Electric Food Dehydrators: What They Are and How They Work

Reader Contribution by Susan Gast
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Drying Food for Emergency Preparedness

I first became interested in food dehydrators about five years ago quite by accident. I never in a hundred years thought my kitchen cupboard would house one of those space-craft-looking contraptions. I’d shake my head and wonder what all the fuss was about — until I joined forces with those who dehydrate food on a regular basis.

This turnaround came about by realizing I did not have (enough) backup food for any emergency situation that may arise. You see, our family lived through two back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 and we quickly found out how unprepared we were.

As fresh food rotted and the frozen food thawed, a need to have some (any!) emergency food on hand became readily apparent as we sat through more than a few weeks of trying to keep calm, cool and collected — without the household power that we all take for granted.

What is an Electric Food Dehydrator?

Electric food dehydrators are simply made of a food-grade plastic with shelves or trays, a top- or rear-mounted heating element and an air-circulating fan. To be able to dehydrate food safely, it’s simply a case of removing the water from the food until it’s dry enough to vacuum seal and store.

The dehydrator must be set at the right temperature. (In future posts, I’ll cover what temperatures to use for fruits, vegetables, and cooked meats). If you use too high a heat, you’ll end up with case-hardening. This means the fruit or vegetable ends up with a tough outer crust and a still-moist inner — which is a no-no and can become a breeding ground for bacteria. We don’t want food spoilage in your kitchen!

Just about all electric food dehydrators on the market today are powered by electricity, though there are some solar food dehydrators — that’s good to know — but they can be more expensive (believe it or not) than electric-powered machines! Click here for a list of solar food dehydrators you can build yourself.

The Best Food Dehydrators Are…

Dehydrators come in a variety of shapes and sizes: round or square (and rectangular), and contain pull-out “shelves” whereupon you place your food. The other type, namely the round dehydrators, have their trays stacked one on top of the other. I happen to have one of each variety and I have found different uses for each of them during my food dehydrating journey.

I’m often asked which are the best electric food dehydrators and my answer is always this: Think about what you want to dehydrate, how much, and how often. If you have a small family, then opt for a 4-tray model. Larger families of four to eight persons might decide upon a 9-tray dehydrator. For those who have gardens that produce generous amounts of fruits and vegetables (lucky you!), go for a 9-tray model.

The two dehydrator brands I use are Nesco™ and Excalibur™. When I was making my purchasing decision, I hunted around on sites like Amazon and read a ton of the product reviews. In the end, I selected a 5-tray round Nesco Snackmaster™ and a 4-tray “starter” Excalibur™ dehydrator.

In subsequent posts, I’ll go over the pros and cons of both the Nesco™ and Excalibur™ dehydrators to help you make an educated buying decision.

I’m looking forward to telling you more about food dehydrating, and sharing tips and tricks on safe food preparation prior to dehydrating your harvest. Also, you’ll learn all about storing your dehydrated food safely for long-term food storage. Please join me here again at MOTHER EARTH NEWS!

Since December of 2010, Susan Gast has operated Easy Food Dehydrating, a website dedicated to dehydrating fresh fruits and vegetables, and cooked meats. Susan teaches you how to safely store your goodies toofor safe long-term food storage. Keep your food pantry fullwhatever the reason or season!

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