How Does a Dehydrator Work?
There are two power sources that make dehydrators work, solar and electric. There are reasons to choose either, but if you can afford to buy one, a modern electric dehydrator is the better choice.
Effects of Drying Food
Both kinds of dehydrators do the same thing, which is draw out water from the foodstuffs. When all the moisture is removed from the food, it'll store for a long time because bacteria, mold, and yeast need water to grow.
Drying also hardens the exterior, creating a shell that prevents micro-organisms from getting in.
Sun Powered Dehydrators
The advantage to buying or making a solar dehydrator is the savings on electricity. You use sun power to dry the food. The problem with solar dehydrators is nature is unpredictable. If there's no sun, you won't be able to use the food dryer. Also, sun dryers rely on sunlight for heat to pull water. This is a problem because prolonged exposure to light can destroy nutrients. The result is a less nutritious apple chip.
Home and Commercial Dehydrators
While some home and commercial electric units have clear trays, the majority don't. If you have a choice, pick an appliance with an opaque exterior that will block out light. You want to dry your food in the dark if possible.
Note: This is an issue that concerns raw foodists more than typical dry food enthusiasts. Raw foodists need to preserve "living foods," so they avoid exposing the sliced foods to too much light, which kills them.
The way these dehydrators work without sunlight is by blowing warm air inside. The heating element and fan are powered by dependable electricity.
Depending on the model, a heat source and fan are positioned either on top, on the bottom, or in the rear of the units. You simply select the temperature (usually 95-145 degrees) and set the timer to start. With one of these, you don't need it to be sunny outside to start a batch of jerky or fruit leathers.
Ideal Conditions for Drying Food
The dehydrator creates the perfect environment for food drying. Unlike a microwave or oven, these appliances have a ventilation system that exchanges moist air for dry air. This ensures that the food won't reabsorb any moisture.
The box-style dehydrators, such as the Excalibur 3900 (review), have square trays and the heater and fan in the rear. Warm air is blown horizontally across each tray and each tray is dried evenly. You can also remove trays so you can dry taller items.
The stackable dehydrators, like the Nesco FD-1020 (review), have their heaters and fans at the top or bottom. With these, air is forced up through the trays, or down the sides and across, depending on the model. The advantage to using these is you can resize the unit to fit your needs each time.
Is it Ready Yet?
To see if the food is ready, you'll need to test it. Break a piece of fruit in half. It should feel dry and leathery. Vegetables may be either tough or crunchy, as long as there's no moisture. As for meat, it'll be tough but shouldn't snap apart (it may be too dry then).
An electric-powered food dehydrator works better than a homemade solar one because of efficiency and convenience. The best ones don't cost a lot to operate, and dry foods quicker than natural drying. Take advantage of modern electricity and save time.
Food Dehydrator Reviews
To read about specific models, check out the dehydrator reviews. There, you can find advice on selecting the right one for your kitchen.