It is estimated that almost one-third of the total food produced is wasted, which could otherwise feed 2 billion people.
In this day and age where food wastage is an ever-growing problem, food dehydrators could help a bit. Not only do they help in reducing wastage, but they also help us in consuming nutrient-dense food at the same time.
If you’re considering buying a food dehydrator for your home, it’s good to know the ins and outs.
In this article, we will talk about food dehydrators, their benefits, and features. We will also help you in choosing the right product that can meet your needs.
Let’s get started.
What is a food dehydrator?
A food dehydrator is an electrical kitchen appliance which utilizes heat to eliminate moisture from moisture-rich food items like fruits, vegetables, meat, grains, and the likes.
This moisture removal process is crucial for the proper preservation of food and for making it last longer.
When the moisture content of food items is extracted, foods shrink and lose weight. This makes them efficient for handling and transportation purposes. This is the reason perhaps why a commercial food dehydrators are always high in demand among food processing companies.
But it is becoming an equally important appliance for households as well. Undoubtedly, the food we consume is derived either from animals or plants. As water is necessary for the formation of living matter, everything that is considered edible has some amount of water content in it.
Vegetables are 80-95% water, while the meat is 50-60%. Water is vital for the survival of the cells that make up the food. Water also ensures proper functioning and regulation of micronutrients, which makes the food useful for consumption.
Although water content is important, it is also one of the major reasons why foods rot and decompose. While water cannot be completely blamed for the decomposition, it is the bacterial growth promoted by it that triggers the process.
This is where food dehydration comes to the rescue and helps in preventing or delaying the rotting process. Here, moisture is removed from the food, either partially or completely. In the olden days, people used to dehydrate their food items by applying salt or by placing them under fire.
The good news is that you don’t need to follow the conventional methods to dehydrate your food. Simply, make use of food dehydrators, and you are done. They make the whole process much faster, more reliable, and efficient.
How does a food dehydrator work?
Food dehydrators help preserve fresh produce. They achieve this feat by extracting the moisture and preventing the bacteria and microorganisms from multiplying which would otherwise spoil the food.
Heat plays an important role in dehydrating food. It causes the internal water content to evaporate, thus leaving only the solid content of the food behind. The food is then either vacuum-sealed or thawed until it is ready to be used.
It is important to mention here that food dehydrators only affect the water content of the food, and do not alter its nutritional value. That’s why food dehydration process is highly effective.
A food dehydrator is a made up of multiple sections or components. Each of them has a specific use which works collectively to dehydrate the food item. The four components include a heating element, a fan, air vents, and a tray. Let’s look into each of these components and their uses.
A heating element is responsible for providing heat to the food. This is extremely important since the process of dehydration is highly dependent on the constant supply of heat.
The reason why natural dehydration process is flawed is that the heat of the sun is not constant and rather unpredictable. Moreover, it is not evenly applied to all parts of the food. This results in a food that cannot be properly preserved, thus decreasing its shelf life.
A fan, just like a regular fan, regulates the environment. When water is expelled out of the food, it changes its state from liquid to gas. This needs to be cleared out from the dehydrator otherwise the food will retain back the water once it cools down. This is when a fan helps you out by regulating the airflow.
Air vents work along with the fan to circulate the air. Vents are passages where the moist air formed inside is blown out by the fans. These are present either at the top or at the sides of a food dehydrator.
Trays are the final component which is responsible for holding the food items during the dehydration process. These are multi-tiered where one tray is stacked on top of another.
This allows you to take out moisture from different types of food items simultaneously.
Who should buy a food dehydrator?
Food dehydrators cater to a large group of people, homemakers and food processors. For homemakers, a food dehydrators can be a great addition to the kitchen cabinetry. With a relatively modest investment, you can enjoy significant perks.
Here are a few benefits of buying a food dehydrator for your family:
- You can prepare fruit and vegetable snacks at your home from scratch. With a food dehydrator, you can enjoy out-of-season vegetables as well.
- It will help you curb food wastage. If you have a surplus of any fresh produce which are prone to spoilage within a few days of storage, you can run it through a food dehydrator and preserve it for a longer time.
- A food dehydrator makes way for a healthy lifestyle. Instead of snacking on sugary cookies and sodas, you can snack on preserved vegetables that are nutrient-dense.
Some of the fruits which are commonly dehydrated include grapes, apples, bananas, cherries, apricots and pineapples. Vegetables which you can dehydrate include mushrooms, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs, etc.
Once dried, you can add them to cereals, bread, or have them as a standalone snack. Some food dehydrators are also capable of dehydrating beef, turkey, buffalo, and the like. If you’re a raw-food enthusiast, you can prepare variants of raw granola bars and fruit rolls.
Food manufacturers, processors, and restaurants can also benefit from a food dehydrator but you’ll often need a large scale food dehydrator to process a large amount of fresh produce at once and use them when needed. They have more or less the same components as a personal food dehydrator and the mechanism remains exactly the same.
Types of food dehydrators
With the rise in demand for dehydrated food, there is a range of food dehydrators available in the market. When buying a food dehydrator for your family, it’s important to understand their varied types and features.
Let’s look at the available options from the very basic. Most of the food dehydrators can be categorized into the following two categories:
The vertical flow food dehydrator
In a vertical flow model, the heat comes either from the top or from the base of the tray. In this type, the racks where the food is placed are stacked on top of each other, because of which it is also referred to as Stackable food dehydrators. These are reasonably priced and hence, they are the most common type.
The base (or the top) provides the dry hot air which runs through the trays. An electricity-powered fan is generally provided at the bottom to pump this air. The trays are placed in such a way as to provide maximum insulation. They do not let the heat leak from the dehydrator.
Here are some of the benefits of vertical flow food dehydrator:
- The size is generally smaller and more compact, hence easy to transport. Thus, they don’t take up too much storage space either.
- Most vertical flow models have the “expandability” feature, which means you can add more trays or racks to it.
- There are different sizes available in the market.
- Best for hydrating fruits and vegetables.
- Usually cheaper than other types of food dehydrators.
As a drawback, the heat is not spread as evenly, which is not the case with the other type of food dehydrator, which is Horizontal flow food dehydrator, discussed below.
The horizontal flow food dehydrator
These resemble more to an oven in the way they function. They have heating source located at the back, and not in the bottom or top of the dehydrator. Thus the heat is delivered horizontally to the trays. In this type, the trays are placed on top of each other, but because of the location of the heat source, they apply heat uniformly to every single tray. The fan also finds itself on the back of the dehydrator from where it pumps the dry air.
As the trays are inserted into a container or a box, it is also known as Box and Shelf Food Dehydrator. Some of the main benefits of horizontal flow food dehydrators are:
- Heat is delivered uniformly to all trays.
- There’s no manual work required. You can literally set the dehydrator once and let it as is until the process is complete.
- You can dehydrate a variety of food items at once.
- It provides better insulation power.
- Best to dehydrate meat items or jerky.
As a downside, these are large in size and are more expensive than stackable food dehydrators.
Based on three modes of power consumption, there are two types of food dehydrators.
Electric food dehydrator
These are the most common type of food dehydrators that you’ll come across in the market. These types of food dehydrators utilize electric power to operate, and the main source of producing heat is electricity via an internal heater.
As they derive power from electricity, they have much more high-tech features to help you dehydrate the food. Moreover, they’re reliable in their operation and are efficient.
Non-electric food dehydrator
As the name suggests, these types of food dehydrators do not use electricity and instead operate on solar energy. The dehydrator is placed under the sun and uses natural resources like sunlight and air to dehydrate food materials.
Although they make use of green energy, they’re limited on features. You won’t have the sensors and instruments found in electric ones. Moreover, the heat and source are highly unpredictable, which slows down the dehydration process.
The best food dehydrators
There are so many food dehydrators out there which could make it a nightmare trying to pick one. While it all boils down to your personal needs and preferences, here are some of our top handpicked food dehydrators based on our own research.
This is a food dehydrator that is equipped with an array of high-tech features that you’re ever going to use like the automatic on-off switch and efficient drying mechanism. It can hold up to 15 trays with each tray measuring 15 sq feet.
Thus, it is ideal for large families for producing dehydrated food on a large scale. Restaurant owners will also find this product a good fit. The 600 W power means you can dehydrate jerky and meat products with ease.
With this food dehydrator, you also get a recipe handbook to prepare delicious dry food at your home.
- Large capacity
- Auto on/off features
- Removable trays
- Adjustable thermostat
- No tray rotation needed
- Safe for meat
- Relatively expensive
This product comes with a patented drying system which forces air to flow through the exterior pressurized chamber and not through the trays. What this means is that the air is moved forcibly across each individual tray, thus resulting in faster and even dehydration process. It also comes equipped with an adjustable thermostat to regulate the temperature.
You can process literally any type of food in it. The trays are removable and you can place 12 trays at once, although only five come with the product.
- Flexible screens
- 12 tray capacity
- Cheaper and portable
- No timer
- Takes longer for processing food
Ivation is a reputed brand in food dehydration industry. It comes with a 600 W motor which circulates warm air throughout the dehydrator faster. Being a high-tech dehydrator, it has an automatic shut-off feature along with a digital temperature and timer.
The stainless steel design makes it easy to clean. So if you’re looking for a food dehydrator in the premium range, this product from Ivation might be your best bet.
- Stainless steel set
- Spacious trays
- Auto shut-off
- Large size
This food dehydrator from SHOGOU is more inclined towards commercial use or large families. You can store up to 10 trays and 1 dip tray where you can dehydrate all types of fruits and meat products. The massive 1000 W heating power ensures efficient and fast dehydration process. You get features like LED smart panel, stainless steel body, and a digital timer.
- Auto shutoff timer
- Stainless steel
- Capacity for up to 10 trays.
- Little bit heavy
This is a full-featured dehydrator with a compact size. Precise heat adjustment, two-stage sequential temperature, and digital control mean that you can literally put the dehydration process on autopilot. With a capacity for 11 trays, this dehydrator is capable of making dehydrated products for your entire family.
- 11 tray capacity
- Compact size
- Temperature timer
- Digital control
- Quiet and efficient
- Internal LED light
- 10 years warranty
This is a reasonably priced food dehydrator with useful digital features. Adjustable range of 95 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit and 9 tray capacity, makes this an ideal candidate for most homemakers.
- Self-rotation trays
- ETL certified
- Compact size
- Preset temperature
- Not the best for jerkies
This electric product comes with four trays but is expandable up to 8. It has a small capacity when compared to other products on the list, hence it is useful for small families.
- No tray rotation needed
- Equipped with a thermostat and timer
- Needs manual rotation
- Produces noise
How to use a dehydrator
Now that you’ve bought a food dehydrator considering the above metrics, you’ll be tempted to start using it and make some quick dehydrated snacks. Irrespective of which model and type you choose, the making process will remain more or less the same. Here’s a detailed step-by-step guide on how to use a food dehydrator:
Step 1: Set the temperature
Setting the right temperature is a crucial step in the dehydration process. You have to choose as per the category of the food, and you also need to know approximately how much time the food takes to get dehydrated at a certain temperature. While it can be rather difficult to set an exact temperature, the regulators make this easier for you. Regulators will let you adjust the heat that needs to be delivered inside the heater. You’d want this to be uniform.
Step 2: Distribute food evenly in the trays
Next, place the food items on the trays. These trays are designed in such a way as to allow you to arrange food in a manner that facilitates proper air circulation. The food which requires more heat should be placed near the heat source, while more delicate ones that require less energy should be placed farther away from the source.
Step 3: Turn on the dehydrator
After the food items are set, next turn on the dehydrator and let the heat flow in. The heat should be delivered for the entire time of the dehydration process. Some foods can get processed within 3-4 hours while others take up the whole day. But you don’t have to worry about your food getting burnt. The trays are designed to avoid this scenario.
Step 4: Regulate the flow of air
Just letting in the heat is not enough. You need to ensure heat is flowing out of the dehydrator too. This is because if the moist air gets trapped inside, the food will reabsorb it and become soggy. The vents are responsible for air circulation. The fans that are located either at the back or top or bottom which pump the air in. The vents then let this moist dry blow out.
Step 5: Reorder trays intermittently if you’re using a vertical food dehydrator
Some food dehydrators, especially the vertical ones, don’t have rotational tray feature. If you’re using a vertical food dehydrator, you’re required to reorder the trays from time to time so that the heat will get delivered evenly to all trays.
Things to look for when buying a food dehydrator
Now that you know about the types of food dehydrators available on the market, it’s time to look at specific things in a food dehydrator when you’re shortlisting the best ones. That is if you haven’t already picked one of my recommended food dehydrators above. So here are some of the main features you need to take into consideration:
Heat distribution and airflow
Dehydration works best when you put the food in a high enough temperature which is consistent over time. This is a pretty simple concept backed by science. So the first thing you need to look at in a food dehydrator is how the heat is distributed.
This is also the biggest challenge that companies face while designing and manufacturing the product. This is because the heat source is often fixed, but when you spread the food items on a tray, some get placed farthest away from the source, hence do not get dehydrated properly. Having a good airflow system often balances this.
Thus, it’s important to consider the heat is distributed inside the food dehydrator.
As explained above, horizontal flow food dehydrators are better in this regard than vertical flow food dehydrators.
Just like other kitchen and home appliances, you need to evaluate the quantity of dehydrated food you need to prepare in one batch. Will you be storing any of it or just preparing for immediate consumption? Asking these questions to yourself will let you know how much size you’ll actually need.
Trays determine the internal size of the dehydrator. There are mainly 5 trays, 9 trays, and 12 trays variants available on the market. Then there’s the drying space which is occupied by the air. This varies from manufacturer to manufacturer.
In the case of vertical flow models, it’ll generally offer less counter space, but will also take up less space in your kitchen. Horizontal flow models offer more space but take up more kitchen space subsequently.
Some food dehydrator models provide stackability feature. This will let you add stacks to your appliance. If in case you need to produce more dehydrated food in one batch or need to cut down the size, you can increase or decrease the number of trays accordingly.
You just need to purchase additional trays which you can stack or insert into the food dehydrator. Vertical flow food dehydrators are considered more flexible in this regard.
Once you’ve used the dehydrator, cleaning can get a bit messy since there will be stains and solidified food juices attached here and there throughout the box. So if you lead a busy life, then inquire about the ease of cleaning of the food dehydrator.
Some dehydrators are made out of plastic, while others are made out of stainless steel. Both materials are easy to clean, but some are dishwasher-friendly while others are not.
Wattage is the measure of power being delivered to the machine to operate. In the case of lower wattage, the machine will consume less power but will take up more time to dehydrate. Accordingly, a high power food dehydrator will heat up more quickly and take less time to dehydrate foods. So if you need your food items to be dehydrated quicker, then opt for high wattage food dehydrators. These are also a good choice for dehydrating meat items.
Ease of use
With advanced technologies and better design, food dehydrators have become quite intuitive and easy to use. Horizontal flow food dehydrators are better than vertical ones. This is because you don’t have to open the dehydrator in between and rotate the trays which are stacked on top of each for better evenly heat distribution. This will save you time in the process.
Furthermore, the sensors that some high-tech food dehydrators come with take all of the guesswork out and make the overall process really hassle-free.
Timers and sensors
Food dehydration is a notoriously time-taking process which can take up the whole day in some cases. Thus, you often end up forgetting about turning it off when it’s required to. With an in-built timer, it’ll inform you when the process is complete. Another smart feature is automatic shutoff which shuts the device down after the dehydration process is completed.
Some food dehydrators come with thermostats which allow you to keep track of the temperature changes. This is a great addition if you’re looking to dry multiple sets of food in one batch.
While looking at these high-tech add-on features, it’s important to not get swayed by features which you’re not going to use. Not only will they be of no use to you, but the food dehydrator will also become expensive because of the additional features.
All food dehydrators are going to make some level of noise. This is because of the fan that is continuously in operation for the entire time. Cheaper food dehydrators tend to make more noise than relatively expensive food dehydrators.
While this is not likely going to be a big problem, it’s worth checking out how much noise a device makes, and if you and your family members are okay with that decibel.
DIY food dehydrator
You can definitely prepare dehydrated food without a food dehydrator. After all, the only requirement for dehydrating food is – required amount of heat for a specific period of time to evaporate all the water content.
If you’re a DIY lover and want to make your own food dehydrator, here is what you can do:
The best DIY way to prepare dehydrated food is by using an oven. The oven can perform the same key process as a food dehydrator: provide high heat for a specific amount of time.
You can cut the fruits and veggies in small slices and can run it inside an oven for six to seven hours. To speed up the process, you’d want to run the oven at 225 degrees F. While heating the food in an oven, make sure to wrap them up inside an aluminum foil.
But the problem with the oven is that they don’t provide any means for air circulation, and hence the evaporated water gets trapped inside there.
Similar appliances like microwave and toaster oven do the same thing, but they lack the ability to circulate the air.
This is the best natural way to extract the moisture out of the food. The sun-dry method is generally used for drying herbs or delicate vegetables like tomatoes and spinach.
Simply cut the fruits and vegetables you need to dehydrate into slices and arrange them in a tray. Cover the tray with a mesh. Don’t use glass or plastic lids as they’ll block the moisture water. Place them in the location where they’ll receive sunlight for six to eight hours straight. But as a downside, you’d have to do this for two to three days.
Undoubtedly, food dehydrators are not as common as ovens and microwaves, but they are worth the value. These are an all-family appliance that will help you prepare dried food for the entire family in a single batch.
With some practice and trial and error, you will be able to prepare preservative-free natural dehydrated food like a pro at the comfort of your home. Go get started!