Dehydrating Food at Home

Reader Contribution by Jordan Moslowski

Anyone who knows me knows that I, for some reason, have always been deeply interested in dehydrated food, which as I child (and occasionally as an adult), I just referred to as “space food.” I can’t help but associate dehydrated food with the souvenir dehydrated ice cream sandwiches I used to buy at the Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. on school trips. Today though, I know that more than just astronauts get to reap the benefits of a dehydrator.

This year, I finally was able to make my own “space food,” and it was a much different experience than I thought. I went to the grocery store and bought a combination of obvious and weird foods to dehydrate. I went for the typical bananas and apples and strawberries, but I also ended up with a big chunk a mozzarella cheese and Oreos in my cart, too. I completely admit that when I grabbed the Oreos, I was 100 percent picturing the souvenir dried ice cream sandwiches again, and I was thinking I could finally make my own.

I used the Weston 6-Tray Digital Dehydrator from the Mother Earth News store. One of my primary concerns was that it’d be difficult to figure out how to use — I kept thinking about how if NASA was behind “space food,” it had to be complicated.

Luckily, it was anything but. The directions included a chart of common fruits and veggies to dehydrate, with suggested times and temperatures for each, which made my life a lot easier. I was a little surprised though by how long it suggested putting some things in; I left most foods in for over 9 hours! When I first imagined dehydrating food, I have to admit that I thought it would be instantaneous, so that caught me off guard.

The 6 trays were able to fit most of the foods that I bought in the first round. I even used some of the leftover mango pulp to create a mango-strawberry fruit roll up. I tried to add in a mix of things, so I could get a good feel for how the Weston dehydrator dried everything. I pretty much knew I didn’t have to worry about the fruits, but some of the other items — especially the mozzarella cheese — worried me more.

I kept checking on it every hour, until eventually my boyfriend dragged me out of my apartment just to stop me from staring the dehydrator down. When we came back at the end of the day, everything had shriveled up to half its original size. Instead of taste testing everything (which I was desperate to do), I rounded everything up to bring to work the following day, to get an honest opinion from my co-workers how everything came out.

Some opinions were obvious, but some really shocked me.  As I suspected, the bananas and apples went over very well; both were nice and crunchy, and made great snacks for the office. The kiwis and mangoes were a pretty big hit to, but neither of these were as crisp as the bananas and apples. Most of the fruits were well-liked, which surprised no one.

What did surprise me were some of the vegetables; I made a lot of zucchini, because I thought that it’d be an automatic hit, but that wasn’t the case. Turns out, they didn’t retain much flavor, and never fully crisped. The carrots turned out the exact same way; they didn’t retain they’re veggie flavor, and became a bland and chewy snack.

One of the biggest disappointing surprises was the Oreos; instead of the creamy center drying out as I imagined, it completely melted. I decided to leave them home for the day, and when I came back, the cream had returned to normal, and the cookies look like they’d never been touched. This is one thing I think I’ll experiment more with; I have a feeling that if I can get the correct temperature, these Oreos will turn out exactly as I pictured the… eventually.

The biggest surprise was the mozzarella cheese; it ended up being everyone’s favorite, and I mean that literally. People were fighting over the last few pieces, and I was constantly told that the dehydrator dried it out just right. It’s funny to me, because I was so skeptical of dehydrating it at all!

Overall, the Weston dehydrator performed well. It dried out almost everything, and what it didn’t full dehydrate I suspect had something to do with me not setting the temperature correctly. Since I mixed fruits and veggies in one round, I set the dehydrator to a temperature that best suited the fruits, and may have hurt my veggies.

The one down side I found with this was the cleanup; it was difficult to clean out all the little cracks and spaces in the trays, and I eventually ended up soaking them for a few hours just to save me the hassle. But the actual performance was worth it to finally have a crack at making my own space-ready dehydrated food.

You can purchase the Weston 6-Tray Dehydrator at the Mother Earth News store.