There are so many good reasons to dehydrate your garden surplus. If fact, deyhdrating is at the top of my list of ways to preserve food. Here’s why:
Better flavor, better nutrition
Dehydrating preserves the flavor and nutritional value of food better than any other method. Fruits and vegetables that are canned are put under high heat for a long time. Heat destroys many of the foods’ nutrients. And it certainly destroys a lot of the flavor. It also alters the food’s texture, so that the once crispy pear is now soft and the firm tomato is mushy.
But with drying, most food is never heated above 130°, which means that most of the nutrients are preserved. The color and flavor of the food is also preserved.
Uses less space
Dried foods takes up a lot less space than canned or frozen. That’s because fruits and vegetables are made mostly of water. When you remove the water the food shrinks. Seven pounds of tomatoes, which normally would fill 7 quart jars if you were to can them, fill a 1/2 gallon jar when dried. That makes drying perfect for apartment dwellers, students or others with limited space.
You can do a little at a time
Normally, when you can, you need to have enough produce to fill 7 jars. That’s a LOT of food. At the beginning of the garden season, you may only be getting a little bit of produce from the garden, certainly not enough to fill a canner-full of jars.
But when you dry, you do it in batches as small (or large) as you like. That means you can be preserving your food from the very beginning of the season and throughout. Preserving food becomes a more manageable affair, not a race to keep ahead of the produce. And smaller batches makes it good for couples and singles, anyone who doesn’t want 100 jars of green beans.
No special storage needed
When you can you need plenty of canning jars and then some nice sturdy shelves to store all your canned goods one. When you freeze, you not only need storage containers for the frozen food, but you’ll also need a freezer, which runs on electricity and takes up a lot of space.
But with drying, you don’t need special storage. You can store your dried food in anything that’s air-tight and moisture-proof. Any glass jar with a tight-fitting lid is good for storing dried food: Or you can use Baggies, Tupperware or other plastic containers or vacuum-sealed bags.
I look for vacuum-sealed canisters at the thrift stores. They come in a variety of sizes and create an air-tight seal that keeps humidity from compromising my dried food.
It takes less time
No matter how you preserve your food, you’ll need to wash it and prep it for processing. Then if you’re canning, you’ll put the food into jars, put them in the canner, bring the canner up to a boil and processed for the required amount of time.
With freezing, some food requires blanching. After blanching, you have to partition the food out into storage containers and freeze them. Freezing is not quite as involved as canning, but it is a bit work, nonetheless.
But for dehydrating, all you need to do is prep the food and put it on the trays. That’s it. Some foods do require blanching or a dip in ascorbic acid, But for most food, you just cut it up, put it into the drier and forget about it. Each batch usually takes 4-24 hours to dry. So while it’s drying you can go on about the rest of your day. When the food is dry, just take it out and pop it into storage containers. There! you’re done.
It uses less energy
Canning takes quite a bit of energy. On a big canning day you may have all four burners on your stove running at maximum the whole day. Preparing the food for freezing won’t take as much energy, but then you have the cost of running the freezer 24/7. A dehydrator will run for 4-24 hours (depending on the size of the batch and moisture content of the food). After that, no more energy is needed.
No worries about power outages
If your freezer fails, you’ll lose a lot of food. But with with dehydrating, power outages are not a concern.
No special skills needed:
There’s a bit of time learning to can. When you first start canning, it seems like it takes forever. After you’ve canned for a while, it you get better at it and it takes less time. But the learning curve for dehydrating is more of a hyphen. Really, all you have to learn is the quickest way to
cut up food into uniform slice. Then you need to learn when the food is properly dried for storage. And for that I have this handy Drying Chart. This chart tells you which foods need special attention, how long to dry and how to tell when the food is done..
There’s almost nothing that can’t be dried. Obviously you’ll want to dry fruits and vegetables, maybe some herbs. But don’t stop there. You can dry soups for instant meals and cooked beans for instant soup. Dry eggs for instant scrambled eggs.
Use your imagination
There really is no end to all the amazing things you can dry and use for later. I’ve written a book to help you get started on dehydrating. Filled with dozens of recipes, instructions for getting started and a drying chart, it is an indispensable guide for anyone who wants to preserve their garden surplus with drying.