|Dehydration General Drying Guidelines
Certain varieties of produce, the humidity in the air, and even methods of food handling make quite a difference in the drying time and quality of the dried product. Experiment with different drying temperatures, thickness of produce, pre-treatment versus no pre-treatment and different re-hydration methods. You will determine what works best for your particular needs and preferences.
To save nutrients and produce a quality product, it is necessary to work fast preparing foods to dry. When placed in your dehydrator, they need to dry continously at the recommended temperatures and times. Do not turn off your dehydrator or leave partially dried food on the trays as it may spoil or develop "off" flavors.
Spread all foods evenly to dry in single layers. If slices overlap, the areas that are overlapped will take twice as long to dry.
It is not recommended to add fresh produce to a partially dried batch. This will slow the rate of drying time for both products. It is possible, however, to combine partially dried foods onto fewer trays but never use unit with less than four trays, even if the trays are empty.
Many people have more than one NESCO®/American Harvest® dehydrator. If you have two, it's easy to combine a load from both dehydrators after a few hours and start a new batch in your second dehydrator using a minimum of four trays.
Selecting Foods to Dry
Select the best quality produce at the peak of ripeness and flavor. Wash carefully to remove debris, dust and insects. Cut away bruised or damaged sections.
Lay food pieces evenly on trays. Don't overlap food pieces, as this will inhibit drying time. As each tray is loaded, place it on the dehydrator to begin drying.
Because of the unique design of the patented Converga-Flow® system of your NESCO®/American Harvest® dehydrator, you'll be surprised at how quickly most foods dry. Drying times may vary, depending on type and amount of food, thickness and evenness of slices, percentage of water in food, humidity, temperature of air, altitude, and the model of the NESCO®/American Harvest® dehydrator you are using. Drying times may also vary greatly from one area to another and from day to day, depending on the climatic conditions. Keep records to help you predict drying times for specific foods.
Fruits, fruit rolls and vegetables should be dried at 130°F to 140°F (55° to 60°C). By drying foods in this temperature range you will minimize the loss of heat-sensitive vitamins A and C. All foods sweat when they begin to dry. The temperature may be set higher than 140°F (60°C) during the first couple of hours of drying. The actual temperature of the food will remain 15°F to 20°F (6° to 8°C) lower than the air temperature for the first couple of hours.
Meats and fish should be dried on the highest temperature setting of your dehydrator. These temperatures also keep bacteria and other spoilage micro-organisms, common to meat and fish, to a minimum during the first stages of drying.
Nuts and seeds are high in oil, and if higher temperatures are used, they tend to become rancid, developing off flavors. The best temperature is from 90°F to 100°F (30° to 40°C).
Herbs and Spices are most flavorful when they first open and should be harvested while very fresh, before they begin to blossom. Because the aromatic oils are very sensitive, temperatures should be 90°F to 100°F (30° to 40°C) for drying. Take care not to load trays too heavily as this will prolong the drying time.
Dried flowers, herbs and spices used for potpourri should be dried at temperatures ranging from 90°F to 100°F (30° to 10°C) to maintain aroma and color.
Some pieces may dry in a shorter time than others. The dried foods should be removed and placed in an airtight container while allowing the rest of the pieces to remain in the dehydrator until sufficiently dry.
Package all dried foods promptly to prevent contamination and to prevent stickiness and re-hydration caused by humidity. Store dried foods in airtight moisture-proof containers. Home vacuum packaging devices are ideal for packaging dried foods. They extend the shelf life of dried foods 3 to 4 times.
Since most packaging materials are transparent, store packaged dried foods in a plastic or metal container that will not allow the light to penetrate. Do not store fruits and vegetables together in the same container because flavor and moisture may transfer.
Fruit rolls are best if removed while still warm. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in airtight moisture-proof containers for storage.
Onions and tomatoes are especially prone to absorb moisture from the air and should be packaged immediately after removing from dehydrator.
Testing for Dryness
Food must be monitored during the final stages of dehydration to prevent over-drying. Over-dried foods lose quality in texture, nutrition and taste. To test for dryness, remove a piece of food, let it cool and feel with your fingers for dryness.
- Fruits are pliable and leathery with no spots of moisture. Tear in half, pinch and watch for moisture drops along tear. If no moisture, then it is sufficently dry for long term storage.
- Jerky should be leathery, but not brittle.
- Dried fish should be firm, but not brittle. If the fish is high in fat it may appear moist due to the high oil content.
- Vegetables should be firm or crisp.
If foods are insufficently dried, or are exposed to moisture from faulty packaging, they can lose quality and nutrition, and can even mold during storage.Your dehydrator trays are easy to clean. Simply soak trays in warm water with a mild detergent for several minutes. A soft-bristle brush will loosen food particles that resist softening by soaking. Don't clean any parts with scouring pads, abrasive cleaners, or sharp utensils, as they tend to damage the surface of the trays. Trays can be washed on the top rack of your dishwasher if you remove them before the drying cycle.
The storage area should be cool, dry and as dark as possible. The darker and cooler the storage area, the longer the dried foods will last with good quality and nutritive value. The ideal storage temperature for dehydrated food is 60°F (15°C) to below freezing. The ideal storage place is your freezer or refrigerator, particularly for storing low acid foods such as meats, fish and vegetables.
USE AND CARE
CAUTION: Always remove trays before the drying cycle begins on your dishwasher.
Power Head/Base Unit
Use a damp soft cloth or towel to remove any dried food residue from the power unit. Avoid dripping any water or other liquid into electrical parts. CAUTION: DO NOT IMMERSE POWER UNIT IN WATER OR OTHER LIQUID! DO NOT remove any parts from the power unit.
CAUTION: Be sure power unit is unplugged before cleaning.
Follow these safety rules when dehydrating food:
- When drying liquids, sauces or purees, use a Fruit Roll Sheet, available from NESCO®/American Harvest®.
- When drying jerky in a base Power Unit, place a Fruit Roll Sheet on the bottom tray. The Fruit Roll Sheet will catch drips and make cleaning easier.
- Wash hands thoroughly prior to handling food.
- Clean all utensils and containers with a mild solution of detergent, bleach and water before using.
- Make sure all countertops and cutting boards are thoroughly cleaned in the manner above before using. Wooden or plastic cutting boards should be thoroughly disinfected.
- Keep foods in the refrigerator before preparing for drying. Store dried foods in refrigerator or freezer.
- After opening sealed containers of dried food, use food as soon as possible.
- Store opened containers of dried food tightly sealed in the refrigerator to maintain freshness and quality.
- Do not spray vegetable oil directly onto surface of trays.
- Do not dehydrate foods that have been prepared with or marinated in alcohol.
- Trays are only intended to be used with your NESCO®/American Harvest® Food Dehydrator. Do not use trays either in a conventional oven or with any other appliance.
Should you experience any problems with your dehydrator, please contact Customer Service at:
NESCO®/American Harvest® 1-800-288-4545 or through our Customer Service web link.
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