The Natural Pantry: How to Add Nutritious Dehydrated Foods to Your Food Pantry

Reader Contribution by Tess Pennington
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One thing I like to tell my readers at Ready Nutrition is to eat the food that you store. A way to do this is to take some of the food that you normally eat (fruits, vegetables, meats, etc.) and dehydrate them for later use. Doing so ensures you have your favorite foods on hand when you need it the most. For centuries, dehydrating food was used as the go-to method of expanding and maintaining a nutritious pantry. Nowadays, food has become more expensive, and with the added preservatives and artificial colorings, many are starting to consider the old ways of living are healthier than the modern one. Dehydrating food is a fast and affordable way to ensure you have all the right kinds of food at your disposal with minimal investment.

As well, this is a frugal way to use up any fresh foods whose shelf life needs extending. Any fruits or vegetables that my family does not eat gets sliced and dehydrated for pantry snacks. As well, I purchase meats in the discount aisle at the grocery store and slice it for jerky or dried meats for sauces and soups.   

The Dehydration Process Minimally Effects Food Sources

The dehydration process removes moisture from the food so that bacteria, yeast, and mold cannot grow. The added benefit is the dehydration process minimally affects the nutritional content of food. In fact, when using an in-home dehydration unit, 3%-5% of the nutritional content is lost compared to the canning method which loses 60%-80% of the nutritional content.  Additionally, vitamins A and C, carbohydrates, fiber, potassium, magnesium, selenium and sodium are not altered or lost in the drying process. Therefore, the result is nutrient packed food that can be stored long term.

Fruits and vegetables are not the only food sources you can dehydrate. In the book, The Prepper’s Cookbook, I outline the multiple ways that one can use a dehydrator: vegetables, fruits, make jerky, make fruit or vegetable leather, dry herbs, spices, soup mixes, noodles, and even crafts. As well, you can make tasty “just add water” meals to your pantry for those busy days. When I began dehydrating foods, I purchased a modest dehydrator. Then, I realized how much I loved it and got a higher end model.

 Essential Rules to Follow When Dehydrating

Before you go crazy dehydrating, keep in mind that there are a few rules to follow to ensure food longevity, freshness, and prevention of discoloration. 

You can dehydrate any fruit or vegetable, regardless of quality or ripeness. If something is too ripe and soft, you can always puree it and dry the puree. Although using the best quality fruits and veggies will result in the best quality dried goods, remember that the goal here is preservation, not perfection. So don’t be afraid to dehydrate the bruised, overripe, and slightly damaged goods. Just make sure not to put mold in the dehydrator as it can spread and infect the rest of the foods.

Some food items can be air-dried. Herbs and other green leafy food sources, in particular, do not necessarily need a dehydrator. They can be set out on the way and air-dried.

Some foods need to be blanched. Blanching certain foods like onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes ahead of time will limit discoloration and the risk of food-borne illnesses. While it isn’t necessary, it certainly helps in the longevity of your dried foods.

Cook potatoes thoroughly for further enjoyment. Potatoes, beans, and other root vegetables should be cooked thoroughly and then dehydrated. I’ve made a pot of beans and dehydrated them for soups. I have also made dehydrated potato flakes to use in my prepper pantry.

Don’t dehydrate foods from different families at the same time. If you are dehydrating foods from different family groups, the flavors can cross over. For instance, if you are dehydrating tomatoes and peppers, note that the tomatoes will end up being spicy. As well, any Brassica should be dried on its own. Otherwise, the sulfur taste will permeate into the other foods. The only exception is dehydrating fruits. Fruits can be mixed together, but mixing them with strong tasting or smelling vegetables is not recommended.

Be consistent with your cut size and spacing. Try to keep the slices of food the same thickness to encourage even drying times. As well, try not to allow the food to touch one another or overlap (green leafy vegetables are ok though). Otherwise, it can block the airflow and prevent drying. 

Storage Life for Dehydrated Foods 

In most cases, dehydrated food can be stored for up to a year. Once dehydrated, the food shrinks in size and does not take up a lot of space and can be stored in a more organized fashion. For example, one pound of apples roughly turns into two ounces of dried apples. How’s that for space efficiency? 

1. Fruits and vegetables can last for up to 1 year if properly stored.

2. Dried meats should be consumed within 2-3 months.  However, it is suggested that if dried meats have not been consumed after one month, they should be stored in the refrigerator to prolong the freshness.

3. Herbs can last for years.

4. Noodles should be eaten within one year to enjoy the freshness. 

Dehydrating foods is a cost-effective solution to creating a nutritious and delicious pantry and use up any existing food you already have. Next time, we will discuss some cost efficient solutions to supplementing your food pantry!

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