Do you practice food preservation? If so, we would love to hear the reasons that these historic practices are a staple in your kitchen. There are many modes of food preservation to enjoy your harvest throughout the year. Dehydration is one of the oldest practices reaching as far back as prehistoric times but maintained its integral part in civilization to the current date!
The extraction of moisture from food through dehydration is the key to longer shelf life. Moisture can lead to food spoilage very quickly. Dehydration can and has been used across most food mediums. From fruits and vegetables to meats and eggs. Foods, often sliced thin, are exposed to low heat and airflow over a long period of time to pull out the water content.
Dehydration is one of the most widely used practices of food preservation due to the minimal tools needed to achieve the dried state. Even today, we can use practices that have been used since before documentation or more modern practices to reach dried foods.
There are five main modes of dehydration that have developed over time. Sun drying, air drying, solar drying, oven drying, and electric dehydrating.
As the oldest practice of dehydration, the sun and nature’s airflow have been drying foods for centuries. As the sun heats the moisture content in the food it turns to vapor and evaporates out. Solar dehydration can take anywhere from 10-12 hours up to 48 hours to reach the desired dryness to then store for eating at a later time. Using nature around us, these time frames are directly related to the duration of the sun in the sky, the lack of clouds or poor weather as well as the day’s natural breeze. This practice works best in areas that have temperatures over 85 degrees Ferenheight and less than 65% humidity.
The sun can be removed from the equation either due to environmental reasons, lack of, or for foods that can be burnt or discolored due to sun ray exposure. Herbs are best dried in a shaded environment with low humidity and good airflow. The sun has the capability to bleach the tender leafy greens taking away nutrients and aesthetics.
Units can be built to intensify the sun’s rays to speed up the dehydration process. Creating a container that magnifies the sun’s rays makes solar drying a practice that can be used when optimal environmental factors are lacking. Similar to both air drying and sun drying, this practice does not use electricity. It is easier to source materials to construct solar drying systems than it may be for some to acquire electric systems. As an off-grid technique, a wooden box and window work wonders!
We are not into our first dehydration practice that utilizes electricity. Whether you are using your oven due to inclement weather or just for ease of practice, this method is a great way to dehydrate foods! There are pros and cons to each method of course but oven drying seems to have the most cons in my opinion. Maintaining optimal temperature to make sure we are drying foods and not cooking them is the largest setback. As each food has an optimal drying temperature, not all ovens have the ability to reach and stay at a lower temperature. You will need to monitor this process more closely than other practices.
We have reached the point of purchasing or acquiring equipment to dehydrate food. There are many brands out there for food dehydrators that can be as simple as heat and air flower to a complexity including timers and heat gages. You can use systems on either range of the spectrum to dehydrate foods well. If you are not in a place to purchase a unit that has a timer on it, you can always improvise by purchasing a plug-in timer, as you would use for Christmas lights. The benefit of electric dehydrators is that they often need less attentiveness. A downfall of this practice is that noise can be a bother to some. Plugging this unit anywhere that is protected from the weather lets you avoid noise pollution.
Rehydrating and Using Dehydrated Foods
Dehydrated foods can be enjoyed as is or rehydrated to meet your culinary needs. Dehydration gives us the ability to stock our own spice cabinet for cooking. It also allows us to have fresh fruit on our salads all year long. The lack of water decreases the natural weight and size of food. This makes it easier to transport bulk food to meet your needs. Dried foods are a favorite among backpackers and campers alike. Typically, most dried foods have a shelflife ranging from nine months to one year.
What is your favorite way to enjoy dried foods and your favorite practice to preserve?
– Halley from MIgardener
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