Preserving the Harvest:
by Mary Louise;Town Jaqua, Health Minister
Drying food, also known as dehydration (from the
Latin hydra- water; de- from), is one of the oldest
methods of food preservation. It is the process of
removing the natural moisture (water) from food,
thus inhibiting the growth of microorganisms (enzymes)
and bacteria by the circulation of hot, dry air through
the food. Properly dehydrated foods can last many
History of Dehydration
Dehydration of food dates back to prehistoric times.
Early civilizations first dehydrated grasses, berries,
roots, meat, and fish by placing them in the sun to dry.
Preserving food by dehydration sustained primitive
socities through periods of drought or freezing winters
when food was scarce.
It is said that the Phoenicians (historically regarded as
descendants of Enoch) and fishing settlements along
the Mediterranean dried fish in the open air. Tea leaves,
rice, and eggs were dried by the early Chinese. Various
dehydrated foods (especially grains) were discovered
in ancient Egyptian tombs. The Incas were the first
peoples to dehydrate potatoes, called Chuno, which
became a staple for their soldiers and a safeguard
against shortages. Native American tribes preserved
fruit, vegetables, and meat, and reportedly taught the
Pilgrims how to dry food.
The method of dehydration was mechanized in 1795
when the French developed the first hot-air dehydrator
that regulated drying conditions. The unit successfully
dried fruit and vegetables at controlled temperatures
by circulating a continuous flow of air. This technology
has expanded to the present plorethora of electric
dehydrators now on the market.
While numerous, historical records prove the efficacy
of preserving food through dehydration, some of the
main reasons for drying foods are:
1) It is easy. Dehydration does not demand great
skill, know-how or cooking. The dehydrator does
2) It saves time and money. Canned foods can
be expensive plus they are perishable and must
be eaten directly. However, foods can often be
purchased and dried for less money. Furthermore,
containers of dried foods can be repeatedly opened, ingredients removed or added, and closed again
without compromising the contents.
3) Dehydration retains a higher nutritional
content of foods. Unlike canning, drying can be
done at low temperatures in order to preserve the
life force of foods.
4) You can reap the rewards of your own garden
as well as other locally-grown harvests.
5) You will be eating safe food. Dehydrating allows
the option of eating pesticide-and chemical-free foods
because you control what you are drying.
6) You will have food security. In the event of natural
or national crisis, a dehydrated food supply is worth
more than money.
7) You will be able to take advantage of supermarket
specials and enjoy the savings.
8) You will be able to control the quality of your diet
at home or on the road. Dried foods are an excellent
solution for camping and backpacking because they are
tasty, nutritious, lightweight, easy to prepare, easy to
carry, and easy to use.
9) They require little storage space. Dehydration
greatly reduces the volume of foods. For example, 20
to 25 dried bell peppers or 16-20 dried tomatoes can
fit into a 1-quart jar.
10) Dehydration is an investment in self-sufficiency.
11) It is fun. Drying food is an ideal solo venture as
as well as one for family, friends, and organizations.
It is an opportunity to grow together and build a
healthier, happier lifestyle.
Dehydration and nutrition
Home-drying foods under ideal conditions, i.e. correct
temperature and drying time, produces a high-quality,
nutritionally-dense product that is often superior to
commercial dehydration. Compared with canning and
freezing which involve extreme temperatures, food
drying is the least damaging form of food preservation. Consider the following for confirmation:
- Vitamin A is retained during the drying process.
- Some vitamin C is lost during the drying process
because vitamin C is an air-soluble nutrient and
food drying is an air-based process. When a
food is sliced and its cells are cut, the surfaces
that are exposed to air lose some vitamin C.
- The caloric value of a fresh food stays the same
when it is dried, although some dried foods, fruits
for example, taste sweeter because the water
has been removed and the sugar is concentrated.
- Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fiber and
carbohydrates, neither of which is affected by
- Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in
fat. Minerals available in certain fresh fruits
(such as potassium, sodium, magnesium, etc.)
are also not altered when the fruit is dried.
- Dried vegetables contain only about 3 percent
moisture, while fruits, depending upon their
sugar content, contain 15 percent water.
Dehydration: engaging the process
Most dehydrators come with user manuals that
have helpful instructions. If new to dehydrating, it is
always wise to first read the manual that accompanies
your unit and/or invest in good reference books. While
dehydrating is not difficult, it does require basic
know-how, time, and usually practice.
To begin dehydrating:
1) Select foods that are the best quality, i.e. without
spots, blemishes, cuts, deformities, and bruises.
2) Foods, especially fruit, should not be overripe.
3) Wash the food in a non-toxic vegetable/fruit cleanser,
rinse, and drain.
4) Dehydrate vegetables and fruit separately, to avoid
content conflict. For example, do not dehydrate fruit
with onions, since the smell of the onion will override/
adversely affect the fruit. As much as possible, keep
food selections segregated.
5) Pretreatment such as blanching, marinating, sulfuring,
and dipping of some foods like broccoli, cauliflower,
celery, carrots, corn, peas and potatoes is sometimes
recommended to enhance the color, flavor, and texture,
however it is not necessary for successful drying.
6) Consult dehydrator manual/reference books to
learn the dried property of foods, i.e if they should be
crispy or leathery in texture when dry.
Depending on the food selected, the food can be
sliced, diced, chopped, grated, pureed, or dried whole.
Small fruit such as berries dry well whole. Most
vegetables and fruits should be sliced about 1/4- 3/8"
thick for best drying. To avoid discoloration of some
foods, especially apples and pears, dipping them in
citric acid or citrus juice will hold their color.
Storing dehydrated food
Once dehydrated, food should ideally be stored
in airtight containers and placed in a dry, dark
place with a moderate temperature in order to
protect it from exposure to air, moisture, light,
and possible insect infestation. Label and date
the food. Mason jars make good storage, since
contents can be vaccumed sealed for longer
shelf life. For bulk storage, place dehydrated
food in a clean, brown paper bag, tape it
closed, label it, and then place the bag in a
food-grade plastic bag with a twistie. Place
the bag in a larger plastic bag inside a food-grade,
plastic bucket. Close with another twistie. Add
additional 'batches' of dehydrated food in the
same bucket. Storing fruit and vegetables in
separate containers/buckets is recommended.
Plastic buckets can be obtained free from
bakery and deli departments in most larger
Dehydrated foods containing grains should be
vacuum-sealed for best storage to avoid pest
infestation. Dried foods containing nuts should
be eaten up quickly for the short term or be
placed in the freezer for longer storage.
If foods should become limp in storage, place them
into the dehydrator to restore crispness. Foods
that have been stored, especially long term, can
lose their flavor and darken in color. Rotating and
using dried foods according to their oldest date is
recommended. Nevertheless, if properly dried and
stored, dehydrated foods can last several, if not
Dehydrating the Living Way
While most dehydrating books suggest drying
foods at average temperatures of 125-145 degrees
or higher (for meat and seafood), those who want
to support a living food lifestyle dehydrate at lower
temperatures. Settings of 95 degrees (for herbs)
and 105-110 degrees for fruit, vegetables, seeds,
nuts, and whole grains will retain the life force
of the food. Though drying at lower temperatures
usually takes longer, the nutritional quality of the
food is superior.
Those of us at The Living Way have dehydrated
food for many years. Before the Hallelujah Diet
entered our lives, we dried numerous varieties
of foods at temperatures that killed the food.
When we learned about proper nutrition, however,
we discovered that our ignorance was not bliss
and therefore had to reeducate ourselves in the
fine art of dehydration. Now we dry food at
temperatures that do not exceed 105 degrees
in order to store living foods as opposed to
dead foods. We believe that doing so is an
important investment in our well being. For the
sake of record, we have two Excalibur dehydrators,
one Good4U dehydrator, one Harvest Maid, and
one older dehydrator that is a nameless workhorse.
During harvest season, it is not uncommon for us
to have all dehydrators running.
This being said, the following photos provide
a visual example of how dehydration happens
in our LIVING Kitchen. Each year we dry many
vegetables and fruit from our backyard garden.
Tomatoes are one of the delicacies of the season
and are a good choice for dehydrating, since they
are expensive to purchase (fresh or dry).
Experience shows us that for best results, it is
good to pick slightly firm tomatoes and dehydrate
them as soon after harvesting as possible.
Below are Orange Blossom and Purple Cherokee
tomatoes going into our Good4U dehydrator. I
use an old, long, serrated bread knife for slicing,
being as consistent as possible with the thickness
of the slices so that all tomatoes will be dry at
the same time.
Below are Old German Heirloom tomatoes
coming out of our Excalibur dehydrator.
They are crispy dry and ready for storage.
A close-up of some of our other dried
tomatoes is here
For short term storage, we use glass jars:
quart and half gallon Mason and gallon jars.
For long term storage, we bag our dried
food in separate lots/batches as they come
out of the dehydrator and then place them
into plastic buckets. Bagging them in lots
allows us to add to the bucket without
compromising contents lest one batch should
spoil and contaminate other batches.
In our many years of dehydrating, we admit
to being somewhat unorthodox in the process,
but have had surprisingly few problems.
Nevertheless, we have learned that juicy
tomatoes dried at low temperatures can turn
black or develop mold. We solved this problem
by dehydrating firmer tomatoes, as stated above.
On rare occasions, if our dehydrated food has
softened in storage, we re-crisp it in the dehydrator
for a short time.
We dehydrate blue berries whole. We dip apples
and pears in citric acid before placing them in the
dehydrator. We make fruit leathers individually or in
combination: apple, pear, concord grape, banana,
etc. Sometimes we add cinnamon, nutmeg, and/or
all spice. Fruit leathers are easy to make, adding
1 teaspoon of whole psyllium husks to 1 cup
Herbs are one of the easiest foods to dry. Whereas
they can be successfully dried in a dehydrator, we
harvest, wash, drain, and then place them in large
brown bags to dry. Daily we shake the bag to
keep air circulating inside. Given a warm, dry place,
herbs dry quickly this way, saving on electricity.
No matter how you dehydrate- in the sun, with a solar
dehydrator, an electric dehydrator or in the oven-
drying food is fun! Depending on food preference and
individual taste, the possibilities are endless. Dried
foods can be reconstituted to add to soups, salads,
entrees, etc. or eaten as is. Having dehydrated food
on hand is better than having money in your pocket,
especially when you're hungry!
Samples of dehydrated foods going into the mail, 'all dressed up,' from our LIVING Kitchen.
References and sources:
Dry It, You'll Like It- Gen MacManiman
(available in a PDF download here):
How to Dry Foods- Deanna DeLong
Healthful Cuisine- Anna Maria Clement, Ph.D., N.M.Dwith Kelly Serbonich
Recipes for Life from God's Garden- Rhonda Malkmus
Back to Living Letter #47/index