8 Reasons to buy a Food Dehydrator

Dried peaches made in a food dehydrator - TheMessyBaker.com

20 Sep 8 Reasons to buy a Food Dehydrator

Dried peaches made in a food dehydrator - TheMessyBaker.com

My bedroom closet houses clothes, shoes, a cat-clawed housecoat, my knitting needle collection and a food dehydrator. Too wide for our narrow pantry, this unit spends most of the year in a corner of my closet looking like an abandoned R2-D2 action figure on Boxing Day morning. For eight months of the year it quietly collects dust and cat hair without complaining. The remaining four months? It’s hauled out, washed off, and gets dizzy being shuffled between my office and the kitchen table.

While I’m guessing few people keep a dehydrator in their closet, according to cookbook author and Professional Home Economist (PHEc) Jennifer Mackenzie human closet dehydrators have been lurking in the shadows for years. It’s only recently they’ve stepped into the light — and the bookstores. Jennifer co-authored The Dehydrator Bible (Robert Rose) back in 2009, but says that in the past two years sales for the book and dehydrators are “going crazy.” Who’s suddenly drying food? Avid campers, overwhelmed CSA box recipients, Farmers’ Market addicts and panicked gardeners.

Now, I’m not about to give up my spirited peaches or apricot jam, but there is room in my culinary repertoire for dying food. Over the years I’ve dried tomatoes, cherries, strawberries, blueberries, pineapple and even made fruit leather. My latest passion? Dried peaches.

Dried peaches made in a food dehydrator - TheMessyBaker.com

Is a dehydrator a good choice for you? I spoke with Jennifer about this preserving option and she generously shares her pros, cons and tips.

8 Benefits of a Food Dehydrator

Depending on whether you buy extra trays, a good dehydrator costs less than $100, lasts years and can be shoved in a closet when not being used. Beyond that food dehydrators:

  1. Save space: Yes, the machine itself takes up room, but it shrinks food significantly, allowing you to fit a lot of  preserves into a small area. This is ideal for camping, large families, and anyone with little room and a big appetite.
  2. Extend shelf-life:  The book says dehydrated food keeps for 1 year to be safe, but Jennifer has kept items for 2 years without signs of mold. I didn’t dehydrate enough food to test this time limit. Most of my preserves are gone before winter is over.
  3. Make bad food obvious:  Unlike with canning, which can harbour invisible bacteria, when dried food is compromised you can easily see the mold.
  4. Create versatile results:  Not only can you dehydrate  fruits, vegetables, herbs and more, you can eat them dried or rehydrate them for anything from cobblers to pizza sauce.
  5. Are cost effective:  Dehydrators are not outrageously expensive and allow you to save the harvest when it’s least expensive. Most units are expandable, so you can buy more trays and layers as needed — or not, if that’s the case.
  6. Are flexible to use: You can dry one peach or a basket. The unit can run for days on end or for just a few hours.
  7. Have a fool-proof technique: Because the temperatures are so low it’s almost impossible to over-dry. Jennifer assured me more than once that, “You can’t mess up!” So, I tested her theory. Yup. I forgot about my first batch of dried peaches when I left them to cool. Of course it was a very humid day and they partially rehydrated. I dried them again, and they’re fine.
  8. Create healthy food: Dehydrated fruits and vegetables require no added sugar or salt or preservatives. Plus you get all the fibre of the whole fruit and all the minerals.

Limitations of a Food Dehydrator

After reading the benefits, you’re likely wondering what can’t this thing do? Here are some things to keep in mind before purchasing a food dehydrator.

  • Dehydrated food isn’t necessarily raw: Although dehydrators operate at temperatures much lower than a conventional oven, most recommended settings are well above the 104°F raw-food limit.
  • They won’t make garlic and onion powder: Unlike commercial driers, home dehydrators aren’t going to dry your onion and garlic enough for powders. You can dry them for rehydrating purposes.
  • They don’t contain smells. You’ll love the smell of drying apples, but the air can become quite pungent when dehydrating items like garlic or onions. If you’re going to be home during the process, dry these aromatics in the garage. Don’t dry them outside if there’s threat of rain.
  • Don’t work well with high-fat foods: Because dehydrators simply remove moisture, you can’t dry high-fat food like avocado and have the results be shelf-stable. If you’re making jerky, blot the fat that comes to the surface. While the meat will be safe, the fat can go rancid. If you’re not going to eat the jerky within a week, freeze it to protect the flavour.

Jennifer’s Dehydrator Tips:

To get the most out of your dehydrator:

  • Give it room to breathe: Make sure it has adequate ventilation. Dehydrators require air circulation to work.
  • Don’t let food overlap: It might be tempting to squish a lot of food onto a tray, but items shouldn’t touch or they won’t dry evenly.
  • Don’t mix sweet and savoury  Because the air circulates, flavours can transfer. While you can dry similar items at the same time — strawberries and peaches, for example — don’t mix fruit with aromatics.
  • Use the best quality food: Like with jam, use the best fruit you can for dehydrating. Remove any bruises or soft spots before drying.
  • Don’t dry any fruit with visible mold. The drying process won’t kill the mold spores.
  • Rotate trays: If you’ve stacked the dehydrator to capacity, rotating the trays on occasion will help even drying.
  • Cut grapes and cherries in half: Once you dry your own grapes or cherries, you’ll never want to buy bulk versions again. However, the fat, round shape takes a very long time to dry (unlike blueberries). Cut them in half before placing them on the drying tray. It’s worth the extra step.

Ready to give dehydrating a try? Start with peaches.

Dehydrated peaches or nectarines
Recipe type: Preserves
Cuisine: Summer
Prep / inactive time: 
Cook / active time: 
Total time: 
Whether you have a couple of peaches or a basket full, dehydrating them will ensure you can enjoy the sweet, summer fruit year round.
  • fresh, ripe peaches or nectarines, washed, and free of mold
  • lemon juice
  1. If desired, peel the peaches before drying them. There is no need to peel nectarines. Be sure to cut out any bruises and soft spots.
  2. Cut the fruit lenghtwise into wedges about ¼ inch thick at the widest part.
  3. To prevent browning, dip the fruit slices in lemon water (1 tablespoon lemon juice to each cup water) as you slice them. Drain well.
  4. Place on mesh drying trays, making sure the fruit doesn't overlap. Dry at 130°F (55°C) for 10 to 12 hours or until the slices are dry and leathery but still flexible.
  5. Store in an airtight container or resealable bag in a cool, dry, and dark place. Properly stored, dried peaches will keep for a year.
Leave peach skins on if you're going to eat them dried. However, if you're planning to rehydrate and cook the peaches, you may wish to peel them before drying as the rehydrated skin may be a bit tough.

This is adapted from The Dehydrator Bible by Jennifer Mackenzie, Jay Nutt & Don Mercer. Published by Robert Rose ©2009.

[box style=”rounded” border=”full”] I have a Nesco American Harvest dehydrator. I have no affiliation with the company and share this link because I like the product. [/box]

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  • Connie
    Posted at 15:37h, 20 September Reply

    I received a food dehydrator for Christmas one year, and I love it! Dried apples are my favorite currently, although I have dried bananas, pineapple and pears. Strawberries didn’t turn out very well for me, you’re right that low quality will only be magnified with drying. I grew some fresh basil this summer and dried some of my bounty. Hope to use some in spaghetti sauce soon.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 19:11h, 20 September Reply

      I have never tried drying pears. That would be great. Strawberries are tricky. I used local, very ripe berries with good flavour. I imagine that imported “plastic” ones would lead to disappointment.

      I dry my chocolate mint and lemon verbena. Eachmake an amazing tea. A friend swears homedried basil is entirely different from store bought, so I’m going to give that a try. I bet it’s fabulous in spaghetti sauce. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences and for the reminder to dry herbs!

  • Jan
    Posted at 02:30h, 18 February Reply

    Great post Charmain! Regarding pears, we dried some Harry and David pears last month – had too much leftover holiday food. It worked out just fine. They tasted better dried than fresh in fact. Love your blog. Jan.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 09:39h, 18 February Reply

      I haven’t tried drying pears. I’ll definitely give it a try when they’re in season here. I’m intrigued they tasted better once dehydrated. Thanks so much for sharing your experience! I’m now keen to see what I can do with dried pears.

  • Hanns Loste
    Posted at 12:39h, 03 February Reply

    I make onion and garlic powder with my dehydrator a lot. I have not purchased store bought in years. I also make lemon pepper and spices – it is possible to dehydrate enough to brittle for powders. I also powder potatoes for flakes and in addition make veggie powders to use in smoothies etc. My next venture is honey powder. I think its worth mentioning that you retain a lot more nutrients with dehydrating (like 80% more) than you do with most food preservation. Thank you, Good article.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 16:53h, 03 February Reply

      You make your own garlic powder? Oh, I am sooooo trying this with my next crop! If you have tips, please pass them on. I’m curious to know your technique.

      Thanks also for pointing out that nutrients are maintained. I guess that’s a 9th reason to get a dehydrator.

      Good luck with dehydrating the honey. Again, that’s new to me but very intriguing!

  • christopher
    Posted at 22:25h, 12 April Reply

    I would like to sign for your news letter please. You have some great recipes here. Have been looking for something like these. Thank you.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:39h, 14 April Reply

      Thanks for your interest. I can’t sign you up myself, but here’s the link. http://themessybaker.com/newsletter/

      Let me know if you have any issues with it. Thanks again!

  • Susan
    Posted at 07:55h, 20 September Reply

    Hey Christie :) Love your smiling face.

    Yeah, took a print out without leaving the site. Nice idea there. I have signed up for the newsletter too..

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 18:11h, 22 September Reply

      Thanks for your kind words. Stay tuned for a newsletter soon!

  • Aaron G.
    Posted at 01:14h, 21 December Reply

    Hello, I’m new to the dehydration food business, Im making delicious beef jerky so far.. Even my fiancé liked it.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:11h, 21 December Reply

      Wonderful! I’ve made turkey jerky but haven’t tried beef. Happy dehydrating!

  • topdehydrator
    Posted at 06:04h, 06 January Reply

    It’s a very helpful site for Food Dehydrator review.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:08h, 22 January Reply

      Glad you found the post helpful. My oven doesn’t go low enough for most dehydrator recipes, so it definitely gets used.

  • Carly
    Posted at 15:49h, 19 January Reply

    Thanks for sharing all these points in your post, Charmain! It’s awesome :) Investing in a food dehydrator is well worth every cent that goes into purchasing one. Instead of buying store bought items like chips, fruit leathers and etc, which may not be all that good for you anyways, you can easily make your own snacks in a dehydrator. This will not only help save you money along the way, but will provide you with the comfort of knowing that you can make healthy and delicious creations the whole family will enjoy. And of course, the possibilities are endless with what you can do with one of these super machines.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 11:12h, 22 January Reply

      Thanks. I know a food dehydrator isn’t for everyone, but chips and fruit leathers? I, too, am happy to find a way to reduce junk food and waste. Happy dehydrating!

  • Peta Blues
    Posted at 11:36h, 12 October Reply

    My 11 year old has weight issues and part of the problem is finding healthy snack food that isn’t packed with sugar or fat or both. I was considering purchasing a food hydrated to try and change this pattern. What do you think?

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 13:57h, 16 October Reply

      I’m not a nutritionist. I don’t feel qualified to give health advice. However, I do believe that the more you take control of your food, the more you take control of your health since there is nothing “hiding”.

      I like my dehydrator since you can dry fruit without added sugar (dried cherries, cranberries and blueberries often have added sugar), or chemicals. That said, dried fruit and fruit leathers still contain a lot of natural sugar. It might not be enough of a pattern change.

      If you are looking to make kale chips, this will be a great snack, but you can use your oven.

      I know this isn’t a definitive answer. I hope it provides you with some insight. Kudos to you for taking control of your family’s health and snacks. I wish you all the best in finding a healthy, delicious solution.

  • charlice
    Posted at 05:24h, 02 June Reply

    The best food dehydrator is one that doesn’t cost you too much and don’t put stress on your neck after you have spent some hard dollars to purchase it.

    I love the Excalibur brand because they are so durable and high quality. If you have the money, they are the best option.

    I also love Nesco brands because the give you so much flexibility and they are versatile. I would choose this brand if I can’t afford the Excalibur

    • Alex Weber
      Posted at 02:57h, 02 January Reply

      Thank you for the details you put into this article.

      I don’t know, but I love food dehydrators for their wide variety of uses. Since I buy a lot of fried foods in a week, I think buying a dehydrator (one time investment) is going to allow me stop buying those commercially produced fries and make my own at home. Do you know if there is a cheap one out there that can be used to complete these recipes? Will be grateful, thanks.

      • Charmian Christie
        Posted at 20:22h, 03 January Reply

        I’m glad you found my post informative. You don’t have to buy a food dehydrator to avoid frying. Oven roasting food tossed in a light coating of oil works really well. Likewise, you can dehydrate almost anything in your oven set to low. However, as you say, a dehydrator can make a wide variety of items and it’s worth owning if you do a lot of dried goods.

        As for price, I tend to wait for reliable brands with good warranties to go on sale. More than once I’ve regretted buying a cheap appliance that broke right after the warranty expired. I bought a Nesco American Harvest food dehydrator. It comes with 4 stackable trays, but you can buy more if you find you want to dry large volumes of food. This makes it a flexible option.

        Good luck with your food dehydrating!

  • Mark Hurst
    Posted at 15:58h, 27 September Reply

    Hi, wondered if you have any advice for me. I bought a food dehydrator recently, after having made quite a few really nice fruit leathers in a conventional oven. I thought that I’d like to take dehydrating up proper, and try other stuff. So, to begin with and get used to the machine, I decided to start with some fruit leathers, which I was expecting to be a quicker and easier process than the oven dried ones. But instead, the 3 leathers took nearly 3 times as long, 20-21 hours, and even then one of them was still a bit damp. But worst of all they tasted terrible. They had none of the zing of my oven leathers, and even though the fruit used was fine, they came out with a bitter and sour, stale flavour. Also, they stuck to the parchment, where my oven ones never did, and even the texture was off, not pleasingly chewy, just soft and easily tearable. I ended up throwing the lot out. I can’t understand how they would be so bad in comparison to my oven leathers, and why they would take so long, when the booklet with the dehydrator said 4- 6 hours. Even allowing for the conditions in the room, over 20 hours for leathers seems wrong. I At this point I feel like just not bothering again, and selling the machine. Any tips welcome. Thanks.

    • Charmian Christie
      Posted at 20:17h, 27 September Reply

      It sounds like your dehydrator’s heating function isn’t working and it’s just blowing about room temperature air. That might explain the stickiness, long drying time, and odd flavour.

      Making fruit leather in a dehydrator often takes longer than the conventional oven (it can be set lower for true dehydration, not low level “cooking”), but it shouldn’t take anywhere near 20 hours! Depending on how humid the weather is, I can see fruit leather taking up to 8 hours (I often set it for overnight since summers here are very humid). I set my dehydrator to 135F for fruit leather. My conventional oven can only go as low as 175F (my old oven could do 150) so the dehydrator is better as the oven crisps the edges by the time the centre is ready. However, my dehydrator is working properly.

      If your dehydrator isn’t throwing any heat and is still under warranty, I’d exchange it for a new one. Sorry your first experience was so disappointing. I know dehydrators aren’t cheap but if you’re into drying food, they are worth the investment (providing they work!) Good luck and if you do try again, I’d love to know the results.

  • Nina Naira
    Posted at 04:32h, 10 November Reply

    Hi, Christie, thanks for sharing such an interesting and informative post. I have one. It not only saves us a lot of money, also helps us to provide our family with healthy and dehydrating homemade foods.

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