For your “foodie” friend or family member, a dehydrator might make a great gift. Effective and efficient at drying apple slices, chili peppers, figs, fruit leathers, jerky and more, food dehydrators are a favorite appliance of avid home food preservers.
Why not just use an oven? Using an oven may be reasonable option, but not all ovens maintain a temperature low enough to dry without baking (140 degrees F). Oven drying also requires leaving the oven door cracked open with a fan blowing to provide circulation, requiring a substantial input of energy and time. Dehydrators are small, counter-top appliances designed to dry foods quickly using an electric element for heat and a built-in fan and vents for circulation.
There are two main types of dehydrators: units with horizontal air flow and units with vertical air flow. Horizontal air flow design places the heating element and fan on the side of the unit, whereas vertical air flow design contains the heating element and fan at the bottom of the unit. The limited capacity of horizontal flow models can be a disadvantage, while most vertical flow models allow for more trays to be stacked on top of one another. The height of food pieces is more limited with the vertically stacked trays, however, as compared to some horizontal flow cabinets. Also on the plus side, models with horizontal flow reduce flavor mixture if you are drying different types of foods at the same time, and heat is distributed evenly across all trays.
You can find dehydrators in natural food stores, the small appliance section of department stores, and mail-order catalogs. Costs vary. Before buying the first one you come across, consider this list of dehydrator features to look for:
– Enclosed heating elements
– Fan or blower
– An enclosed thermostat
– Double wall construction of metal or high grade plastic
– Four to 10 open-mesh trays made of sturdy, easy-to-wash plastic
– UL seal of approval
– One-year guarantee
– Convenient service available if needed
– Dial for regulating temperature
– A timer that can be set to turn unit off (very helpful when drying lasts into the night)
– Availability of tray liners to purchase for making fruit leather if desired
© Andress, E.L., Harrison, J.A., eds. (2006). So Easy to Preserve, 5th ed. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.