without the risk of overturning it, because each drawer is independent. Removing a tray is therefore much easier and takes much less time.
The quality of the material
Obviously, it seems logical that a more expensive dehydrator will be made of stronger and better quality materials and that the warranty will also be longer than with cheap devices. But these models also have other advantages: they will dry food better, making less noise, and using less electricity.
A good quality dehydrator should be made of plastic that meets the standards, whether for the trays or the interior coating, while cheap devices will not necessarily be made of good quality plastic.
If you are really concerned about the plastic that heats up, you can find appliances made entirely of stainless steel. But whether the device is made of plastic or stainless steel, the outer walls should be double and composed of insulating material, to reduce heat loss during use.
Tips for buying a food dehydrator
To buy a good food dehydrator, it is also necessary to dwell on some additional criteria mentioned below.
Most dehydrators have a temperature that oscillates between 35 and 60 degrees approximately.
The temperature and air circulation should be consistent during drying, to allow uniform dehydration. Moreover, dehydration at too high temperatures will result in uneven drying, which will result in pieces of food that are dry on the outside and clammy on the inside.
Depending on the model, the design of the trays will change in size and shape, but where they differ is in the possibility of presenting removable or fixed trays.
Electric dehydrators often feature circular drying trays, but those that are ultra-technological may even have rotating trays.
Depending on the model, the trays are adjustable and allow differences in ventilation. In principle, dehydrators have several trays that allow different adjustments in size, so that food of different sizes can be dried.
Some interesting options
Some models, especially the more expensive ones, have additional features that can tip interested customers in their favor.
The thermostat, for example, can be a very useful accessory, because not all food dries at the same temperature. Thus, being able to adjust the temperature on the dehydrator is important, to obtain the best results regarding dried vegetables or fruits.
We can therefore focus on models that have an adjustable thermostat, to be able to dry both fruits and vegetables.
The timer is another interesting option. Since dehydration of food takes several hours or even days, it is quite easy to forget that the device is running. A dehydrator with a timer will ensure that users are notified of the end of the drying process, safely.
If you want to turn on the food dehydrator, then go shopping or turn it on in the evening wanting to sleep without worrying, the option of the automatic shutdown is decidedly interesting, because it avoids users being constantly in the kitchen or having to regularly check their device.