Drying food in the sun was an old way to preserve it. Today there are new techniques to dehydrate food designed to speed up the process. Dehydrating food is still not a simple science since oven temperatures, weather conditions and food preparations vary to alter the outcome. Practice, patience and persistence are needed to develop the right product and avoid bacteria growth or spoilage.
Dry food too slowly and it could become contaminated with bacteria or spoil. If food is dried too quickly it will cook. Food dehydrators come with instructions on how to use the machine, temperatures and food drying times. Temperatures vary but guidelines temperatures are as follows: meat and fish, 150 degrees; fruit and veggies, 140 degrees and herbs, 110 degrees.
Pick a dehydrating method. To dry food in the sun is difficult and takes consistent temperatures of 100 degrees for 3 to 5 days with low humidity. Oven temperatures vary but it needs to maintain 200 degrees or below for several hours and this is not energy or time efficient. Food dehydrators are the most practical choice.
Know what food to dry. Good choices are fruit, vegetables, herbs, meat, fish and bread. Foods that are extremely high in moisture like lettuce, cucumbers and melons will not dry well. Potatoes are fun to dry with sea salt and make into potato chips.
Select foods that are fresh, not bruised or rotted. Use good quality foods that are not stale or outdated. It is best to use food as quickly from the harvest date as possible. It's important to know that dehydrated food will not taste like fresh, frozen or canned food so know what to expect.
Start off with a small amount of food at first so it won't get wasted during the learning curve. Practice with the time and temperatures to get the feel for the right food consistency. Prepare the fruits and veggies by washing, pitting, slicing, dicing, and blanching them. Keep pieces small and similiar in size and shape for even and faster cooking.
Marinate food with spices before dehydrating. To keep fruit from browning use a bath of lemon juice for 5 minutes. For meats like beef make a jerky marinade. Marinating food takes more time but adds so much needed flavor to dehydrated foods. Marinate times will vary according to recipe.
Arrange prepared food on cooking trays and dry based on the instructions. Most foods will have a leathery consistency and this is normal. Store food properly. All food must be completely dry before storing it to eliminate moisture build up. Use airtight containers, jars or plastic storage bags to store your food.