Connecting Calgarians to the Outdoors

Dehydrating 101: Learning the Basics

January 10, 2021 by Briana Hamilton

Learning to dehydrate is a handy skill to have. It may seem intimidating but it’s actually quite easy – and gets easier the more you do it! 

In my eyes, the benefits of making dehydrated meals certainly outweighs buying store bought. Although it takes some work and time, you can customize each meal to your liking and enjoy delicious meals and snacks without consuming copious amounts of salt – or spending an arm and a leg preparing for a multi-day adventure. It’s also handy for preserving foods for use at home!

Jump to:

Using a dehydrator vs. an oven

Using a dehydrator is undeniably the best option (it’s what they’re designed for after all) but using an oven does work. The primary downsides of using an oven is that they are much less energy efficient – and you won’t be able to use your oven for anything else for several hours, or in some cases, for over 24 hours!

Notes: 

  • From my experience, if you wish to use an oven, it’s best to use an air-frying pan and set the oven on convection mode to allow the most air flow possible.  
  • Many countertop airfryers have a dehydrating option. These are great, however, you are limited to the quantity of items you can dehydrate at one time. Dehydrators come with several trays. 

How long ingredients take to dehydrate

The amount of time required varies substantially. The chemical makeup of different items contributes to this, and so does the altitude and humidity of where you live. The following factors, however, make the biggest difference:

Water content: More water = more time

Fat content: More fat = more time

Thickness: More thick = more time

Truth be told, since results vary, it’s easiest to follow the general rules of thumb (see below), and to check on your food throughout the process. Consider food dehydrated when no moisture or juices excrete when squeezed.

General Rules of Thumb

Fruits

135°F / 57°C
6+ Hours

Veggies

135°F / 57°C
6+ Hours

Meat

160°F / 71°C
8+ Hours

Cheese

125°F / 52°C
12+ Hours

Herbs

95°F / 35°C
1-4 Hours

Nuts, Seeds, Grains

105°F / 41°C
12+ Hours

Basic Steps:

  1. Slice items into ~ 1/4″ thick pieces (smaller is ok)
  2. Arrange on tray with enough room for air to circulate between pieces (no over lapping)
  3. Place in dehydrator/oven and set at appropriate temperature

It’s that easy!

Specifics

There’s a lot of skills and tricks to dehydrating – but when it comes to the basics, the following guidelines are a good place to start. Trial and error is how I learned – I encourage you to give it a go too!

Dehydrating Fruit

135°F / 57°C

For berry fruits with exterior skins, such as blueberries and cranberries, you’ll want to poke them open with a knife, or blanch them, before drying them out. Breaking the skin allows the air to reach the juicy insides. 

If you don’t, these can easily take over 30 hours to dehydrate. 

Can you use frozen fruit?

Yes! But they take longer to dehydrate (and I find the taste, texture and final product of fresh fruits to be best)

Note: frozen berry fruits with exterior skins also need to be blanched. Boil from frozen for 2 mins and let cool before starting the dehydrating process. 

Other frozen fruits such as bananas, strawberries and mangoes should be put into the dehydrator without blanching. 

Dehydrating Vegetables

135°F / 57°C

For best results, steam or bake root vegetables prior to dehydrating. This not only provides moisture for the heat from the dehydrator to attach to – but helps break the fibres – which improves the texture when the food is rehydrated before consumption.

Can you use frozen vegetables?

Yes! Frozen vegetables work great! I recommend thawing them before dehydrating though. Thawing them might also be necessary so you can cut them into 1/4″ pieces. 

Dehydrating Meat

160°F / 71°C

For jerky: Meat is put into the dehydrator raw. Yes, it’s safe to consume as the dehydrating process kills the bacteria, and removes the moisture that bacteria needs to live and grow. Dehydrating from raw provides the chewy texture we all love about jerky. 

For full meats: Although cooking isn’t necessary, I find it best to cook any meat you plan on rehydrating in meals. Meats prepared as a jerky don’t absorb water or rehydrate very well. That being said, be sure to not over cook or dry out the meat before dehydrating.

For ground meat: Ground meat must be cooked before dehydrating. Cook meat in frying pan using minimal oil (water is a great alternative). Once fully cooked, lightly rinse with water to drain excess oils. This ensures a proper dehydrating process and extends the shelf life of the meat. 

Note: If marinating meat, do so before putting in the dehydrator.

Dehydrating Cheese

125°F / 52°C

There are so many fun things you can make with cheese! Crunchy cheese snacks – or powdered cheese to add into meals are my favourite.

All types of cheeses dehydrate differently but it’s important to not have the heat too high or else it causes the cheese to melt as opposed to dry. 

Hard cheeses take the longest. You can cut them into 1/4″ cubes, but thinner will take less time. Personally, I like shredding cheese, rolling it into a loose ball and flattening it into 1/4″ mounds. For one, it takes less time to dehydrate, but it also melds together to make a crunchy pile of goodness. You can also spread shredded cheese out to create dried shreds to add into meals. 

Soft cheeses take less time but the same recommendations as above apply. For soft crumbled cheese such as feta or cottage cheese, remove as much liquid as possible (even pat dry with paper towel) and spread out evenly on your tray or sheet. 

To make powdered cheese, evenly slice cheese very thin and spread onto sheet without overlapping. Once fully dried (and cooled), put into food processor and blend into a powder. 

Note: When dehydrating any cheese, it’s best to flip sliced cheese – or turn over crumbled or shredded cheese with a spoon – every few hours and blot any excreting oils.  

Can you dehydrate cream cheese?

Yes! Spread onto parchment paper (or on “fruit leather trays” that come with your dehydrator). You’ll want it to be a few mm thick. This is great to rehydrate and use as a spread, or to be dried into a powder. 

Dehydrating Herbs

95°F / 35°C

Herbs are so simple to dehydrate! They’re great for adding flavour to meals or even making your own spices. Plus it’s a great way to avoid wasting left over fresh herbs. 

Simply chop into fine pieces and dehydrate for a couple of hours.

Since the pieces are so small, you’ll need to place them on parchment paper or on a mesh liner to prevent the pieces from falling through the trays. 

 

Dehydrating Nuts, Seeds & Grains

105°F / 41°C

Nuts & Seeds: It’s not exactly necessary to dehydrate nuts and seeds – they have a long shelf life without any preservatives or refrigeration. However, you may be interested in soaking and dehydrating them in order to gain the full nutritional value (they have a natural enzyme in their raw state that is difficult for your body to digest).

To dehydrate, place raw nuts in a large jar or bowl with a few shakes of salt. Add enough water to cover and let soak for a minimum of 7 hours. 

After soaking, drain out all of the water. (Feel free to rinse and/or remove the skins at this point – but it isn’t necessary) Finally, spread around dehydrating tray or sheet. Dry for approx 24 hours. (Yes, a full day!)

To make nut powder: Follow the instructions above, then place in a blender and pulse until only a powder is left.

Grains (& Pasta!): Dehydrating grains is an awesome way to step away from using Ichiban noodles and actually enjoying instant and nutritious whole grains.

The process is simple. Boil or prepare your grains as regular. Once cooked, drain as much liquid as possible and spread on a mesh liner (or parchment paper) in your dehydrator or oven, avoiding over lapping as much as possible. Grains typically only take a few hours to completely dehydrate. 

 

 

How to "rehydrate" before consuming:

Rehydrating food is easy! All you have to do is add boiling water, stir and let sit for a few minutes. The amount of water and time needed varies, but learning this comes with practice and experimentation. For inspiration and further guidance, check out our dehydrated meal recipes

Tips:

  • It’s best if the container you’re soaking it in is resealable or has a lid (to contain as much heat as possible)
  • Don’t be afraid to add some more hot water if the water is absorbed and you still find the food dry or crunchy. 
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Do you have any other curiosities about the world of dehydrating?

Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you. 

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The Adventurer Behind the Screen

Being an avid foodie and outdoor explorer, Briana is creating and sharing nutritious and cost-effective recipes for your adventures.

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