28 February 2013

The Four Most Common Ways to Dry Foods

Did you know that drying is one of the oldest methods of food preservation? In warm climates, it has been practiced for centuries. No special equipment is required, and most dried foods do not require refrigeration. Drying also allows foods to retain more of their nutritional value than preservation methods that require cooking.

The way drying preserves food is quite simple. By removing moisture, it takes away one of the most important things that microbes need to survive and multiply. Without those microbes, the food will not spoil.

Here are some of the ways you can dry food at home.

Sun Drying
If you live in a warm, dry climate, sun drying is an option for fruits (you've had sun-dried tomatoes haven't you?). They can be sliced and placed on screens made of stainless steel, plastic or coated fiberglass. Prop them up with blocks in an area where air can circulate around them on days when the temperature reaches 30 to 33 degrees Celsius or higher. Most fruits will dry within 2 to 4 days. When drying is complete, the fruit should either be frozen for 2 to 4 days or heated to 80 degrees Celsius in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. This will destroy any insect eggs.
Air Drying
Not all foods can be effectively air dried, but this method works well for herbs and certain vegetables. Herbs should be tied together in bunches by their stems and hung upside down in a dry, breezy area. I hang bunches of herbs from our garden from hooks in the ceiling in the kitchen. They may also be placed in a single layer on screens or newspaper. Beans, chilli and mushrooms may be strung onto thread. In most cases, drying will be complete in 2 to 3 days.
Oven Drying
One of today’s most popular food drying methods, oven drying is easy and works well for most foods in small amounts. Cut fruits and vegetables into thin pieces (a mandolin is good for this), place them in a single layer on a biscuit sheet and heat them at 50 to 65 degrees Celsius. Leaving the oven door cracked open will allow air to circulate, reducing drying time (slip the handle of a wooden spoon into the gap to prop the door open). If the food is rotated frequently, drying should be complete in 4 to 6 hours. Meat should be cut into thin strips and dried at a temperature of 75 to 85 degrees Celsius to make jerky.
For those who frequently dry foods or want to dry them in larger quantities, a food dehydrator is a good investment. Dehydrators are designed to optimize heat distribution and air flow, so you can simply spread the food out on the trays and check it in a few hours. Price varies depending on the brand and the size. I use a simple three-layer dehydrator I bought at Aldi a few years ago. It has a thermostat which ensures the temperature is even for the drying period.

Dried foods offer the ultimate in convenience and portability. And when packaged and stored properly, they may be enjoyed for months to come. If you’re new to food preservation, drying is a great way to get started, no special equipment required!

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