A Complete Guide to Food Dehydrators

Vary Up Your Menu with A Food Dehydrator

Are you looking for a way to make your menu more interesting, introduce house specialties, or possibly even offer packaged snacks to-go?  A food dehydrator might be an excellent addition to your kitchen. It might sound like a specialty machine, but a good dehydrator can be put to a surprising number of uses.  Better yet, when even commercial models have a footprint of only a couple square feet, they can fit into most kitchens without a problem.

How Do Food Dehydrators Work?

The principle of a food dehydrator is to slowly remove moisture from a food item, but without actually cooking it. So, they effectively work like very low-heat convection ovens. There's a heating element which puts out a small amount of heat -usually only in the area of 130°F- along with fans that ensure the heat is distributed equally around the drying area.

Then the food is slowly dried over the course of several hours, or potentially a day or so for the wettest foods.

What Types of Food Dehydrators Are Available?

There are only two basic designs, vertical or horizontal.

Vertical dehydrators (occasionally called circular, because they are) draw in air from the bottom of the unit. They are smaller than horizontal units and more limited in what foods they can process. These are almost always used in home kitchens and aren't generally recommended for commercial use.

Horizontal dehydrators are the choice for commercial kitchens. They're larger, feature multiple trays onto which food can be placed, and draw in air through large vents in the back. They can process items which vertical dehydrators cannot, such as semi-liquid foods like yogurt.

Why Not Just Use an Oven?

Simply put, most ovens aren't capable of the low temperatures required for proper dehydration. Most can't go any lower than 150°F, which is well above the cooking point for most foods. Also, even if they can go lower, they don't have fine control necessary to maintain it properly.

Additionally, dehydrators are more energy-efficient, which is important when you'll be running them for 12+ hours at a time.

What Can You Put in A Dehydrator?

That's the brilliant part - almost anything can be dehydrated!

The most obvious applications would include creating your own meat jerky, meat floss, croutons, or fruit and vegetable chips. These are highly popular among health-conscious visitors and, as mentioned, could even be packaged for fast to-go sales at cafes or bars. Dehydration is also a great way to make your own dried herb blends, either for sale or to speed up food preparation.

In addition, they can be used for cooking exotic foods which call for low temperatures over a long cooking time, such as Indonesian tempeh or Japanese natto. These are fermented foods, which can be accomplished safely within a dehydrator.
However, much of the joy of having a dehydrator is experimentation. Try out different foods and imagine ways to incorporate them into unique dishes! It's a great way to attract new clients or deliver new dishes to your current clientele.

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