Essential Guide to Dehydrating

Your Essential Guide to Dehydrating – The Easy and On-Trend Way to Transform Your Fruit and Veg

Food dehydrators are without a doubt the latest en vogue kitchen appliance, and they’re a godsend for those following a plant-based diet. Usually comprised of a series of small shelves or sections, dehydrators use low amounts of heat and an in-built fan to disperse hot air throughout the appliance. Over time, this steadily reduces the amount of water in the food until it appears dried and sometimes lightly brown. It can be a lengthy process, but the results are more than
worth it.
Though our ancestors weren’t fortunate enough to have handy dehydrator machines sitting on their kitchen worktop, the method of drying and dehydrating food has been used for thousands of years. Some studies have even dated the idea back to prehistoric times, though hot-air dehydration was not developed until 1795, in France.

What are the benefits?

Taste: Removing the water from fruits and vegetables naturally concentrates and intensifies its flavour. The crisp and chewy textures, which can be achieved through dehydration, make the fruit and veg appear more akin to a naughty treat than a healthy whole food – meaning it’s a great way to get fussy children (and adults for that matter!) excited about healthy eating.

Preservation: Just as our ancestors did, we can use dehydration as a form of preservation. Drawing out the moisture from food means it limits the amount of mould, yeast and bacteria that can affect the produce – as most nasty bacteria likes to feast on fresh, water-filled foods. In addition, by dehydrating food yourself, you can eliminate the need for artificial preservatives – which are often found in dehydrated food in shops. Handily, you can also rehydrate your food at a later date, by adding water, or putting it in a soup, sauce or stew – meaning you can have fresh, ripe mango even in the depths of winter.
Waste and money: Due to the great preservative qualities of dehydration, it can help minimise your food waste. Whether it’s produce you’ve bought from a store or grown in your own garden, there will always be extra that you struggle to use up – especially during each fruit’s peak season, such as tomatoes and strawberries in summer. In turn, this will also help to reduce your spend on items such as on-the-go snacks, which can be easily made from leftover fruit and veg in your dehydrator.

Does it counteract the food’s nutritional value?

When food is dehydrated using a small kitchen dehydrator, the heat can sometimes decrease the nutritional values of certain fruits and vegetables. Vitamin C, for instance, is found in almost every fruit and vegetable to certain extents, but it is also sensitive to heat, water and even air, and so cooking can often decrease the vitamin C content of food. Similarly, vitamin A is also light-sensitive and may be affected not only by this, but by the subtle heat used during the dehydration process. However, because the heat is so gentle, some studies have concluded that the nutritional value lost can be little as five per cent – making it almost as healthy as eating the fresh stuff, and often far more convenient!

Ideas to get you inspired

Dehydrating food isn’t just handy for preservation, but can be a great way to make new and exciting snacks. Why not try these…
Fruit leather: This is an awesome way to use up over-ripe fruit and because, when rolled, the leather looks more like a sweet than one of your five-a-day, it’s a great way to encourage those who aren’t keen on fruit to give it a go. Start by puréeing your fruit (some people sweeten with agave nectar or syrups at this stage, though it’s healthier not to), then pour the mixture onto a tray of your dehydrator and use a spatula to push it out into a smooth, thin layer. Then, simply turn on your dehydrator and leave it to dry for at least six hours.
Vegetable crisps: We all suffer from crisp cravings every now and then, but are all too aware of the negative health implications they can have – thanks to their excessive levels of oil, fat and salt. Try making vegetable crisps by placing thin slices of vegetables (courgettes work really well) in a bowl, with a very little amount of oil and some seasoning of your choice (try to make sure you’re not overdoing the seasoning and oil, as this will increase the calorie levels of the crisps). Once the vegetable slices are coated in the subtle seasoning, place them in the dehydrator and allow them to dry for around eight hours, preferably.
Fruit for cooking: As well as dehydrating fruit to make a healthy, simple snack for on-the-go, why not try dehydrating any excess fruit you have, during its peak season, to use later in cooking. Blueberries are a great example, as they’re delicious when ripe and juicy during the summer, but often go off quickly. Trying popping any leftover blueberries in the dehydrator and using the dried fruit in muffins, pancakes or even a chia seed pudding.

Find lots of information on ingredients in our glossary.

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