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Ontario, Canada
I am a wife, mother and grandma who enjoys the many aspects of homemaking. A variety of interests and hobbies combined with travel keep me active. They reflect the importance of family, friends, home and good food.
Cook ingredients that you are used to cooking by other techniques, such as fish, chicken, or hamburgers. In other words be comfortable with the ingredients you are using.
--Bobby Flay

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Monday, August 06, 2012

Frugal Kitchens 101 - Buying a Dehydrator

Frugal Kitchens 101
The ability to dehydrate foods is a fundamental component of home food preservation.  Ideally, any food preservation you do should be in the form of home canned, frozen and dried for any given food.  What this means is, for example, if you are preserving tomatoes - a portion will be froze, a portion will be home canned and a portion will be dried.  The preference as to which is the larger portion will depend on a few factors.  I personally preserve tomatoes in many forms as home canned (about 80%) with drying and freezing at about 10% each.  However the reverse is true with respect to meats where the bulk of preservation is freezing.  Still, I dry and can meats as well because you never want to put your food storage into one basket. 

Food dehydrators come in three forms:

  1. homemade sun trays
  2. part of some ovens
  3. stand alone dehydrators
I have used all three.  There are pros and cons to each.
  1. homemade sun trays -  Homemade sun trays consist of a frame with a screen at their simplest form.  The food is prepared, placed on the screen then the screen set in a sunny spot for drying.  The method is very much at the weather's mercy and does not work well in humid areas where the food will mold before drying.  Drying using this method requires extended periods of time exposing the food to any contaminants in the outdoor air as well as bugs, insects, rodents and marauding pests like squirrels, raccoons and skunks.   Some have put their sun trays in parked cars to take advantage of the heat but it is still not an ideal solution especially if you need to use the car.  The main pro is sun trays are free to operate but the cons by far outweigh this.
  2. oven dehydrators - Some ovens are capable of dehydrating and some even have actual dehydrator settings.  In order to use an oven as a dehydrator it must be able to be set as low as 95ºF/35ºC to a high of 160ºF/71ºF.  Many newer ovens can only be set as low as 170ºF/77ºC which is too hot for dehydrating.
  3. stand alone dehydrators - A stand alone dehydrator ranges in price from $40 to $500.  The cheaper models have no thermostat and round trays.  These should be avoided because different temperatures are required for drying different foods.  For example, herbs are dried at 95ºF/35ºC but meats, fish and jerky are dried at 160ºF/71ºC.  Models without an adjustable thermostat likely dry about 115ºF/46ºC resulting in burning of herbs and under drying of meats.  A mid-range dehydrator with a thermostat, round trays and expandability will cost about $80 but with extras can quickly add up to the $200 range.  The nice thing is you don't have to expand if you don't want to nor do you have to put out all this money at once, just expand as required so the cost is spread out over a few years based on need.  The alternative is to buy a high end model then use it enough to recoup your costs.  Wattage does matter.  Some of the cheap models are 135 W meaning a longer drying time.  Mid-range models are 400 to 500 W so the drying time is greatly reduced.  Higher end models are 830 W - 1,600 W or more meaning even faster drying.  Unless you are drying foods for commercial use, a 500 W to 830 W model is more than sufficient for normal household usage.

1 food lovers commented:

LindaG said...

I'm trying to convince hubby we need an Excalibur, but so far he is not buying it.

Have a great week, GG!