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Preservation 101: Dehydrating Food

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Dehydration is another great option for getting foods on your shelf, plus it’s also super convenient, lightweight, and really takes the bulk down on your food to help maximize your space. 

In this episode of Pantry Chat, Josh and Carolyn continue their series on preservation methods with an introduction to dehydration. They cover the pros and cons of dehydration, the different types of dehydration, the basic steps you need to follow in order to get started, and what foods it really works best on. 

BONUS: What Foods Should Not Be Dehydrated

You can see how Josh and Carolyn store their dehydrated foods in Pantry Tour (Storing a Year’s Worth of Food).

In this Episode: 

  • Grandma Jeanie is recovering after having to go to the ER for pelvic pain caused by pneumonia. 
  • Harvest season is still in full swing as Josh and Carolyn continue to make plans to prep for winter. 
  • Why would somebody dehydrate and what are the benefits of doing it over other preservation methods? 
  • What are the types of food you can dehydrate and what are the nutritional benefits? 
  • What foods should not be dehydrated at home and why?
  • What are the grades of different electric dehydrators and what features should you look for when buying one? 
  • Josh and Carolyn discuss the different types of dehydration methods (electric, solar, and oven). 
  • What are the basic steps you need to know before you start dehydrating food? 
  • Carolyn provides some tips on how to reconstitute tomatoes and use them to make a great sauce. 
  • Carolyn explains her technique for perfecting fruit leather that won’t overdry and is perfect for snacks. 
  • Question of the week: a new homesteader tried to water bath can some guava pineapple jam and some jars grew mold and popped opened. What went wrong?


Josh: Hey, you guys, this is Josh.

Carolyn: And Carolyn.

Josh: With Homesteading Family, and welcome to this week's episode of the Pantry Chat Food For Thought.

Carolyn: This week, we are going to be talking about the basics of dehydrating food for preservation.

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Josh: All right, so today we're going to be talking dehydrating.

Carolyn: Yeah, I'm really exciting about this, because dehydrating is such a great method for getting food on your shelf, filling up the pantry, and I love having multiple methods of filling the pantry because, as you know, when harvest season rolls around, you might have your canners running and running and running, there's only so much you can can in a day. So I love having optional methods, other methods. Dehydrating is a great one.

Josh: Absolutely, and it's just nice to have some variety. There's just different uses for those foods, too. I love the dehydrating because I backpack some of that with the kids, and hunting, and that's great. And hey, you guys, we are right in the middle of a series on preservation 101 and taking you through some of the basics in a good level of detail of a lot of different preservation methods. We've already done canning and fermenting-

Carolyn: Yes.

Josh: This week, we're on dehydrating, and I think we're covering root-cellaring coming up.

Carolyn: Yes.

Josh: I'm not sure about anything else yet, but this is a good, fun series. So go back and check out the other ones if you haven't seen it, and we will dive into dehydrating here in just a second. But let's catch up with a little chit-chat for a moment.

Josh: How are you? There's some stuff going on right now.

Carolyn: Yeah, there is, there's a lot of stuff going on the backdrop, and Great-Grandma Deenie came to live with us about, I think, six, seven weeks ago now?

Josh: About six, seven weeks ago, and if you guys remember, she has visited off and on, we just did a flashback to a video we did with her last year. Grandma was born in Abilene, Texas during the Great Depression, she lived through the Dust Bowl-

Carolyn: 1928. Let me tell you, it's funny when you start writing '28 on birth dates for people, because we're in '20, and '28 from the century ago, I mean, that's a long life well-lived.

Josh: It really is, and she has done a lot. Anyway, you were saying she's living with us-

Carolyn: And we had an incident this last week where hips really starting, so thankfully we got her into the doctor, they took one look at her, sent her over to the ER because she had pneumonia that she did not even know about, she had no clue about, so she has pneumonia and two breaks in her pelvis.

Josh: Did you guys know that you can have pneumonia severely and you're not coughing, you're not wheezing? She did have some discomfort that she noted that we were beginning to look at, but she had no signs. That's just something good to know, especially if you're having elderly care, that can show. I didn't realize that that could be that severe and not have any presentation.

Carolyn: Absolutely no coughing, that was surprising ... it wasn't even like she's like, oh, I cough here and there. Anyways, that has caused both of us, I mean, there's two trips a day right now down to the hospital, which is about half an hour away. We're so blessed to have a wonderful, local, small hospital.

Josh: Yeah, but just very good treatment, very good people. Very, very thankful for them.

Carolyn: Yeah, it is, and we'll be looking at giving her some extra care when she gets home. I think this is a really good season to be thinking about caring for people who are ill or recovering at home. We used to have to do this all the time in past centuries before the hospital and the nursing homes were so prevalent, we used to just make a practice of being prepared to care for ill and elderly people at home. We've kind of lost that knowledge; I find it fascinating when I go through cookbooks or home books from the 1600s, 1700s. Whole sections of the book are dedicated to what to feed invalids, people who are ill and can't eat normal foods. I find that interesting, because you sure don't turn to a modern cookbook, kind of like your Better Homes and Gardens Covers Everything cookbook, and have a special diet for ill people section.

Josh: Wow.

Carolyn: It was just standard, and so it's an interesting look at when we bring the family back together, we start doing things more home-based, there's skills that we still have to learn, how to care for people.

Josh: Absolutely, and we're thankful for this opportunity to have with her, and also just to be building generational living, because it's something we want to encourage, and we're seeing more and more people come together as families as times get harder, as economics are challenging, more and more families are coming back to that model of banding together through the generations.

Josh: There's a lot of blessing and benefit, there's also a lot of challenge and difficulty in that, in caring for people and working through life together and sharing life.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: But it's really, really exciting. I want to say, before we move on, that she is ... because y'all are going to be thinking, she is doing much better. [crosstalk 00:06:28]

Carolyn: She is recovering.

Josh: It was a very rough spot, but she's recovering very well, the hospital's taking great care of her, she is just a trooper-

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Josh: -and ready to go, we've all been joking that physical therapy's been getting her out walking and she's getting hard to keep up with.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: She just about wants to get out there and run, so she's just got a real passion for life, that's why she's done so well through so many things, she just loves to live.

Carolyn: She is very hardy, she just bounces back and she was in the hospital singing the other day and just having a blast with a man who came through with a guitar singing hymns. She just thought that was the most wonderful thing. So here she is, so sick with pneumonia and singing as best she can in the hospital. Her love of life is just amazing and contagious.

Josh: Yes, exactly, infectious and contagious.

Carolyn: In a good way.

Josh: Of course. All righty, well, that's, I guess, kind of consumed both of our times along with harvest season and getting ready for winter and all the other stuff that we're doing on the homestead, but that's been at the top of our minds, obviously. Putting a little pressure on to get the other stuff done, but it's okay, we're doing it.

Carolyn: At the top of that, right now is fruit harvest is really happening, and the plums are just going crazy. We made tons of plum jam, we've made prunes, we have a great Italian prune tree, it's young, but it's really getting going this year, so we're dehydrating a lot of prunes. But then, I got to say, finally, finally, years into my homesteading journey, I have finally perfected fruit leather. It has taken a long time.

Josh: Sure is good.

Carolyn: The basic directions out there or something, like make a smoothie, essentially, out of your fruit, sweeten it and then put it on your dehydrator trays, and I have just never really been happy with the result. It's not what I want it to be, and so finally this year I dug in and I actually did some research and I figured it out, and we're talking dehydrating today, so I'm going to be sharing my specialty with you all the way at the end.

Josh: Cool.

Carolyn: On how to make great fruit leather.

Josh: Very cool, I love the fruit leather. Great snacks, hits the sweet tooth real well and it's healthy, and it's great to take out, working on the homestead or hiking or backpacking, hunting, all of that.

Carolyn: You're going to love it even more.

Josh: Good, good, you're going to have to fill my pack up, because we got several hundred this year, we're going to be out there this fall.

Carolyn: Sounds good.

Josh: All righty, well, good job on that, and I guess let's jump into a question?

Carolyn: Yeah, that sounds great.

Josh: For today, and let's see here: we'll ask one here from, you're covering this one?

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: From A. Collie on preservation 101, an intro to canning.

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: Okay, Carolyn, I water-bath canned some guava pineapple jam. Wow, that sounds good. That's my commentary. And all was fine until I noticed one jar grew mold and popped open, and one of the other jars were popped up too. What could have gone wrong? This has now scared me to can.

Carolyn: Okay, that's a really good question, and I can't tell you exactly what went wrong because I can't sit here and ask you questions and work through this, but there are a few things that you need to consider that could've gone wrong. Number one, did you use an approved recipe, or a recipe using the latest safe methods? You can do a little bit of recipe-creation in canning as long as you're using the very, very safe methods. That's the first thing to consider.

Carolyn: Second thing that I would guess happened, assuming that you were using correct methods, so you actually did a water, boiling water bath canning on that, you didn't just open-kettle it and turn it upside-down on the counter or something like that. But assuming you actually canned it in a boiling water bath, was your head space correct? Because if your head space was not correct, that's that air space at the top of the jar, the space between the top of the food and the lid inside your jar, if that's not correct, it can cause you not to get a proper vacuum seal in your jar.

Carolyn: The other thing to check is, did your jars have any mix in the rim? Having a failed jam is not nearly, nearly as dangerous as having vegetables or some low-acid food fail. Botulism cannot live in that high-acid environment of a jam, a fruit like that, so that's why using that approved recipe is so important, because if you know it's high-acid and you've got some mold, it's not like it was deadly. You don't want somebody who has a compromised immune system consuming anything like that, but there wasn't going to be botulism in that.

Carolyn: So you can take a deep breath and not worry so much, because that is that high-acid food. But my guess is going to be that your head space was incorrect on that. So double-check that next time.

Josh: Very cool, thanks for that question, A. Collie. All right, well, let's dive in as usual, we've got a lot to cover, and we're talking about dehydrating today. I guess let's start with the obvious, to make sure we're covering our bases, what is dehydrating? I think most of us kind of got a good idea of that, but what is it?

Carolyn: Yeah, dehydrating is removing the liquid from a food so that your bacteria and your mold cannot grow in that food. Your spoiling agents need liquid in order to be able to survive in most cases, so by removing that liquid, you are removing what they need in order to survive. So this is why you don't have mold growing on dry surfaces, right? You need wet surfaces.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: So you're allowing an environment where that food can just become shelf-stable by removing that liquid.

Josh: Cool. And that is a very, very old, we didn't pull history on this, but dehydrating-

Carolyn: Oh, this is ancient. [crosstalk 00:12:28]

Josh: Way, way before canning or anything like that. Canning history's kind of interesting, but it is a very short life span compared to something like fermenting or dehydrating.

Carolyn: Well, and the reality is dehydrating is so natural, it's going to happen in natural. You leave that plum on the tree, you're going to go out in another month or two and you're going to have a prune on the three. It may not be in great condition because it might've heated and cooled and everything, but it's going to dry all by itself in nature. So it's a very, very natural process.

Josh: Yep. And I imagine we'll probably talk about this, but it's going to be a little better at preserving the nutrients in the food, compared-

Carolyn: It can, if you do it right.

Josh: Cool, okay. All righty, so why would somebody dehydrate? What are some of the benefits or reasons to dehydrate over some other preservation methods?

Carolyn: Okay, some of the benefits are, one, it preserves your food, that's kind of the obvious benefit. Two, it's really a good way to make convenience foods, especially convenience snacks. Things like fruit leathers, vegetable chips, fruit chips, things like that make a great snack.

Carolyn: Another is that it's very, very lightweight, so for things like backpacking, you were talking about when you go out hunting or something, you can create very lightweight food for it versus taking a can of soup, you can take along the dried ingredients and just kind of have an instant meal that you can prepare.

Josh: A lot of people automatically, for that situation, think freeze-dried foods, which are great and awesome, but ... and this is something we're going to cover in the future, but freeze-drying is expensive to get into, the units are just expensive, and of course buying it is expensive.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: So dehydrating is actually a great backup to that. We've gone out backpacking where I've dehydrated spaghetti meals, scrambled eggs and bacon and all kinds of stuff, and it's not quite as good, it doesn't come out quite as good as freeze-dried food, but it's very good and it's your own and it's not expensive. That's what's really cool, is you can have some good quality meals while you're out on those kinds of trips, and it's very, very inexpensive.

Carolyn: Yeah, it is. The other really good thing about dehydrating is that it takes something that's very large and it makes it really small. So not just lightweight, but small. A lot of you guys write us and say, we're in a small apartment, we don't have a lot of storage for canned goods, what can we do? Dehydrating is your friend. It takes the bulk way down on things, so that's another real good reason to dehydrate.

Josh: And some of your best dehydrators are not that big, either.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: They don't take a lot of space in your house if you're in a small house.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Okay, so let's just cover for a minute what are some of the things, what are the types of foods that can be dehydrated?

Carolyn: Okay, the range is huge, things that you can dehydrate at home is absolutely giant. You can dehydrate herbs, that's pretty natural to us, we think of dehydrated herbs because that's how we usually use them from the store anyways. But greens, your greens, you can dehydrate them, we make a super-greens powder out of that. We dehydrate them, blend them up, and then we have a powder of our own [crosstalk 00:15:37]-

Josh: We've got a video on that.

Carolyn: We have a video on that.

Josh: Drop that in the description.

Carolyn: Of course your have fruits, you have vegetables, you have meat, then you have some kind of surprising things like yogurt.

Josh: Dehydrate yogurt.

Carolyn: Yeah, you can make nice little snacks. I used to that for the babies, you might not remember that, but I used to dehydrate little yogurt dollops, these great little dissolvable [crosstalk 00:15:58]-

Josh: I remember those.

Carolyn: Yeah. Broths, you can actually make [crosstalk 00:16:00]-

Josh: Now that's interesting. I remember the bullion cubes that my mom used to use and my grandma, which would be dehydrated broth, and you'd do it in a powder more, probably, for home use.

Carolyn: You can actually even do it in a really thick paste.

Josh: Okay, interesting.

Carolyn: Powder or paste. And that's one I haven't gotten into as much as I want, I hope to really experiment with that this winter, because that would be a great way to do a big batch and then have your instant soups.

Josh: The benefits of that, because I know you can a lot of broth, so that in the wintertime you can add that to rice, quick chicken soup, whatever. You can a lot, what do you think would be, would there be a benefit to dehydrating over canning the broth?

Carolyn: Well, one is especially if you want to take it somewhere. If you want to go out and have a vegetable soup while you're out hunting [crosstalk 00:16:47] ... it's not just water.

Josh: Just even some warm, hot broth, have that in a pack if you get too cold or something.

Carolyn: Absolutely. The other thing is just that, is that the space-saving of it, because you can dehydrate a whole, a little bullion cube this big or about this much of a bullion powder-

Josh: Pack.

Carolyn: -is going to take care of about a quart of liquid. So instead of that quart-sized jar, you got something about that size.

Josh: Cool.

Carolyn: So size is a really big deal.

Josh: What about now, sorry, this is just a question we hadn't talked about, but nutritional value, because we know that dehydrating can actually keep a little better nutritional value than, say, canning, and broth is a highly nutrient-dense food. Are going to retain the nutritional density better in dehydrating?

Carolyn: In some ways, you actually retain is better, because when you're canning things like broth, you often break down the collagen, that's why it doesn't thicken anymore when, say, you have that broth you made and it's in the refrigerator and it's so thick, it's like gelatin almost. When you got to can it, it breaks down the collagen. That is not necessarily true in dehydrating, you actually keep your collagen in shape still in those cases.

Carolyn: Again, it has to do with properly dehydrating it, we're going to get into that. You can also dehydrate things like cooked eggs, not raw eggs, but cooked eggs, like your scrambled eggs you've taken places.

Josh: Done that, yep.

Carolyn: I use the dehydrator most for sprouted grains, and a lot of seasons out of the year, we sprout our wheat, dehydrate it so we can grind it into a sprouted wheat flour, so that's really handy. You can dehydrate things like noodles or cooked rice so that you have instant noodles or rice.

Josh: Wow.

Carolyn: Lasagna noodles, anybody? You can cook them, then dehydrate them, and then they're instant lasagna noodles, which is really handy. You don't have to pre-boil.

Josh: Very cool.

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: Okay, so what are some things that, in our household, you just started to touch on this, but what are some things that we like to dehydrate a lot that's useful just for home? Every home is different. There's all the stuff you can do, but you're going to find yourself doing certain things that are just applicable to our environment or that we enjoy.

Carolyn: Right.

Josh: So what are some of the things that you dehydrate and why, specifically? You just explained the sprouted wheat-

Carolyn: Yeah, so I just talked about the sprouted wheat. Another one that I'm starting to do, I got to tell you guys, I know this goes against a lot of homesteaders' lifestyle ideas, I've just about stopped canning tomatoes altogether, because between fermenting tomatoes and dehydrating them, I can't figure out why I need them canned in the first place, and canning's a lot more work.

Carolyn: I love the dehydrated tomatoes, they are so quick and easy to make a sauce from.

Josh: [crosstalk 00:19:24] Got a jar back there-

Carolyn: I actually have a gallon jar sitting back here because we just are finishing our tomato season. And again, you can fill up a whole lot of jars, especially for our family, and take up a lot of shelf space for enough tomatoes to get us through the winter, whereas dehydrated, I can put, that is half a bushel of tomatoes in that gallon-size jar.

Josh: Yeah.

Carolyn: And it's going to rehydrate to that, too. So I really like that. Of course, apples, we got to have apples.

Josh: Yep.

Carolyn: Then the fruit leather, now even more fruit leather, we're going to be doing a lot of fruit leather, we've got a lot of people dreaming of different flavors of fruit leather, that tip is coming at the end. Hash browns is another one that I really like, Amish breakfast casserole's really popular, a lot of you guys have enjoyed that recipe.

Josh: That's one of my favorite breakfast recipes.

Carolyn: I'll give you the link in the description to that recipe. But that requires hash browns, and I don't usually want to make the hash browns from scratch, so I like doing a big batch of dehydrated hash browns, it makes it super easy to use.

Josh: Cool.

Carolyn: Prunes, of course, our super-greens powder, and then we're always doing herbs. Always.

Josh: Yeah, lots of use there. Well, what are some things to stay away from that should not or cannot be dehydrated?

Carolyn: So you have milk, really can't be safely dehydrated at home in a dehydration unit. It can be freeze-dried, but that's different. You got to differentiate those two. Let's see, fatty and oily foods cannot be dehydrated at home, and raw eggs are highly discouraged to be dehydrated at home, all because, well, the milk and the eggs, they can go bad faster than ... they can have spoilage faster than you can dehydrate them. [crosstalk 00:21:13]

Carolyn: The fatty and oily foods, and that includes fat in foods, so things like your jerky or your meats, why you want to take the fat off of them is because they can go rancid, and of course rancid oils we know are carcinogenic, no question about that. So you don't really want to be eating those.

Josh: Yeah, cool.

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: All righty, well, I feel like we're kind of covering this next part a little bit, but there are some more to go into here. So let's just talk about pros and cons. What are the major pros, the advantages and reasons why you want to dehydrate?

Carolyn: Okay, the biggest pro is because it's actually really easy, very few foods need much prep before you get them onto the dehydrator trays. [crosstalk 00:22:00] Except for slicing.

Josh: Cut up and watch, right?

Carolyn: Yeah, absolutely. Let me just say, your food processor with a slicer on it is your best friend for this, just run it through, it's all uniform, really easy. The other thing is it's actually really healthy. So many things don't need any additives at all, they don't need sugar to store well, and so it's a great way to get really, really healthy snacks in.

Carolyn: It's hard to find healthy snacks that don't need immediate preparation that aren't sweet, I found, especially that kids will like.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: But things like kale chips, carrot chips, there are a lot of options in dehydrating for snacks that are-

Josh: Those fruit roll-ups, man.

Carolyn: And that one is a little sweet-

Josh: It is, but [crosstalk 00:22:44]-

Carolyn: It is a healthy version of sweet.

Josh: It's healthy. It's sweet, but it's a healthy sweet, it's not ... is there any sugar in that?

Carolyn: I put some sugar ... [crosstalk 00:22:52] I'll tell you about it at the end where we're going to dial this in, okay?

Carolyn: All right, so it's light, space-saving, we already talked about that, the storage is really, really great, and of course it's energy-efficient even running a-

Josh: Electric?

Carolyn: -electric dehydrator, the Excalibur on it that I have, their user manual says that it costs between three and six cents an hour to run. That is very cheap, compared to, say, running your canner or pressure canners, it's very cheap definitely compared to a freeze-drier. So that's a really good deal. Yeah.

Josh: Sure is. And we'll talk about a few different methods of dehydrating as well, you don't have to do electric. If you're trying to do scale, get things done, you're going to want to, but there's other ways to do it. But first, so what are some of the cons, what are some of the detriments to dehydrating or reasons or situations where you wouldn't want to dehydrate?

Carolyn: Okay, so first of all, especially if you're using that electric dehydrator, you're limited to the amount of tray space that you have at the time.

Josh: And they're not real big unless you're going to go commercial, really expensive.

Carolyn: Yeah, you can get full wall units-

Josh: For electric ones, yeah.

Carolyn: Electric, and that's going to be just crazy expensive. But for most home models, I have two nine-tray Excaliburs for our family, and a lot of times they are full during harvest season, running all the time. You have to be aware that you have a limited amount that you can process in, say, a 12-hour window.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: Of course, you need to have the right setup, whatever that is, you need to have either your electric dehydrator or a different setup, we're going to be talking about different options in a second.

Josh: You got to create a warm, dry environment that circulates air.

Carolyn: Exactly.

Josh: One way or the other.

Carolyn: Very good. And then for things, it changes the flavor. I can't stand the taste of any carrot that has ever been dehydrated, I don't like that flavor. Green beans are notorious for changing flavor, so there are some things that, really, the flavor changes drastically, even when it's been reconstituted.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: And reconstituting is the process of getting it wet again so it's a little plumper, more like fresh.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: And then the last one is that the texture changes. Even when it's reconstituted, generally your texture is going to be a little different, even the scrambled eggs, right?

Josh: Yeah, the scrambled ... some things are better than others, like some of the stews, the spaghetti, some of those dinner meals all came out pretty good. They came back, they weren't original texture, but they came back pretty good. The eggs definitely, you get by-

Carolyn: You need that fresh trout to mix in with the eggs to make it passable. [crosstalk 00:25:41]

Josh: That's very helpful if you're on a lake.

Carolyn: So it does change the texture, and it can charge the flavor.

Josh: But you'll find what you like, you're trying different things, and that's why we all have our go-tos and our things. You'll find the stuff that works for you and doesn't work for you.

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Josh: Pass on that. Cool. All righty, well, so there's a bunch of different ways to dehydrate, we're talking most electric here, and there's reason for that, but that's not your only option when it comes to dehydrating. So let's talk a little bit, let's start with electric, since [inaudible 00:26:10] is the electric dehydrator.

Carolyn: Yeah, so you have different grades of electric dehydrator. If you're looking at buying a electric dehydrator, I really recommend you find one with a thermostat so you can choose your temperature, that really gets you a better product in the end, and a fan so that it circulates the air all the way. Believe it or not, some don't have a fan, they just rely on heat. And that's really not as effective, and it causes a lot more work on your side.

Carolyn: Again, I use an Excalibur, I've loved it, I've had mine for 15 years, 16-

Josh: Oh, at last.

Carolyn: 17 years?

Josh: It feels like about as long as I can remember.

Carolyn: Use it all the time and have for all those years, and never one had a problem with. So I'm just sold on them, because it's been such a solid unit for us. But like you said, there are other situations that you can create that are going to dry food. If you live in a dry environment, you can just dry food out on your shelf, in some cases.

Josh: Well, so the age-old is solar. I mean, that is probably the original way to dehydrate, and you can make that as simple as what you're saying and just setting things out in the sun and warming them to solar dehydrators that control air flow and monitor temperature.

Carolyn: Yeah, and you can definitely do that, it is important to note that, though, that if it's sitting in the direct sun, you are going to be losing nutrients. So a lot of times, even in solar dehydrating, your best option is if you're in a warm environment and you can dry in the shade, but it has to be dry enough. In a really humid environment, you can have a really hard time getting things dry enough. It can be a real challenge.

Carolyn: So another option would be in the oven with just a pilot light on or just your light bulb on. There are actually, some of the new ovens right now, I know, have a dehydrate setting on them so that it's low enough.

Josh: Hey, very cool.

Carolyn: Especially convection ovens will run the fan with just a very, very low heat, and that can be really nice. You can just dehydrate on your cookie sheets in the oven if you have that.

Josh: Yep, absolutely. And then last, there's probably some other ones maybe we're not thinking of, these are the main ones, is just hang-drying, simple hang-drying, which is, for herbs particularly, is one of the bigger ones.

Carolyn: Herbs, greens, yeah, absolutely, where you're just hanging them from the ceiling. Again, you want them in a dark environment that's warm and has a lot of air circulation so that you're not getting that stagnated air where you're going to cause mold.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: Because that's kind of your big enemy, is the mold, right? So there are lot of things that you can do without an actual dehydrator, electric dehydrator.

Josh: Sure. Very cool, all right. So let's just cover some of the basics here, just the basics of dehydrating. What do folks need to know?

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: So no matter what method you're using, there are some basics that you need to know, they're easier to deal with with an electric dehydrator, but if you don't have one, this information's going to be really helpful.

Carolyn: Exactly, okay. So step number one when you're dehydrating food is choose what food you're going to dehydrate. You have to know, nothing is going to get better when it's preserved than when you buy it, except for maybe something you're fermenting. Then maybe. But in the case of something that's dehydrated, you want to have great food that you're starting with, it needs to be as perfectly ripe as you want it to be to eat it, it needs to be non-molded, non-bruised, all of those things, because it's not going to get any better when you dehydrate it.

Josh: Right.

Carolyn: And that's really important, because a lot of people go to the grocery store and old bananas are on sale, and you bring home and you want to dehydrate all of them, just know they're still going to be old bananas when they hit that dehydrator. They're not going to get any younger or any better.

Josh: You better like the flavor, right? [crosstalk 00:30:08]

Carolyn: You better know you like them-

Josh: Some people like the flavor of old bananas.

Carolyn: Absolutely.

Josh: I like them almost green, myself. We're all different, so have it where you want it.

Carolyn: Absolutely, that's really important. [crosstalk 00:30:17] Number two is some items do need pre-treatment, and obviously we're not going to sit here right now and say, if you're dehydrating apples, this is what you need to do. So the best thing to do is get yourself a really good dehydrator book that's going to tell you exactly how to treat each item that you want to dehydrate.

Carolyn: This is the book that I have used, it's called Mary Bell's Complete Dehydrator Cookbook. I have five different dehydrator cookbooks, and this is the one I come back to all the time. It has been a great book, and I highly recommend it, so we'll put the link to it in the description for you guys. But I would recommend getting a book so you know exactly what to do to each thing. Some things, you need to blanche first, especially with vegetables. The general rule of thumb is that if you would cook it before you would eat it, say, like, potatoes, you don't eat potatoes raw, then you need to blanche it before you dehydrate it.

Carolyn: The other thing is that some fruits are going to do better if they have the acid treatment to keep them from getting brown, because they're going to be sitting out for quite a while in the dehydration process. So just know what you need to do to each thing. Okay. Ready?

Josh: Cool, yeah.

Carolyn: Number three is to get them sliced or cut or put into some sort of a uniform shape so that they're all the same thickness so they dry at approximately the same rate.

Josh: Right, if you get a whole bunch of variation, you're going to get, some things are going to over-dry and some things aren't going to dry.

Carolyn: Aren't going to be dry enough, exactly. So you want to get them into that uniform size, get them onto whatever your tray is, hopefully spaced out so they have some air flow.

Josh: Sure, yep.

Carolyn: Next is if you're using an eclectic dehydrator with a thermostat, set to the correct temperature. This is really important to get your best nutrient value out of your foods. If you're talking herbs, we want to be about 115 degrees Fahrenheit. For greens and veggies, you're at about 125 degrees, for fruits, 135 degrees, and for jerkies you really need to be up at 165 for meats, for anything like that. So that's going to get you.

Carolyn: Even if you're using a dehydrator with a fan, you're going to want to rotate your trays occasionally. I find that that just gives you the best results in the long run, and depending on what you're dehydrating, you may want to actually flip the vegetables, fruits or the item over on your trays sometimes.

Josh: Can you give us an example of that, something that you-

Carolyn: Sometimes, like right now I'm doing a lot of plums or prunes, so you start them out with the skin side down so that it lets off moisture, but at some point, that can end up, because the wrinkling holding in moisture-

Josh: Down at the bottom, it looks like a little bowl, almost, right?

Carolyn: So you want to flip it over so that you get a ... it's not always necessary, but usually you can get a better product. Yeah.

Josh: Makes sense.

Carolyn: So that was step number five. Number six, this is where that book comes back in. Make sure you know the desired consistency or texture of the finished product that you're looking for. Some things need to be crispy to be dried properly to store for a long time. Some things need to be leathery, so you need to know your finished goal, and then be checking your food. Maybe sure when you check food in the dehydrator, you take it out of the dehydrator, let it cool to room temperature before you check it, because that heat adds pliability-

Josh: [crosstalk 00:33:45] It's going to adjust.

Carolyn: And then last is to store it. Once you get it done, obviously you're not going to leave it sitting out in the sun, you don't want to leave it hanging from your ceiling in the case of an herb, you want to get into an airtight container. Some people use moisture-absorbers just to be sure, desiccants just to be sure they didn't leave any moisture in there. What I like to do is I just put it in, check it after a day, make sure there's no condensation on the inside of the jar, be sure I got it all the way dry, in which case I know it's good to sit on the shelf.

Josh: So then it's good that you found that trick.

Carolyn: It's good.

Josh: Well, that's a nice little hack right there to avoid the ... the desiccants are just another thing to buy, throw away, take care of, so that's a nice solution.

Carolyn: Yeah, you don't really need to do that.

Josh: Right on. So that's a good overview in how to dehydrate.

Carolyn: Yeah.

Josh: Now we get onto using some of those foods.

Carolyn: Of course you can use a lot of them raw and in their dehydrated form. For example, the fruit leathers or the chips or the jerky, but what we seem to have forgotten in our culture a little bit is that historically, a lot of the foods that were dehydrated were reconstituted and then cooked with.

Josh: Brought back, yeah.

Carolyn: Absolutely. So the way you generally do that, let's say you've dehydrated some spinach, you want to use it in a winter soup, you're going to get that into lukewarm or room-temperature water, generally for about 30 minutes before you want to add it to something hot or cook with it, and reconstitute that. Reconstituting times can be anywhere from about 30 minutes to about two hours, but you don't want to just take your food, with the exception of herbs, you don't want to just take your dried food and dump it into your boiling soup.

Carolyn: That will not allow it to reconstitute properly. So you need to do it in cool, lukewarm, room temperature water first.

Josh: So give us a tip, I know you're going to have one here right at the end on the fruit leathers, but give us a tip on tomatoes, because that's one you're finding yourself using more and more dehydrated ... you use tomatoes in a lot, so that's when I think that you often dehydrate. I'm sorry, rehydrate, right? Like you're talking about, so give us a couple tips on that, because I think people are going to like that idea that they can dehydrate tomatoes. But that's definitely one that you're going to want to dehydrate. Rehydrate! Dehydrate and then rehydrate.

Carolyn: It actually tastes really good as tomato chips, but when you want to reconstitute them, and this is such a good thing when we're running out canning lids, they're hard to get right now, canning supplies. This is a really good alternate way to get your tomatoes in.

Carolyn: I like to toss them with salt and Italian seasoning before I dehydrate them, dehydrate them in slices, and then when I'm ready to use them, I just take a good handful of them and, personally, if I'm going to make a sauce, I stick them right in my blender and pour room-temperature water over them and let them sit there for about 10 minutes to 30 minutes. Then I just turn the blender on. It makes a great sauce, you can add more or less water, depending on if you're looking for a thick sauce, a thinner sauce, you can season it differently, you can add all sort of things, usually you add a little it of honey or something if you want to make a pizza sauce out of it, usually that's a little sweeter.

Carolyn: It just is so usable and so easy, and it only takes a few minutes to reconstitute it and just blend it right up.

Josh: Very cool. Wow. That's a great tip, and I hadn't thought about that going into this discussion, just, we know, and a lot of you know out there how difficult it is to get canning supplies. What you can do with dehydrating some of these vegetables and maximizing space and use of the supplies that you have, so that's good pivot right now, in an environment that's a little bit challenging when it comes to preserving via canning. Very good thought.

Josh: All right, so we're about to wrap up here.

Carolyn: Final tip.

Josh: Final tip that you promised about the best fruit leather, this is something you've been making for us for nearly two decades, and I've always been really happy with it.

Carolyn: Okay.

Josh: I didn't know until recently that you weren't liking your recipe-

Carolyn: I didn't like it.

Josh: -because we did have a season where you weren't making a whole lot, and I thought it just wasn't working out. But I didn't realize that's because something wasn't working the way you wanted it to. And now you've come back to this and you've got a hack, you've got something that changes the game on fruit leathers. So tell us about it.

Carolyn: That is added pectin. Essentially, I make a low-sugar jam out of the fruit with the added pectin, and one, that pectin's really good for you, so it's very healthy for you, it's added fiber and stuff. But two, it thickens it enough that you get this right texture and it's like a store-bought fruit leather. I grew up with the store-bought version as the ideal treat from the grocery store, and so I've had this in my mind for years. I've been looking for that, and this just did it.

Carolyn: My real trick, if you use the Pomona's pectin, you can multiply that many times over so you don't have to just make a single batch of jam, and you can make it very low-sugar. You don't want a full-sugar jam for this, because sugar dehydrates really slowly, so it'll leave it wet and sticky instead if you have too much sugar in there. But a little bit is going to preserve your color, and you do need a little bit to mix in with that pectin.

Carolyn: You could use honey, you could use some other things. I haven't experimented with that yet, but it makes a nice, thick, pliable leather that does not over-dry and become chips. Don't like chips, okay? It is a great way to go, and then you just slice it up and put it in some parchment for storage in a bag, and it's ready to go for lunch snacks, whatever it is that you need it for.

Josh: Well, what I've had so far is great, and I'm excited to be able to pull some of these out in the pack this fall. So thanks for that, that's really, really good. It's been great hanging with you guys, got to go, and we will see you soon.

Josh: Thanks for listening to this episode of the Pantry Chat Food For Thought. If you've enjoyed this episode, please subscribe, rate and review.

Carolyn: To view the show notes and any other resources mentioned on this episode, you can learn more at

Josh: We'll see you soon.

Carolyn: Goodbye.

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