A dehydrator is one of those kitchen appliances that some people use once or twice after purchasing, and then it sits tucked away in a cupboard forevermore. Not in my house! My dehydrator has proven itself indispensable in the preparation of foods and especially snacks.
A few years ago I was considering purchasing an Excalibur 9-tray dehydrator. My mum found out and gave me her 15-year old Fowlers Vacola round dehydrator – and then bought herself a new Excalibur! Sometimes when my parents travel away for extended periods, I am lucky enough to babysit the Excalibur, but most of the time the old Vacola works perfectly. I decided I would use it until it died, as I could not justify outlaying money for a new machine when I had one that still worked well. It is still chugging along and not looking like it will give way soon. When it does, I have a new option in sight – a Sedona. If you are in the market for a new dehydrator, take a look at the Sedona. I’d also suggest checking out second-hand varieties, as I often see them around on Gumtree and sometimes Freecycle.
In this post I thought I would share my three favourite uses for a dehydrator. There are many more ways to use a dehydrator, and I have a few Pinterest boards that I like to add to with interesting dehydrator recipes and ideas. If you are trying to incorporate more raw foods into your lifestyle, a dehydrator may come in handy. Some people believe that heating food above 42C destroys beneficial enzymes, so slowly dehydrating is one way to preserve more goodness.
1. Dried Fruit
When fruit is in full season and the harvest is bountiful, one of the best ways to preserve it is to whack it in the dehydrator and make your own dried fruit. Popular options in our house include kiwifruit, apples, pears, and strawberries.
The amount of time various fruits take to dehydrate depends on the type of dehydrator used, how thin the fruit is sliced, and how crisp/chewy you prefer your finished product. For super crispy fruit, like strawberry chips, the key is slicing the fruit very thinly and dehydrating long enough to get a crunchy result.
I have found the quickest and easiest way to prepare apples and pears for dehydrating is to use a slinky-maker. This sure beats slicing the fruit by hand, and it gets a fairly consistent result with the thickness, meaning when it dehydrates evenly.
Dehydrating fruits removes the liquid content, leaving a highly concentrated sugar content. This can make them easy to overeat, resulting in digestive issues for some people. If this is you, you can rehydrate the fruit in a bowl of water for an hour or two before eating. This bulks the fruit back up, meaning you are less likely to overeat as you will become full more quickly.
2. Kale chips.
I know, I know… kale chips is one of those hipster foods that has come into vogue in the past few years… but there’s a good reason for that. Besides all the nutritional benefits of kale, these suckers are delicious! They beat regular potato crisps hands-down in all areas – taste, texture and nutrition. You’re not likely to feel ill and full of regret after eating handfuls of kale chips, like you might if you had downed a packet of potato crisps.
There are countless kale chip recipes around and it’s fun to try them out. Most of the time I keep it super simple – I rip kale leaves into pieces and put them in a bowl, drizzle with macadamia oil, massage some nutritional yeast in, and sprinkle with Celtic sea salt. I then whack it in the dehydrator for 4-6 hours. Sometimes I substitute paprika or curry powder for nutritional yeast.
Both my children have at times sat beside a dehydrator full of kale chips, shoving their mouths full before the chips are even ready. I’m not complaining about that! I also usually put these out as party food for birthday celebrations, and there’s never leftovers from that.
3. Activating nuts
My third favourite use for my dehydrator is to activate seeds, nuts and grains. I learned much of what I know about the need to activate nuts from one of my most treasured cook books, Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon. Sally Fallon advises that many raw seeds, nuts and whole grains contain high levels of phytic acid. Phytic acid combines with iron, calcium, magnesium, copper and zine in the intestinal tract, blocking their absorption. Many seeds, nuts and grains also contain enzyme inhibitors that can interfere with digestion. Soaking or fermenting these items before eating them assists to lesson or neutralise phytates and enzyme inhibitors and, in effect, predigests them so that their nutrients are more available.
I buy my nuts in bulk, so every few months when a new order arrives I spend a few days preparing them to eat. I soak (sometimes overnight) and then dehydrate them, before storing in glass jars. Besides reducing the phytic acid, I love that the texture of the nuts changes after they have been activated (soaked and dehydrated). Activated pecans are especially delicious – super crisp and tasty.
While my dehydrator is mostly at use with fruit, kale chips, and nuts, I also use it for other purposes, like making flax crackers (not often due to the phytoestrogens in flax) , raw onion bread, fruit leather, buckwheat buckinis, sprouted flour and for drying things like tomatoes and herbs. I have had beef jerky on my mental to-do list for a few years now, and am sure my trusty dehydrator will come in handy for that. If you’re looking at tools to help you make healthier than store-bought processed snacks, borrow someone’s dehydrator for a week and see if you can’t live without one after that!