Question: What types of fruits and vegetables can I dehydrate? Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
Answer: Many people preserve their harvests by canning or freezing, but another simple method of preservation sometimes overlooked is dehydrating. Dehydrating foods is one of the oldest and simplest methods of food preservation. In this process, moisture is removed from foods making them smaller and lighter. Removing water from food removes the potential for molds, yeast and bacteria to grow. When completely dehydrated, microorganisms cannot grow to spoil the food.
To dehydrate your produce three things are needed; heat, dry air and air movement. The temperature should be hot enough to get rid of the moisture, but not too hot so the foods cook, usually 140 degrees. The air should be dry so the moisture readily evaporates and then a fan is necessary to blow the moisture away. Usually food is dehydrated by one of three methods - solar, an oven or an electric dehydrator.
Many fruits and vegetables respond well to dehydration. Besides the most common dehydrated fruits - apples, bananas and grapes - you can dehydrate cherries, coconuts, dates, figs, nectarines, peaches, pears, pineapples, beets, carrots, corn, garlic, mushrooms, onions, parsley, peas, pepper, potatoes and pumpkin.
Most vegetables and some fruits should undergo a pretreatment such as blanching. This will stop any enzymatic reactions within the foods. It will also shorten the drying time and kill any organisms. To prevent some fruits from browning, a pretreatment called dipping is used. Apples, bananas, peaches and pears are dipped in a mixture of ascorbic acid crystals and water, in a ratio of 1 teaspoon to 1 cup of water.
When using the oven to dry your fruits and vegetables, set the temperature to 140 degrees and leave the door open two to three inches. A fan should be placed near the door to blow away the excess moisture. Sun drying is usually recommended only for fruit. It should be on a sunny day when the temperature is above 85 degrees and the humidity is below 60 percent. In our area it may be difficult due to high humidity. The food should be placed in a single layer without any overlapping. Drying times vary and charts can be found easily on websites or specialty books.
When ready to be used at a later date, the fruits and vegetables can be soaked in water for various time lengths depending on the food. Most dried fruit takes around eight hours where dried vegetables only take two hours. It is best to reconstitute the food in the refrigerator. One cup of dried vegetable will yield two cups of reconstituted vegetable.
Mona Bawgus is a certified master gardener and consumer horticulturist with Rutgers Cooperative Extension of Atlantic County. Write to her c/o Rutgers Cooperative Extension, 6260 Old Harding Highway, Mays Landing, NJ 08330. Email: