If food storage and preservation is something you’d like to do regularly and safely, you will want to consider purchasing a food dehydrator. These units are efficient, safe, and simple to use. A natural question to ask while considering your purchase is, which are the best foods to dehydrate? Today we’re discussing the answer to this question, as well as how a dehydrator compares to a freeze dryer, which foods you shouldn’t dehydrate, as well as a few disadvantages of a food dehydrator.
Which Are the Best Foods to Dehydrate?
If you own a dehydrator or are thinking about purchasing one, you may have asked yourself which are the best foods to dehydrate?
- Are there foods you shouldn’t dehydrate?
- Is it worth it buying a food dehydrator? Will I actually use it?
- How does a food dehydrator compare to a freeze dryer?
In this article, we’re going to cover which are the best foods to dehydrate, which foods you shouldn’t, and a little bit about how a dehydrator compares to a freeze dryer. And other helpful dehydrator info!
A Few More Dehydrated Food Articles:
Cranberry Recipe – with Dehydrated Cranberry Powder Tutorial
Quick List of the Best Types of Food to Dehydrate:
- Meats – trimmed or drained of excess fat
- Fish & Other Seafood
- Fruit Leather
- Pet Food – wet homemade or store bought
- Apples & Pears
- Blackberries & Raspberries
- Exotics like Bananas, Mangos, Papaya, Pineapple
- Peaches & Nectarines
- Broccoli – and other Brassicas like Collards, Cabbage, Kale, Mustards
- Green Beans & Peas
- Leafy Greens – like Lettuce & Spinach
- Onions – also Shallots, Garlic, Bunching Onions, and Chives
- Pumpkin – and other Winter Squash
- Tomatoes – and other Nightshades like Eggplant & Peppers
- Sweet Potatoes
- Zucchini & Other Summer Squash
Our Family’s Best Foods to Dehydrate:
These are some of my family’s favorite foods to dehydrate, even over our freeze dryer. This list is completely relative to mine and my family’s tastes. However, it might be food for thought for you as you decide which foods you’d like to try.
- Chopped Onions – Freeze dried onions are too light and airy; I like dehydrated onions for their sturdy presence in hamburgers and spaghetti.
- Jerky – Dehydrated meat in the form of jerky has a flavor and texture that doesn’t translate well to the freeze dryer.
- Raisins & Prunes – I like these dried fruits soft and chewy, not dry like from a freeze drier.
- Fruit Leather – It’s only possible to make fruit leather in a dehydrator because fruit puree turns to powder once freeze dried.
- Hash Browns – I may be weird, but I like my shredded potatoes (and other shredded veggies) preserved in the dehydrator for hash browns. I will say that freeze dried shredded potatoes for hash browns are also great!
- Veggie Chips – The texture of veggie chips is better in the dehydrator, in my opinion. However, the flavor is better in a freeze dryer for some reason. This judgement could be completely subjective and based solely on the veggies my garden produces and the veggie chip recipes I use.
What Should You Not Dehydrate?
Always use a food dehydrating manual to educate you on methods, tips, and troubleshooting when it comes to the best foods to dehydrate. There are scads of books on this topic today – aren’t we blessed?!
Here are the ones I own and use:
- Dehydrator Cookbook for Beginners: A Guide to Dehydrating Fruits, Vegetables, Meats, and More, by Chris Dalziel
- Prepper’s Dehydrator Handbook: Long-term Food Storage Techniques for Nutritious, Delicious, Lifesaving Meals, by Shelle Wells
- The Ultimate Dehydrator Cookbook: The Complete Guide to Drying Food, Plus 398 Recipes, Including Making Jerky, Fruit Leather & Just-Add-Water Meals, by Tammy & Steven Gangloff
There are many fine books on this subject, these are just the ones I own.
Which ones do you have? Leave me a comment on the article so I can go check them out!
Foods You’d Best Not Dehydrate:
- Avocados & Highly Fatty Meats – too much concentrated fat which can produce and off flavor or not fully dry, which can lead to food poisoning
- Butter & Peanut Butter – same reason
- Cheese – same reason
- Liquids – it’s impractical
Dehydrator vs. Freeze Dryer?
If you’re trying to store food for your family from the produce your grow in the garden or buy in bulk at the store, you’re probably going ask yourself at some point: Which is better, a dehydrator or a freeze dryer?
Although air drying, fermenting, root cellaring, and canning are all great forms of food preservation, sometimes we simply want something more. Here are some reasons to consider using a dehydrator or freeze dryer:
- Food is possibly shelf stable for years with both dehydration and freeze drying.
- You don’t have access to a root cellar or cold storage of any kind.
- Canning isn’t something you enjoy or have space to do every year.
- You’d like to use powdered fruits and vegetables which requires very well dried produce.
- You travel, backpack, camp, or otherwise require healthy, lightweight snacks that are shelf stable.
- You’d like to expand upon your already awesome food preservation efforts by using a dehydrator or freeze dryer while also air drying, fermenting, root cellaring, and canning.
Are Food Dehydrators Worth It?
If you’re serious about preserving food, I would say that, yes, a food dehydrator is worth it! Especially because the best foods to dehydrate are the ones you grow yourself and consistently eat.
There’s no sense in storing food your family doesn’t like to eat, so this is a really important point to consider when asking yourself which are the best foods to dehydrate.
Another thing is that you don’t have to rely solely on a food dehydrator. Of course you can continue to store, ferment, and can up fruits and veggies.
Simply integrate a food dehydrator into your home preserving schedule to preserve even more foods (without more canning)! If you need some help making plans for your food preservation this year, maybe the worksheets below will help.
More Reasons to Consider a Food Dehydrator
- They’re cheaper than freeze dryers
- Some foods simply taste better dehydrated
- The units are easier to use and troubleshoot than freeze dryers*
- You can use a dehydrator to culture ferments like sourdough and yogurt
- Homemade pasta can be dried in a dehydrator
*This is a completely subjective judgement but I will tell you I had a horrible time with my freeze drying unit in the first few weeks. From software bugs, to a failed seal, to the normal learning curve associated with home freeze drying, I was ready to return my unit to the manufacturer. It was NOT a smooth transition for me from dehydrating to freeze drying.
However, that doesn’t mean you’ll have as difficult a time. If you do, though, I feel ya!
What Are the Disadvantages of Dehydrating Food?
Using a dehydrator does have its disadvantages, or shall we say challenges. They’re not deal breakers, but it’s nice to know about them before you invest time and capital into acquiring a dehydrator.
- Dehydrated food has a shorter shelf life than freeze dried food. (However, it might have a longer shelf life than canned, depending on the food, and certainly a more palatable shelf life than fermented foods. Nobody wants to eat 5 year old kimchi.)
- Regardless of what size and model you acquire, food dehydrators take up space in the kitchen or wherever you decide to keep them.
- You need to clean every tray, every mat, every piece of equipment each time you use the dehydrator to maintain it well and keep things sanitary. This is true of a freeze dryer, too.
- If you live where it’s humid, you have to process and package dehydrated foods as quickly as possible to avoid moisture reabsorbing into the product. This is true of freeze dried foods, too. I was once called away while packaging dried strawberries and by the time I got back a half hour later, the strawberries were no longer dry enough to store. It was a very humid day, but still, I’ve never forgotten that experience and use it to motivate myself to be quick about sealing up dried food! (Incidentally, I just put the strawberries back in the unit and dried them for a few hours; they dried right up and were packaged.)
- If you live in a very arid climate, you may not need an electric dehydrator since the sun works as a huge, drying oven during the summer. For everyone else, food dehydrators require electricity to run, which seems to get more expensive every day.
A Few Other Dehydrator Frustrations
- It takes time to dehydrate food. It’s time well spent, but it is a lot of work and I don’t want to somehow give the impression that it’s not. Food preservation is of vital importance, in my opinion, so I make time to do it at the expense of other activities.
- I always have way more produce than will fit into the dehydrator at any given time, especially during the growing season! I always seem to need the unit to be bigger and bigger. This is true of my freeze dryer, too, and I have the largest models of both. This is a good problem to have because it means I am blessed with abundance but, seriously, why can’t I fit in one more tray?!
- The flavors of foods will mix in both food dehydrators and freeze driers, so be sure to dry food similar in taste like apples and pears, or spinach and amaranth.
- Cheap dehydrators often break easily, especially the trays. They also only dehydrate food at a very high temperature which can diminish thermo-sensitive nutrients. Consider paying a little more for a unit that has temperature control.
What Meals Can You Dehydrate?
The following is a list of articles that should answer that question! Plus, there are recipes and tutorials for dehydrating just about every food you can dehydrate safely.
The short answer is, you can dehydrate just about any kind of meal. If you’ve eaten your dinner and have substantial leftovers, pop them in the dehydrator.