Green Your Life: How to Dry and Dehydrate Food

Reader Contribution by Dani Hurst
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Dried fruits are a favorite of mine, but buying them at the store is expensive, plus the packaging is wasteful. So I recently decided to try dehydrating my own food. As many of my recent posts point out, making foods like these at home allows you to avoid preservatives as well as customize the recipes to fit your personal tastes. So far, I’ve learned that a dehydrator is extremely versatile, but dehydrating food is not an exact science, and can only be learned by “drying and trying.”

How to make beef jerky

For our batch, we used this recipe from Alton Brown (my favorite Food Network cook and personality!) We marinated the meat for about six hours in the refrigerator, patted each piece with a paper towel, then put them on the dehydrator trays in a single layer (no overlapping!) and left them until the meat was chewy and dry (about 11 hours). Be sure to store your finished product in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you want to be extra safe, boil the meat in some marinade for a few minutes first, then proceed with the drying process.

How to dry fruit

When drying apples, you can leave the peels or remove them before drying; just remember that the skin is very nutritious. My dehydrator’s manual recommends slicing apples in 1/4-inch pieces, but I like the variety that comes with thickness inconsistency; very thin slices yield crispy, chip-like pieces while thicker slices stay chewy. Apples also discolor when dried–which I don’t mind–but this can be remedied with a two-minute soak in an acidic juice (such as lemon or pineapple juice).

A little more than half of a Granny Smith apple lies in a single layer of slices, waiting to be dehydrated. Photo By Dani Hurst.

The same slices after about seven hours of drying. My slices were pretty thin, which is why they dried so quickly, but next time I’ll include a few thicker slices for a chewier snack. Photo By Dani Hurst.

Drying bananas is very simple; just peel, slice (1/8- to 1/4-inch pieces) and dry. These took the longest to dry–about 19 hours–and I recommend flipping them at least once so they dry evenly and don’t stick to the trays.

You’ll need to break the skins of cranberries before drying them. To do this, either slice each berry in half or blanch them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes–just enough time to break their skins. Don’t leave in dehydrator too long, or they’ll become crispy and bitter.

How to make fruit leather

Puree 2 cups of fruit (and sweetener if you choose) in a food processor. Drain the puree through cheesecloth or a fine strainer if you want to limit the seeds in your leather, but I skipped this because the seeds add some extra fiber. Spread the puree on a fruit roll tray (our dehydrator came with one) and dry until it’s no longer sticky to the touch (anywhere from five to 10 hours, depending on your puree’s thickness).

Instead of adding sugar, I placed a few pieces of dried bananas and cranberries throughout the puree before it was fully dried. They added an interesting flavor and texture to the leather, and I recommend it to anyone willing to be a little more adventurous with their fruit leather. Photo By Dani Hurst.

I dried 2 cups of strawberry puree for about nine hours, and while some of the leather came out chewy, a lot of it was too thin and crunchy.I believe this was because the fruit roll tray was too close to the dehydrator’s heat source. I also added some freshly dried bananas and cranberries instead of sugar for some added texture, color and sweetness, which worked out really well in the chewy pieces.

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