Using a food dehydrator for fun and science!

Guest post by Alexandra Daigle

food dehydratingWhen I was younger, my sister and I liked to watch infomercials. I’m pretty sure an infomercial could convince an Inuk to buy snow (comes in both functional and decorative varieties!). After one particular commercial I was convinced that food dehydrators were the coolest invention ever. Unsurprisingly, my mother did not call the 1-800 number to “order now!”

The idea to get a dehydrator never went away though. Even if the motivation to spend money on what might be a useless kitchen gadget did. Then there was our wedding registry… everyone knows wedding registries are for potentially useless kitchen gadgets, right? The bread maker is still sitting in its box a few months later, but the dehydrator has since become a fairly constant fixture in our kitchen, and we’re constantly walking through the grocery store asking “can we dehydrate that?” We also later picked up a mandolin to make thinly slicing fruits easier and to get more consistent slices. Totally worth it if you’re dehydrating all the time like we are.

Apparently putting a dehydrator in a house of nerds turns it into an on-going science experiment. These experiments have left us with a good list of what foods worked and what didn’t when it comes to dehydrating. So now I’m sharing this list with you, Offbeat Homies, including the deliciousness ratings on a scale of 1-5…

Apples: Fairly straightforward. I recommend peeling and coring the apples first, the dried peels are a little unpleasant. 5/5

Applesauce: Do you like fruit leathers? Because I love fruit leathers. That’s what dehydrated applesauce is. We actually found multiple flavours of pureed fruit in individual cups in the supermarket and used those for blueberry and cinnamon apple leathers. You may have to line your dehydrator with cling wrap if its trays have holes in them like mine. Otherwise, the trickiest part is how thin to spread it. 5/5

Bananas: Sadly, dehydrated bananas are not exactly like banana chips. The middles sink in, the edges get hard, and mine looked a bit black. On the other hand, they taste exactly like banana, if you can get around the ugly look and strange texture. 3/5

Avocados: Does this sound like a good idea? It’s not a good idea. But we had to try it. For science. It was not a good idea. The oils came out and started to go rancid. I don’t recommend trying this. 0/5

Kiwi: Kiwi sounded like an amazing idea, but in practice, the ones I picked up were a touch under-ripe, so the results were very tart. But there was an easy solution to this: I simply put some sugar and water in a small pan, heated it up over the stove, and rehydrated the kiwi slices in it. Then I dehydrated them again. The results were basically translucent kiwi candies, and delicious. 5/5

Oranges: These sounded like a good idea, but after trying it twice, I’ve concluded that oranges in the dehydrator are only good for decorations. The first attempt was to dry them in slices, peel on, but the peel was exceptionally bitter. I then tried dehydrating the individual segements, but the outer membrane just became stiff and unpleasant. I ended up rehydrating them (similarly to the kiwi but with some ginger and cinnamon) and using them in place of fresh oranges in a cookie recipe. Some people seem to have had some success, but I’m not planning on trying them again for awhile. 1/5

Salami: Why did we try dried salami slices in the dehydrator? For science, clearly. The results were mixed. It tasted fine, and the texture was similar to baked pepperoni, though the way the grease pulled out of it was a little disconcerting. I prefer fresh salami, but one of my roommates liked it dried. 3/5

Marshmallows: Shortly after getting the dehydrator, I walked into the kitchen (where we were drying fruits), seeing a handful of mini marshmallows on the top rack, and scoffing at this idea. Well, I’m not scoffing now. Dried mini marshmallows are amazing! They taste like the ones you get out of Lucky Charms, with a bit of crunch on the outside and gooey middles. And if you can resist walking off with them by the handful, you can toss them in hot chocolate and they won’t instantly dissolve like normal marshmallows will. 5/5

Meringue: I’ve been attempting to perfect my meringue cookie recipe for a few years now, and I think the dehydrator might have been the missing key. I borrowed a Martha Stewert recipe for the most part. When it came to baking the cookies, I piped them onto parchment or wax paper lining my dehydrator trays. Then I turned the heat to the highest setting and occasionally stole some of the uglier cookies to test doneness. My first batch was perfection, though the second batch got a little soggy overnight. This may be my own fault for doubling the recipe, and leaving them on a metal bake tray for too long. 5/5

Peaches: Peach pits make it remarkably difficult to get nice slices, but the outcome is pretty tasty. Would likely be even better if you use ripe peaches, instead of the hard, sad winter peaches I picked up. 4/5

Mango: Easy and tasty, a perfect combo. 5/5

Pineapple: Dried pineapple is delicious, though it still makes my tongue prickle like fresh pineapple does. You can sprinkle them with cinnamon too for even more deliciousness. Regardless of how fun it sounds, resist the urge to slice the whole thing through the mandolin without first peeling and coring your pineapple. Trust me, it only sounds fun right now. 4/5

Beef Jerky: How did I almost forget about the beef jerky? Let me just say, homemade beef jerky is incredible, and simple. Buy whatever cut is on sale. Slice it thin, and marinate it overnight in whatever marinade you like. (Ours tends to involve soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, molasses or brown sugar, white wine vinegar and something spicy.) The next day, toss into your dehydrator, and resist the temptation to eat it all just to “test if it’s done yet.” You won’t be able to resist, because it’s amazing. 5/5

Some additional notes: It’s worth it to taste for done-ness as you go along. Initially we left the fruits and jerky in for far too long (8-10 hours), and it turned out that most of it was better if it still had some moisture left (less than 6 hours). Everything varies, though. Next up on my list of things to try: pears, onions, herbs, and berries. Dried strawberries and raspberries sound like a winning idea in my head.

Any suggestions about what Alexandra should try dehydrating in the name of science?

Comments on Using a food dehydrator for fun and science!

  1. Depending on the kind of banana chips you’re used to, the key to dehydrated banana slices becoming banana chips may be honey (and sometimes a bit of lemon juice to prevent darkening). The kind my hubby really loves is definitely coated in a layer of honey then dried. Banana chips we’ve gotten from other places often lack the honey and the texture can vary a fair amount, so this will only help if you happen to like the honey dried kind. We’re just waiting on finding a good dehydrator to try our own at home.

  2. Persimmons. The ones we have in Hawaii you can cut and dry like apples. And overripe ones make a really nice fruit leather w/ no sugar! Thanks for all your ideas.

  3. Hey, thank you for this article.

    Food dehydrators are a blessing.

    If you are able to dry your food properly, all the taste will remain in the food. This is why it is important to have a procedure before you start and follow it religiously.

    You may think that if you start dehydrating food, you will lose the taste. What really happens is that the taste becomes more concentrated. Consequently, when you dehydrate food, you are removing the water and preserving the flavor.

  4. Hi there, Alexandra.

    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.

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