Something just magically arrived on my doorstep last week. Isn’t it cool when that happens? I BOUGHT AN EXCALIBUR FOOD DEHYDRATER! So maybe it didn’t just show up, but this is definitely one of the best purchases I have made all year!
PRESERVING FOOD IS A WAY OF LIFE
Whenever I talk about preserving food, inevitably someone messages me and asks me if I am a prepper. Honestly, I don’t think so. However, I do like to be prepared. So… if the shoe fits?
What if there is an ice storm and we are without electricity for several weeks? Or there could be a natural disaster and help can’t get to us for several days. It sounds crazy, but it could happen.
Remember the toilet paper shortage?
Who’s laughing now, right?
Knowing where our food comes from
At the heart of it, I just like to know where our food comes from. Tomatoes grown in our garden and eggs laid by our chickens are in their purest form. While we may not be completely self sustainable yet, it’s important to know that the foods we eat are nutrient dense and healthy.
Also, I just flat out love gardening. It would be a shame not to preserve the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers so we can enjoy them all year long! There is absolutely no way we could eat so many pounds of green beans in just a few short weeks. It only makes sense to preserve them!
Same with the venison. If we have our deep freeze full of delicious meat, but our electricity goes out for a few days, we would lose it all. If we have a fair amount of air pressure canned, we won’t have a total loss!
WHAT IS A FOOD DEHYDRATOR?
A food dehydrator is an appliance that uses low heat and air flow to remove water from fruits, vegetables, meats and herbs. They come in all sizes as well as budgets. Hot dry air is circulated around the food. The temperatures are just warm enough to remove the water but not so warm that the food becomes cooked.
The texture of dehydrated food is often leathery, crispy or brittle.
I used to think that we didn’t need a dehydrator because my oven could do the same thing. Doesn’t it suck to be wrong? The lowest temperature that my oven is capable of doing is 180°. Most foods dehydrate best at 125°. Anything much higher than that and veggies start to burn and dry unevenly.
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HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT DEHYDRATOR
I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been researching dehydrators for several years. I knew the exact model I wanted for our homestead. My goal was to be able to preserve in bulk, but not in an overwhelming or professional way. I also wanted a dehydrator that would be easy to operate.
I was excited to purchase an Excalibur 3900. I chose this model because it has nine trays and was NOT digital. I physically turn a knob to set the temperature, then I set a timer on my phone to start checking it at the appropriate time. I love the simplicity of it. It was also much cheaper to skip the unnecessary bells and whistles!
Besides, anyone who dehydrates foods knows that the timeline is more of an estimate. Just because it says, “crispy in 10 hours” doesn’t mean it will actually be finished in that amount of time. If my dehydrator shuts off at ten hours, but the banana chips actually needed twelve due to other factors… see how we could have a problem?
A beginner version, like this one, would be an excellent dehydrator to start with for a person who isn’t sure they will use it often. It would be easy to make a small batch of jerky or apple slices in this machine. A model like this gives the person dehydrating total control over how long to it needs to run and the ability to check on the veggies as needed.
It looks like simplicity is the word of the day.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN DEHYDRATING AND FREEZE DRYING?
Aren’t they the same thing? Nope! A freeze dryer is a vacuum that lowers the temperature below freezing and then gradually raises it back up.
Freeze drying may be a simple process, but it isn’t really something that can be done easily at home. Well, at least without purchasing an expensive and high tech machine. Dehydrating is a more economical choice for most people.
The 3 main differences between freeze drying and dehydrating
- SHELF LIFE || Most professionally dehydrated products like dried fruits and vegetables have a shelf life of about 15-20 years when stored properly (the food I dehydrated and store in mason jars WILL NOT last this long!). Freeze dried foods typically last 25+ years.
- NUTRITIONAL CONTENT || According to the American Institute for Cancer Research, freeze dried foods retain almost all vitamins and minerals originally found in the food. There are a few exceptions, such as vitamin C, which breaks down quickly. Dehydrated foods will retain all of the original fiber and iron, but tend to loose many vitamins and minerals during the dehydrating process. The most commonly lost nutrients are vitamins A & C, thiamin, riboflavin and niacin.
- MOISTURE CONTENT || Freeze drying removes about 98% of moisture from foods while dehydrating removes about 90-95%. Foods dehydrated in the home tend to have about 90% moisture retained.
HOW LONG WILL DEHYDRATED FOODS LAST IN THE PANTRY?
This is a tricky question to answer. I am going to share the general guidelines, but know that the times can vary greatly depending on how the food is processed. I mentioned that the shelf life of professionally dehydrated and freeze dried foods was 15-25+ years, but I do not expect to get results anywhere near that.
When I dehydrated 40 pounds of apple slices and stored them in mason jars with a silica packet, I am confident that they should last a full year in my pantry. My pantry is dark, out of direct sunlight, and the temperature is cool.
If I took that same jar and did not put a food-grade silica pack in it to absorb excess moisture, it probably wouldn’t last near as long. The same could be said if I left it on the counter in my warm kitchen where is exposed to sunlight.
Dehydrated apple slices that are vacuum sealed with a high-quality machine, can last up to five years. Maybe longer! Do you see how it is hard to give exact preservation times?
IDEAS FOR A WELL STOCKED PANTRY
I have created a graphic that explains the estimated shelflife of preserved foods. Dried or dehydrated fruits typically last a year, while liquor or raw honey can last more than a decade. Remember, foods that are professionally preserved can last much longer!
I believe it is wise to keep an assortment of these foods on hand for emergencies. Maybe not everything on this list, but enough to last through an unexpected event such as supply chain delay.
If you make this recipe, please leave a comment below! This provides helpful feedback to both me and other readers. For more delicious recipes from scratch and homesteading tips, follow me on instagram @NinnescahHomestead
I will link recipes here as I post them! So far we have made dehydrated apple slices, pepper flakes, corn, peppers, onions and basil. My dehydrator has been running nonstop since it arrived!