Preserving Food with a Dehydrator
Food dehydrators have been around for quite some time, but many people don’t know the differences between different dehydration systems. In this article, we’re going to answer any questions you have about food dehydrators, and we’ll give you an in-depth look over the three main types of dehydrators you’re likely to come across.
What is a Dehydrator?
Food dehydration devices come in a few different variants, but they all do the same thing. They remove water from food items to make it more difficult for bacteria to reproduce on them. That greatly extends the shelf life of food, and it makes the food weigh less.
Most foods are made up almost entirely of water. For example, tomatoes and similar fruits are almost 96-percent water. That water fuels the growth of many different forms of bacteria, and it’s what makes those fruits so heavy. Meat doesn’t have as much water. Even the juiciest meats are only 75-percent water, and most are only 50-percent water. However, dehydrating meat still lowers its weight, and it greatly increases its shelf life.
Dehydration systems require two different things to work. They need a heat source and airflow. The two main variants utilize bulbs or coils as heat sources, and the only real difference between them is how air is circulated. The third variant is less common, and we’ll talk about it last.
Vertical Flow Dehydrator
A vertical flow system is one that has a fan attached to the bottom of the unit. The fan blows hot air off the coils and up into the food being dehydrated. A vertical system is good for a lot of different foods, but it’s not perfect. Let’s go over the different pros and cons that should be considered before purchasing a vertical flow dehydrator.
Great for Delicate Items
Drying herbs keeps them from losing their flavor and potency over long periods of time in a cabinet, but it can also destroy them since they’re so fragile. A vertical flow dehydrator gently circulates air upwards and throughout the unit, and that keeps herbs from being blown around, bent, or otherwise ruined. The same applies to other very delicate food items, too.
We recommend using a vertical flow dehydrator if you grow large stockpiles of your own herbs, or if you like to preserve very delicate pieces of food such as thinly sliced strawberries, very thin banana chips, and leafy greens.
One of the biggest drawbacks of vertical flow systems is that they don’t distribute hot air very evenly. They can properly cover the majority of a unit’s chamber, but some cold spots are bound to be present.
With herbs and fruits, those cold spots aren’t too important. It’s easy to tell if a fruit isn’t fully dried, and herbs are pretty safe to eat if they aren’t dried entirely.
However, a meat item can cause serious health issues if it’s not fully dried. Raw meats are often used to create jerky products. If those meats have raw spots in them when they’re stored, those raw spots will create safe havens for very dangerous bacteria. Even if improperly dried meats are caught in time and tossed in a bin, meat is fairly expensive. We don’t know about you, but we do not want to throw entire chunks of beef, deer, or chicken away because our dehydrator didn’t dry them evenly.
Vertical flow units are more accessible to low-income families than horizontal flow units. They’re typically very affordable, they don’t use a lot of electricity, and they work very well despite not being the best option for meat items.
Overall, a vertical flow dehydrator should probably be everyone’s first dehydrator. They’re very easy to use, and they don’t cost a lot.
Rotations are Necessary
The uneven airflow of vertical flow systems makes it necessary to rotate the drying racks almost every hour throughout the drying process. That makes it possible to properly dry meat, and it ensures that fruits, herbs, and veggies are dried properly.
However, it’s a bit annoying to have to rotate racks so frequently. We’ve personally forgotten to rotate our racks several times, and that’s led to us wasting some of our food items.
This isn’t a big deal, but we definitely recommend using a vertical flow system when you’re awake and able to rotate the racks frequently. Failing to do so will most likely ruin a small portion of food.
Vertical flow systems are cheap because they’re easy to make. That’s obviously an attractive quality for most manufacturers. While vertical flow systems have a couple of annoying drawbacks, they’re plentiful in most department stores.
In fact, we’re willing to bet that you can find vertical flow systems from a variety of brands in any major retail establishment. The selection is even larger online. That gives customers plenty of options, and anyone should be able to find a vertical flow dehydrator that matches their budget, needs, and size requirements.
Ease of Use
A fancy dehydrator doesn’t mean much if its user gets confused just by looking at it. Most dehydration systems are easy to use, but some are a bit more complicated. Luckily, vertical flow systems are extremely easy to use. We believe the average person can get their vertical flow units up and running within five minutes, and they shouldn’t have any problems getting their food items to dehydrate properly.
Horizontal Flow Dehydrator
Horizontal flow units are definitely the cream of the crop. They work better than all other dehydration units, and they’re extremely easy to use. They don’t have to be monitored, and they dry everything very evenly. Let’s go over the pros and cons of horizontal flow units.
Even Heat Distribution
The main advantage of owning a horizontal flow unit is that it distributes hot air evenly. That removes the need to rotate racks, and it ensure that food items are properly dried.
This is a great feature for people who like to make jerky products. Unlike vertical flow systems, horizontal flow systems don’t produce cold spots. They can properly dry meat items that are safe to eat and tasty. That doesn’t mean that vertical flow systems can’t be used to make jerky, it’s just a lot easier with a horizontal flow system, and it reduces the amount of waste.
Large Variety of Options
Unlike vertical flow systems, horizontal flow systems can properly dry almost anything. Thicker and tougher fruits can be thoroughly dried with a horizontal flow system, and meats can be safely dried into jerky products. Chicken, beef, pork, deer, rabbit, and all other kinds of meats can be safely dehydrated with a horizontal flow system. It completely removes the risk of getting food poisoning and deadly diseases.
That’s due to the even airflow that a horizontal flow system provides. Instead of blowing hot air from the bottom of the unit, a horizontal flow system circulates air from the sides of the unit. That means that you don’t have to rotate your racks, and every piece of food you dry with it will be completely dried after the recommended amount of time.
Since horizontal flow units are so efficient, there’s only one real drawback to using one. They’re very expensive. Horizontal flow units utilize very complex airflow technology to ensure that every piece of food placed in them is dried properly. That type of technology takes a lot of time and resources to produce, and that obviously drives up the price of horizontal flow units.
They’re not too expensive, though. The average person can save up for one within a month or two, and they’re definitely worth the investment. However, the price of a horizontal flow unit should be considered before choosing a dehydrator.
Ease of Use
Horizontal flow units do not need to have their racks rotated. Since the air flows evenly throughout them, there is no need to rotate the drying racks. That means that you can easily throw some food into your dehydrator, and you can leave it there overnight or while you go to work. Horizontal flow units are simply the easiest dehydration units to use.
The ability to let the dehydrator run on its own is extremely underrated. The drying process can take up to 24 hours. That means that people with vertical flow units will have to check their food items almost 24 times when they dry certain foods. We can’t imagine doing that with work and other things getting in the way. Luckily, horizontal flow units don’t suffer from that issue.
Faster Than Vertical Systems
Since air is constantly distributed throughout a horizontal unit, horizontal units dry foods out much faster than other units. It’ll still take a bit of time to dry entire batches of food, but it will be a lot faster.
Solar dehydration units aren’t as common as the other two. They’re expensive in some cases, and they’re entirely reliant on the sun. People who live in areas that don’t get a lot of sunlight can’t even attempt to safely use them. However, they do exist, and certain people can get a lot of use out of them. So, we’re going to tell you about them.
While other dehydration devices rely on coils and bulbs, solar dehydration units utilize the power of the sun to dehydrate food. That’s typically a good thing. After all, sunlight is free, and it can properly dehydrate food items.
However, sunlight is not as consistent as bulbs and coils are. People who live in cloudy environments can’t even attempt to dry food with solar dehydration units. That’s a huge drawback. Unless you live in a sunny area, we don’t even recommend trying a solar unit.
Unless sunlight is plentiful, people risk contracting deadly illnesses by utilizing the sun to dry meat items. Veggies and fruits might not be as dangerous, but they definitely won’t taste right if they’re not dried properly, and they will spoil very quickly.
Solar units can be very cheap, or they can be very expensive. It all depends on the design of the unit. We recommend buying a less expensive one. Solar units aren’t complex pieces of technology.
Solar units utilize a glazed piece of glass to focus sunlight on a black background, and the sun’s heat naturally rises and fills the dehydrator. Essentially, you’re buying a glass case with a black background.
Ease of Use
Technically, solar units are extremely easy to use. You just toss some meat, fruits, or veggies in them during the day, and the sun does the rest of the work. However, they’re much more difficult to use.
Food items can’t be ignored when they’re in solar units. If the sun gets covered by clouds for long periods of time, food can spoil and become dangerous. We recommend only using solar units if you can stick by your unit at all times. They have to be checked very frequently, and not checking them can be dangerous.
Which One to Pick
Our guide should provide enough information for you to choose the right dehydrator for you, but we’ll provide three short lists in this section to help you find the right unit quickly.
Vertical Flow Units
- Great for delicate foods
- Easy to use
- Frequently have to rotate racks
- Great for beginners and low-income households
Horizontal Flow Units
- Easily the best unit for most people
- Dries evenly at all times
- Great for jerky
- Must have consistent sunlight
- Varying prices
- Easiest to use
We believe that all of these dehydration units have a place, but the horizontal flow variant is obviously the best. It dries food evenly and safely, and it doesn’t require anything more than an outlet to run. Vertical flow units can easily satisfy people on a budget, and solar units are great if you live in a very sunny area.