How to Dehydrate your Home Grown Produce
Dehydrating is one of the easiest ways to preserve your excess produce. Preserving your homegrown harvests allows you to slow down and reconnect with where your food comes from.

Growing your own food is so rewarding! To be able to go out to the garden and pick fresh food knowing exactly what has gone into creating it. No chemicals, pesticides, or nasty sprays. You can choose to grow organic, chemical-free food and reap the health benefits.

 

Fruit and vegetables tend to ripen all at once, and when your edible garden starts to mature, you will quickly find yourself with more produce than you can eat. A great problem to have! Preserving your harvest will mean you can enjoy your produce all year round.

Dehydrating is the perfect first step for beginners, as it only requires a few easy steps. Dehydrating is a great step towards living a more self-sufficient lifestyle. Learning to preserve your excess harvests, will help reduce the amount of food you need to purchase during the year. The great thing is, you don’t need a big garden to get started! Purchase in season fruit and vegetables when they are in oversupply. The best way to learn how to dehydrate and what dehydrated fruit and vegetables you like, is to give it a go.


Do I need a dehydrator? Can I use the oven or the sun?

You can get started dehydrating today with very little equipment. A dehydrator is not necessary to get started but, there are many benefits to using one.

Dehydrating takes a long time, and if you are using the oven, you will need to be home for at least 9-10 hours to operate the oven safely.

This is where dehydrators are much more efficient and manageable. You can set a timer, or if your dehydrator doesn't have a built-in timer, you can get an adjustment for your power socket.

That way, you can set the timer and carry on with your day, just as you would with a slow cooker.

The sun or solar power can also be harnessed to dehydrate fruit. The high sugar content in fruit helps reduce the risk of spoiling. Sun drying can take a few days, so vegetables and meats are not recommended. This technique will require pasteurisation and individual research on local weather, so is not recommended for beginners.


Choosing a dehydrator 

Dehydrators are often found in the deep, dark corners of many cupboards... Ask your family and friends if they have one you could borrow. This could be a great way to test it out. Not all dehydrators are made the same. Read online reviews for ease of use, noise levels, timers, and heat settings. Some dehydrators have a low maximum heat temperature and if you are choosing to dehydrate any meat products, you will need a range of at least 73°C.

dehydrating-herbs

Tips for preparing fruit and vegetables for dehydration

  • Wash your fruit and vegetables well. If you have purchased fruit from the store, it may have residual sprays or wax coatings. Clean your fruit with equal parts water and vinegar, or rinse with boiling water.
  • Fruit with skins, such as grapes and berries, should be blanched with boiling water to “crack” the skins. This will allow the moisture to escape during the drying process.
  • For most fruits such as apples, citrus, peaches, and pears, it is not necessary to remove the skins first. This comes down to personal preference for taste and if you want to spend extra time preparing them.
  • Slice thinly and evenly. If your pieces are not all cut uniformly, they will all dry at different rates.
  • Fruit and vegetables can also be pureed and spread on fruit leather trays or parchment.
  • Apples and some other fruit can go brown quickly after being cut. To avoid this, prepare a bowl with equal parts cold water and lemon juice. Slice your apples directly into the water and allow to soak for 10 minutes. Remove and strain off any extra water. This should help stop them from going brown during the dehydrating process.
  • Lay fruit or vegetables in a single layer, ensuring they do not overlap.
  • Using a mandoline will help you achieve even slices.
Extra tip - Coat apple slices in cinnamon or a mix of cinnamon and sugar for a little extra flavour.

dehydrated-fruit

What can I dehydrate? What should I avoid?

The fun thing about dehydrating is that the possibilities are endless! However, there are definitely things you do want to avoid, especially for beginners to dehydrate:
  • Fruit 

  • Vegetables

  • Purees

  • Herbs

  • Sauces (with no fat, oil or dairy)

Avoid dehydrating:

  • Oil and fats

  • Products containing dairy 

  • Avocado - too high fat

  • Olives - too high fat 

  • Eggs

What should beginners dehydrate first?

Dehydrating can be a little intimidating for beginners, but it really isn't that scary. To start with try high sugar content sliced fruit such as:
  • Citrus
  • Apple
  • Pear
  • Strawberry

How long does dehydrating take?

The length of time will vary with many factors:
  • How thick or thin the slices are
  • Temperature settings
  • Water content of fruit or vegetables
  • Amount of humidity in the air
As a general guide, most fruit and vegetables will take between 7-10 hours to dry.

dehydrating-fruit

How do you tell if they are dry?

The best way to determine if your fruit or vegetables are dry, is to test to see if they are still sticky or tacky. They should not stick to your fingers when you squeeze them. When dry, they may appear brittle or snap easily. Test by allowing a larger piece to cool down completely and then break it open to check the centre. If in doubt, it is always safer to dry them for a little longer. 

 

Storage and shelf life

Before you store your fruit and vegetables, allow them to cool down completely (30-40 minutes).

If you live in an area with high humidity, this may allow moisture to re-enter the food. It is important to finish dehydrating at times of the day when humidity is at its lowest. It may also be a good idea to get moisture absorbers to help with storage. Store in clean airtight containers or jars in a cool, dark space. Fruits can store for 4-12 months and vegetables generally half that time. Check regularly to ensure no moisture has re-entered the jars.

dehydrated-fruit-in-cocktails

How to use dehydrated foods

  • Many fruits and vegetables can be eaten as they are for quick and easy snacks. Try adding herbs and spices for extra flavour.
  • Fruits with high sugar content will be extremely sweet once the water content has been removed. They make great natural lolly alternatives but be aware that a small piece may contain a very high amount of sugar. Try strawberries, apple or watermelon.
  • Dried fruit, vegetables or herbs can also be blended into powders. This can be a great way to add extra flavour to your meals. Try powdered tomatoes, onions, kale, herbs, or lemon rind.
  • Vegetables can be rehydrated and added to soups, stews and curries.
  • Use fruits as garnishes for baking, platters and drinks.
For more information on dehydrating times, food safety and storage see -
https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/dry.htmlDehydrated fruits also make excellent #gardentogift ideas. Sharing your homegrown produce is a great way to inspire others to grow their own too. Show us your dehydrator efforts on Instagram with #HoselinkAustralia.

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