Dehydrating FAQs – Answers to Frequently Asked Questions
January 29, 2015
Thank you to Sproutman's Kitchen Garden Cookbook by Steve Meyerowitz, and Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook for most of the info here.
Is Dried Food Healthy?
You bet. Drying fresh fruits and vegetables – removing only their water – is the easiest, cheapest and healthiest way to preserve fresh food. It's the way nature does it. A dehydrator mimics the sun – but goes one step better, because often the sun is too hot.
Dehydrating actually inhibits the growth of microbes like bacteria. The circulation of warm, dry air removes the water they depend on to live.
Drying food only minimally affects its nutritional value. Most research has been on foods that were commercially dried. When you dry foods at home under gentle conditions (correct temperature and a reasonable drying period) you produce a high-quality nutrient-rich food.
Compared with canning, freezing and baking, all of which involve extreme temperatures, food drying is the least damaging form of food preservation.
The process of drying fruit and storing it in jars was recorded long before the birth of Jesus. Today the only truly healthy dried fruits are the fruits you dry yourself at home and store in your freezer. This way there's no risk of nutrient loss from too-hot drying, and no mold from a long shelf-life.
Are Dried Foods Good for Weight Loss?
Yes! Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, yet high in fiber which is not lost in drying.
The caloric value of a fresh food stays the same when it is dried, although some dried foods, fruits for example, taste sweeter because with the water removed, the sugar is concentrated.
What a delicious way to receive the sugar your energy organelles need for their fuel! I'm always in wonder at the sweetness of Creation – truly at the Heart of it all is Love.
Your weight will go down, and energy levels soar, the more raw foods you eat. A dehydrator is the best way to keep raw food handy so you don't snack on junk.
What Nutrients Are Lost?
Home food drying leaves vitamins, minerals, proteins and enzymes virtually intact.
Some vitamin C is lost because dehydrating is an air-based process. Vitamin C is not air-soluble, but it is changed into an inactive form by air contact. So it's best not to leave sliced fruit out for too long.
When a food is sliced and its cells are cut open, the surfaces exposed to air lose some vitamin C.
Vitamin C is water-soluble. Dehydrating removes water, but the good news is it leaves the vitamin C behind in the fruit and sprouted grain. The C does not evaporate with the water.
Vitamin A – or Beta-Carotene in plant foods, a critical anti-oxidant – is retained in dried food. Because it is light sensitive, dried foods rich in Vitamin A, like carrots, bell peppers and mangoes, should be stored in a dark place.
Minerals in fresh fruit and vegetables – such as selenium, potassium, magnesium – are not altered when they're dried. Fresh-picked sun-ripened fruit from the farmer's market is rich in the sodium your nerves and joints are starved of. Dehydrating gives you a year-round balance of minerals.
You do more harm than good when you take mineral and vitamin supplements because they're so unbalanced. They cause deficiencies and excesses in your metabolic pathways.
Raw plant cells give you vitamins and minerals in perfect balance, so you purr along at peak performance.
Juicing is the way to boost your vitamin-mineral intake – the best multi-purpose juicer is here under Juicing.
How To Slice or Blend?
The thicker the slice, or the wetter the cracker blend, the longer it takes to dry. Thicker slices come out leathery, thinner ones more brittle.
For crackers, I grind the sprouted wheatberries in my Samson multi-purpose juicer, then mix them with other ingredients in my food processor, not blender. This way the batter is moist enough to smoothe out with a knife on the solid sheets, but not so watery it pours out. Don't use a blender for making dough, unless it's a high-powered one like Vita-Mix.
Vegetables and fruits I slice thinner – 1/8 to 1/4 inch. I never dry them as quarters or halves. Sproutman writes that if you choose quarter or half, e.g. for tomato, then you must go to 125°-145°F.
With experience, you find for each favorite food a delicate balance between thickness, moistness, temperature, and drying time.
How Long to Dry the Food?
The lower the temperature inside the dehydrator, the longer the drying time.
Temperatures that are too low can cause food to spoil, which you may want, e.g. in making yogurt at 92°F. But after 8 hours, turn the temp up if like me you love yogurt crunch (yogurt dried into crackers). Cashew yogurt crunch cured me of my chocolate addiction – it's fat and sweet in the most healthy way!
The longer the food takes to dry, the more it's exposed to air and the more Vitamin C is lost. To speed up drying, you turn up the temperature. But the higher your drying temperature, the more food enzymes are lost. To retain all enzymes in the food, it's best not to go above 115°. Different food enzymes die off at different temperatures, but it's safe to say most are dying at 120°.
Dr Cousens prefers to start dehydrating at a higher temperature to avoid bacterial growth. Normally he only applies this rule to high water-content foods like fruit and the blends here in Dehydrator Recipes. He dehydrates these at 145°F for a maximum of 3 hours, then switches his dehydrator down to the normal rawfood range of 105-115°F.
Do NOT use this high temp for grain sprouts like buckwheat crunchies.
If a food remains fairly wet after 24 hours, the chances for mold growth increase. It's like leaving food out on a hot day – it turns bad!
When touching foods for dryness, remember that they feel softer when they are warm. Always let it cool for a while – either turn off the dehydrator or remove the drying tray. If you are not sure if an item is sufficiently dry, it is better to overdry it than to underdry it.
Fortunately, there is no such thing as an over-dried food. Once a food is dry, you do it no harm by leaving it in the dehydrator longer, unlike an oven that carries on baking and burning. So if zucchini or banana chips are meant to dry for 10 hours, and you come back home after 24, you still enjoy perfectly delicious chips!
Commercial drying machines operate at high temperatures to speed the drying process. I never dry anything above 115°F.
Raw foods with LIVING ENZYMES are the secret to boisterous Health and Energy. Those TV pill-pushers are a joke. Only Mother Nature knows how to nourish you. Dine at Her table today and every day.
How Best to Store Dried Foods?
Moisture is the enemy of dried foods. When exposed to air, they absorb its moisture and become limp.
Brittle food is perfectly dried, while soft and pliable probably still has moisture. So leathery foods should be refrigerated to last for months, instead of weeks. Brittle will last for a year in your cupboard.
Always store dried foods in air-tight containers such as moisture-proof jars or zip-lock bags. Lids must contain rubber gaskets to make them moisture proof, e.g. Mason jars. Pop a cotton ball into the jar to absorb moisture.
The downside of glass jars is that light entering the jar can discolor some foods like tomatoes, and steal nutrients. Light isn't good for the essential fatty acids in dried seed and nut yogurts. Keep long-term storage jars inside brown paper bags (foods you plan to eat in six months, not six weeks).
Store all containers in a dry, dark place with a moderate temperature. A cupboard, rather than an open pantry shelf, is best.
How Long Will Dried Foods Last?
Dried foods will last from one season to the next. If squirreled away for too long, they lose their taste and darken in color.
For optimum quality, rotate dried fruits and vegetables annually. Enjoy their quality all year round by drying them at their peak, then replace them when their season returns.
Herbs and flowers, once dried, last a very long time.
What About Mold?
Mold may form on dried food if it's not dehydrated dry enough, or if the container it's stored in has moisture in it.
Of course, mold is a common problem in store-bought dried fruit, as the candida and other yeast-infection books warn us. But fruit safely dried at home and eaten within a year, before the next season's harvest, is mold-free.
The organisms that cause food spoilage – mold, yeast, bacteria – are always present in the air, water, and soil. But they need moisture to live and reproduce. This is why you never see mold on pasta.
Fresh foods also carry simple yeasts, molds, and bacteria, all of which can cause deterioration. Again, reducing the moisture content of food inhibits their growth. When dried, vegetables contain about 3 percent moisture, and fruits up to 15 percent water, depending on their sugar content.
If you are concerned about the safety of a dried food, you can freeze it. The freezer will keep frozen any water remaining in the food, thus preventing spoilage. You can freeze dried foods at any stage of the drying process.
Placing food in a freezer for 48 hours is a mild form of pasteurizing it. You kill many microbes and insect eggs that might have been in the raw food, hence in the dried. However, freezing does not kill bacteria that form protective spores. Keeping the food dry is the only thing that keeps the bacteria from growing.
If you see or smell mold in any dried food, it means it's been contaminated by moisture. Throw away the food in that container!
Should We Soak Our Food Before Eating It?
It's best to return the water to dried food before you eat it. My mentor, the late Dr. Ann Wigmore, suggested we always keep a bowl of dried fruits in water in the refrigerator, for instant sugar snacking.
The trick is to rehydrate it (soak in water) just long enough for the food to absorb the water, but not too long as to leach minerals into the water. I go by taste – if it's lost its sweetness, I know I've soaked it too long. Fifteen minutes to an hour is usually long enough.
You absorb more minerals when you eat them weaved into plant tissues (organic form) rather than drink them in soak water (inorganic form).
Always drink the soak water, and use it in cracker blends.
Make delicious crackers by mixing grain sprouts with the right seasonings in a food processor or high-power blender, and dehydrate. See Blended Recipes.
I love the square trays of L'Equip and Excalibur, so it's easy to cut crackers into squares for lunch-boxes – not like the circular dehydrators with their round trays, where I had to break the crackers into odd-shaped pieces.