If you have never tried it before, here’s a great new hobby idea: dehydrate your own food. If you’ve been dehydrating for years, you already know it’s a fun, economical and simple way to make healthy snacks that even the pickiest eaters will devour.
Using a food dehydrator, which forces warm, dry air over fruits, veggies or meat, you remove all the moisture and preserve the food, allowing it to be stored on a shelf for months. You can create chewy, flavorful, and in many cases, low-calorie, snacks like apple rings, beef jerky, dried apricots and papaya wedges. It’s also a great way to have soup vegetables always on hand.
Groceries and health food stores have been selling dehydrated, sun-dried or flash-dried foods for years, and dried foods have been popular since the beginning of recorded history. However, store-bought dried foods are expensive, and they can contain artificial preservatives to increase their shelf lives even further.
If you are a gardener, you know there’s always produce left at the end of the season that you can’t get your family to eat. Dehydrating leftovers is a way to have your harvest extend into the dull, gray winter months when you can't get fresh veggies.
You can inexpensively make your own pineapple rings, homemade raisins and prunes, fruitcake chunks for rehydrating, and fruit leathers. You can also coat your fruits with sugar, cinnamon or other dried baking spices before drying to create more exotic flavors. You no longer have to crave your favorite fruits when they’re out of season. Make their season last year-round!
Dehydrating vegetables is as simple as slicing or dicing and separating on trays. In two days or less, your food dehydrator will produce crispy, crunchy snacks and pantry staples ready for your culinary imagination. Onions, carrots, bell peppers and celery can all be dried for future use in nearly any recipe. Dried corn cut off the cob, green beans, and tomatoes make unusual crisp snacks that are infinitely healthier than fried chips. You can dry your own pinto beans, root crops, squash and any other vegetables that you want to store for adding to casseroles and soups. Dried foods provide all the nutrients and fiber and none of the refined or artificial ingredients that come with store-bought snack foods.
Making your own beef or turkey jerky couldn’t be easier. If you can slice meat, you can have a great chewy (and long-lasting) snack that is irresistible. You can prepare the meat by soaking it in your favorite marinade first. Like it hot? Don’t hold back on the cayenne! Like it tropical? Try rubbing the slices with Jamaican jerk seasonings before drying.
Don’t forget your herbs. Air drying can cause mold or mildew to form on the tender leaves. Drying herbs in a dehydrator is safer and it also preserves the color and flavor better. Nearly every edible herb is suitable for drying.
Every bookstore and library, as well as the Internet, offers recipe books for creative drying of foods using the sun or commercial dehydrators. It's easy and a foolproof way to get your family snacking on foods you'll not only approve of, you'll encourage!