Using a food dehydrator at home
In recent years, the range of kitchen utensils available for the private market has undergone great growth, so that today we can find in stores not only all kinds of culinary tools, but also appliances, machines and household appliances that no one had ever seen before. raised to have in their homes. This is what has happened with dehydrating machines.
If you feel a passion for cooking and also experience an irreparable attraction to any novelty, going for a walk in specialized stores is a high-risk activity. I'm afraid that's the case, and I admit that when I found myself in a Swiss department store with a section dedicated to strange culinary machines, I was a bit lost. But it was the dehydrators that caught my attention the most, and luckily, my family too. A not inconsiderable size box had to be made room in the trunk on the trip back to Spain.
To be honest, we had quite a few questions regarding the use of our new acquisition. Would it be complicated to use? Would it work well? Was the purchase really going to pay off? I am going to share with you my experience using a dehydrator so that each one can draw their own conclusions about whether it is worth investing in it, or if it will be just one more thing.
What is dehydration?
First of all, I think it is convenient to clarify the concept of food dehydration a bit. Although at first it may sound strange, in reality we are surrounded in our day to day by dehydrated products, since it is also a technique that has been used for a long time to preserve food. Dehydration basically consists of eliminating the highest possible concentration of water present in a certain product, making it much more concentrated and thus extending its conservation time.
It is a procedure that has been practiced for centuries, when it was essential to try to accumulate the surpluses of seasonal products to be able to have these foods at other times of the year. The most primitive techniques, which are still used, are based on drying vegetables and meat or fish in the open air, in the sun or in the shade. By losing almost all the water they contain, it prevents the development of microorganisms and other processes derived from humidity, which cause the deterioration of food.
It should not be confused with freeze-drying, a more complex process that has been used in recent decades especially in the food industry, and more recently, by some great chefs.Freeze drying consists of eliminating moisture through freezing produced in a vacuum, and requires specific machinery, and also much more expensive. The results obtained are similar to heat-dehydrated products, although unlike these, they do not practically alter the original flavor.
Dehydration offers not only the advantage of lengthening the life of food, but also ease of handling, transportation and storage. But in addition, it is currently a technique that is used more for the possibilities it provides in the kitchen, since dehydrated products provide different textures and flavors with which we are allowed to play when cooking with them.
The dehydrator machine market
As I mentioned at the beginning, I bought my dehydrating machine abroad, some years ago, and the truth is that I had never seen such a device before. By feeling the market a bit, I confirmed that it was difficult to find them in Spain, except for some models more focused on the professional field. But since then it seems that the private market has expanded and today we have numerous stores, both physical and virtual, that have one or more models in their catalog.
Although the price range seems to be too wide, reaching up to several hundred euros, in reality the models designed for home use move around the same figures, between about 40 and 80 euros. When opting for one or the other we must pay attention to the benefits they offer us, consider the use that we are going to give it, the quality of the materials, the power and the guarantee; I do not recommend looking for the cheapest model in case it ends up being expensive.
From what I have verified, almost all appliances for the home have similar characteristics, are made of plastic and work with a maximum power of 250 W. I recommend opting for a model that generates heat from the base, that the grilles of each tray allow air to pass through without problems and have an escape route through the top, so that the air flows constantly.
Dehydrating food at home
Of course, we can dehydrate different elements without having to purchase a specific appliance, simply by letting the food dry in the air or using the kitchen oven at low temperature for several hours. But these techniques require a lot of patience and it can be difficult to obtain optimal results, in addition to the inconvenience of running the oven for many hours.
Dehydrators usually consist of a base, which is the engine of the machine from which the power cable comes out and on which several trays are superimposed, usually up to five, and a top cover. Its use is very simple: just distribute the food on the trays, cover it, connect it to the power and press the ignition. The operating time will vary depending on different factors, such as the type of product, the thickness or size of the same, the ambient temperature, and our personal taste in terms of the result.
These devices usually include in their manual a guide that guides you on how to cut fruit and vegetables and the estimated time for dehydration, which can range from four hours to more than a whole day, although I have never needed so much time. The best thing is to check the status after the first hours, until we get the point that interests us. There should be no traces of moisture, but depending on the weather, a dehydrated food can be tender or totally dry.
And what can we dehydrate? Basically fruits, vegetables and aromatic herbs, any type that we can think of, although I personally have not tried especially watery types, such as melon. From the most typical fruits, such as apple, grape or apricot, to vegetables such as broccoli or zucchini. It is important to remember that when you dehydrate a food, it will remain concentrated, so you have to try to use the best quality products to achieve optimal results.
The way to prepare each product is indicated in the manual, as I have commented, although it is quite intuitive. For example, apples, pears, and peaches are peeled, cored, and cut into wedges; the blueberries are left whole; carrots are chopped, etc. Of course, always everything well washed and dried. Once the process is finished, it only remains to pack them for conservation. Just wait a few minutes for them to cool down to store them in hermetic containers, avoiding metal, and they will last for many months in the pantry without altering their properties.
Dehydrating food at home is very practical to preserve natural products throughout the year, and thus have strawberries for example in November. If we are lucky enough to cultivate our own garden, or we have aromatic plants at home, these devices will be very useful to prevent the collected from spoiling, also saving storage space. Although considering the purchase of one of these machines only thinking about the conservation function may not be enough and we end up giving it little use.
I give more importance to the gastronomic possibilities of the dehydrated, personally I like them a lot, and I see them as very versatile. We can create our own cereal mix by adding the fruit that we like the most, or have a natural pantry of ingredients for pastry recipes. In salty cuisine, the possibilities are also very wide, as dehydrated vegetables add intense flavor and different nuances to sauces or stews, and they give a lot of play in canapes and appetizers. Not to mention that they are a practical, nutritious and delicious food on their own, ideal for snacks, accompanying excursions or as a supplement for athletes.
In summary, do I recommend purchasing a dehydrator machine? Based on my own experience, yes, but, it depends a lot on the particular circumstances of each one. It must be taken into account that it is not only the economic expense, as it is a device of not inconsiderable size that should have a space in the kitchen or pantry, and although easy to use, it requires dedicating a little time to it; it would be a pity if it were left in the back of a closet. And, obviously, you have to like dehydrated products. My experience is very positive, but it is up to each one to assess all the factors before deciding if it will be worth the investment.