And be healthier!
Vegetables can keep for years if dehydrated and stored properly. Among the best vegetables for dehydrating are tomatoes, carrots, beets, beans, squash, onions, peas, celery, corn, pumpkin, and broccoli. Some of these you can eat dry, like vegetable chips, and others will lend themselves to use in soups or stews.
You’ll want to start with clean, thinly sliced vegetables. Obviously, you won’t be slicing peas or corn, though. You should blanch most vegetables, except for onions, mushrooms, and tomatoes to kill off food pathogens.
Start your dehydrator a few minutes before you’re ready to load it up with your vegetables. This way, the machine will reach optimum temperature before it has to start removing the moisture from the veggies. Dehydrating meat is best done at about 155–160℉ but fruit and vegetables will dry nicely at about 120–125℉.
Thankfully, most common food bacteria such as E.Coli, botulism, and Salmonella die off in temperatures of 112℉ or higher. So as long as your dehydrator exceeds their tolerance, you can be sure you’re killing off contaminants and keeping you and your family safe.
Dehydrated vegetables will normally last a year in glass jars, even more if you include an oxygen absorber. Pathogens that thrive in the presence of oxygen cannot survive in an environment without it. So by including oxygen absorbers, you’re providing another layer of defense against food-borne dangers.
But if you really want to extend their shelf life, store your dehydrated vegetables in mylar bags with oxygen absorbers. If you store the bags in a cool dark place, or even in your freezer, the vegetables will be good for five years or more.
Food is always at risk from bacteria that thrive in oxygen, rodents, insects, and breakdown caused by light and heat. By taking the steps above, you can rest easy knowing your food is protected against all of them. If you’re clean and careful, your dehydrated food could last up to ten years or more!
There are a wide variety of commercially available dehydrators on the market. Different sizes and designs will give different results. An older model may be terrific for drying herbs you’ve grown yourself, but it might not hit the temperature needed for meat. So give serious consideration to your dehydrating goals. (We’ll take a look at some different models in another post)
Drying Fruit Safely & Extending Storage Life
Some fruits lend themselves more readily to dehydration than others. The optimum temperature range for drying fruits and vegetables is 125℉ to 135℉. Dehydrators that do not include adjustable thermostats or older models without any type of heat adjustments could run too cool to kill off harmful bacteria, or even too hot to dry fruit properly. An older unit without a fan will take forever to dry banana slices. Not an ideal situation!
If you’re considering getting your first dehydrator, or possibly upgrading, keep in mind that meat and vegetables (and fruit) need different temperatures to dehydrate properly to be safe for consumption. There is no gain in risking your health just to save some money.
With that out of the way, let’s talk about some of the often-overlooked fruits that are terrific to dehydrate. Remember, all we’re taking away is the fruit’s moisture, but we’re leaving all the nutrients. So dehydrated fruit is still good for you. And in the case of apricots, dried is even better!
Watermelon — Cut into chunks and dehydrated properly, a sweet watermelon morphs into watermelon candy. It’s such a treat! Even better, dried watermelon is high in protein, and vitamins C and A, which are wonderful immune boosters.
Cantaloupe — Dried cantaloupe is high in fiber, which is important for good gut health, as well as stabilizing blood sugar levels. What a lot of people don’t know about this underrated melon is that it fights inflammation, too. Not only that but cantaloupe is also loaded with beta-carotene and zeaxanthin, both of which contribute to eye health.
Dried cantaloupe is easy to add to trail mix or instant oatmeal on the trail. It’s a delicious way to boost your immune system, too!
Limes — These are among the superheroes of dehydrated fruit! Dried limes fight the common cold, raise the efficiency of the immune system, and fight inflammation. It also protects the body from viral infections and stress.
But what can you do with dried limes? They are used extensively in Middle Eastern cooking, and in powdered form as rubs for meat. Dried limes are also used to give a bit of a kick to soups and stews and in dried lime tea.
Strawberries — Slice these in half, or if they’re big enough, half again before loading your dehydrator up with these tasty fruits. They are as scrumptious dried and in trail mix as they are fresh and in your cereal bowl.
These red jewels are high in Vitamin C as well as calcium, low in fat, and rich in a variety of beneficial nutrients.
Apricots — Amazingly, dried apricots are even higher in nutrients than their fresh counterparts, with more iron, calcium, and potassium. Did you know that 5 dehydrated apricots have more fiber than one fresh apricot? This is important because fiber helps lower your risk of heart disease, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and aids in lowering your risk for cancer. So not only are dried apricots tasty, but they’re terrific health boosters, too!
As with vegetables and jerky, if you really want your dehydrated fruit to last longer, the best way to do that is to store them in an oxygen-free environment. Mylar bags with oxygen absorbers will do the job just as nicely with apricots as with jerky. If the goal is to store your dried food for years, store your filled Mylar bags in buckets with tight-fitting lids that are moisture-proof, rodent-proof, and insect-proof. Dehydrated fruit has been stored safely for up to 8 years this way.
If you intend to eat your dried fruit within a year, they’ll keep nicely in a jar with an oxygen absorber dropped in, or in a zippered plastic bag with the air squeezed out. But if you want your dried fruit to last indefinitely, freeze it!
Next time, we’ll talk about dehydrating herbs!
Have you ever dehydrated fruit? What kind? I can’t wait to make more watermelon “candy”!