Plan Your Dehydrated Food Storage In Spring
It’s funny the things that pop into your head, planning dehydrated food storage and other such mundane tasks like cleaning the food dehydrator wasn’t exactly my first waking thought. However, it was such a beautiful early summer morning here, a stroll through the vegetable patch was irresistible and one thing always leads to another.
Having gone organic years ago, we live life on the edge – so I like to see who ate what overnight and besides, you can see what slugs and snails have left for the food dehydrator to tackle later, normally there’s more than enough for everyone.
Which was what became very evident – things seem to sprout and grow overnight in the spring and there are always plenty of pickings to be had for preserving and storing.
Herbs on the whole are safe from most garden thugs, the taste is too strong for slugs and snails. Most herbs love it hot and dry with well drained soil, they hate living with wet feet in the winter and digging in sand three years ago seemed like hard work, but it has made uncomfortable traveling for snails and an ideal home for herbs.
I was stunned to see the explosion of oregano and tarragon – in just a few days the growth has been enormous and it looked and felt right for picking this week. Herbs benefit greatly from being sheared back in early summer, then putting out many more shoots on each stem.
The result is a shorter thicker growth which seems to concentrate the flavor and oils even more, so don’t hesitate to take an early crop, you can come back for seconds and thirds later on.
I always leave a third for the bees, cut the rest – and dehydrate it as soon as possible.
All of which leads me back to dehydrated food storage tips, because I’m going to have to do it myself at latest tomorrow, if I want the best of my crop.
Dehydrating Food at Home – Why Bother?
- You’ll save a lot of money and if you grow your own this is all free
- Fast clean method of food preservation – no sticky mess or hot jars
- You can buy when vegetables are in a seasonal glut at low prices and dry to use later
- Retains most of the vitamins and nourishment
- You will never be short of ingredients to make a tasty meal
- Herbs dry especially well and are expensive to buy
- Dried fruit makes a delicious healthy snack without the added sugar of bought fruit
- Repeat re the dried fruit snacks, you’ll save a fortune on these alone
- Storage takes far less space than canning or freezing
Storing dehydrated food was something I experimented with, using airtight plastic containers through to ziplock bags, mostly it comes down to what you are storing and for how long. All of it stores best in the cool and dark.
By the way, if herb infused oils are in your plans and you’d like some know how, click here for the post. For oils you don’t need to dry herbs first, but you must remove them after a week or so and strain your oil – go read the post later.
The Best Way To Store Dehydrated Food
The cooler and darker your storage area, the longer and better the dehydrated food will keep their nutritional value and great taste. For every 18F (10C ) reduction in storage temperature, you’ll increase the shelf life of your dried food x 3 which is worth doing.
In truth the best way to store dehydrated food is in the freezer. The perfect temperature to store dehydrated food at is 60F (15C) to below freezing, making the best place to store your dried food the freezer or refrigerator.
I know it sounds odd and as it’s going into a damp environment, the storage bags or containers absolutely must be airtight. Meats, vegetables and dried fish are all low acid foods and unlike fruit they really do store better below freezing.
Mix It Up?
There is one other point to consider before you get food in the dehydrator – should you mix it all up?
Actually yes, some of it in some circumstances! Dehydrated food stores best when the air is kept out, thus keeping freshness and flavor in. So for a stew, you don’t need to be opening five containers, when one ready-mixed box or bag will do – much quicker too.
Once you’ve used dried food in a stew you’ll know how much reconstitutes back to what you need, so portioning up dehydrated vegetables as ready ingredients becomes a fast operation. Most vegetables are better re-hydrated first and you throw the whole lot in, liquid and all.
Personally I portion it up as a meal, put each into a zip-lock bag and then store the bags in an airtight box which goes into the freezer or fridge.
Use A Meat Slicer Or Kitchen Mandoline To Prep
Foods for dehydrating need to be thinly sliced 1/8″ to 1/4″ and ideally you’ll want each batch the same to ensure they all finish drying at the same time – it really does reduce your workload and the need for vigilance as the drying nears completion. To do this quickly and safely, you need to choose your tools carefully.
Depending on how much food you are prepping, using the right tools can make an hours difference to the slicing time. For everything soft to medium hard I use a kitchen mandoline slicer – you can read more about kitchen mandolines here. For firmer bigger veggies like butternut squash, I’ve found a home use meat and food slicer to be safer. Anything where you really have to push on a mandoline is more safely done with your fingers further from the blade.
Very recently I screwed up my courage (they are very sharp and pinkies get very close to the blades)and bought a small hand use spiral vegetable slicer which is great for one meal prep, but if you have a lot of zucchini to process I’d use something bigger (and safer!) like the Paderno Spiral Slicer.
Food Dehydration Tips
On the subject of reconstituting your dried produce, here’s a tip. Weigh the fruit or veg before putting it into the food dehydrator and note it down. Once dried, weigh again and you’ll know how much weight has been lost to liquid – note it on the storage bag too. This gives you two things, the weight before drying and the amount of water needed to rehydrate it.
Forearmed with this you can add the right amount of each to a bag, pretty much as you would with fresh food, so 1lb of carrots in a stew equals roughly 6oz dried weight and needs about 10oz of liquid to pump itself up again.
Larger items like apple rings and similar fruits seem to stay at their best for longest in plastic boxes, whereas root vegetables do very well in bags and take up little room, you can pop them in a draw, they’ll be fine.
Display In Spice Jars For A Month Or Two
Herbs I store in the same way as veg with a number of different combinations ready to use. When needed they get transferred to glass spice jars which look nice on the shelf and keep them in pristine condition for another month or two.
Other than bay leaves which store best flat.
I don’t dry meat and never have yet, so I can’t advise on storage, at least not from experience, however I’d start by using airtight containers.
One (or two) Last Word Of Advice
The look of an old fashioned sweet jar filled with colorful dried vegetables can be irresistible. Go ahead and do it – but don’t try and eat what’s on display.
Light will cause it to lose color and flavor quite quickly, so replace as needed with fresh, but don’t eat it okay?
Looking For A Food Dehydrator Buying Guide?
If you landed here because you are researching whether to bother dehydrating food or not, go have a read of the post answering a frequently asked question – What is a food dehydrator anyway? Alternatively if you’ve got to the stage of trying to figure out which one to have, you’ll find help from my food dehydrator buying guide where there’s plenty more advice, all the pros and cons, plus a look at popular brands.
For me, it’s time to bring the food dehydrator into the limelight again and fill the house with the gentle fragrance of drying herbs – it feel like summer has finally arrived. I got started on food dehydrators about four years ago, after reading an article over at The Cottage Smallholder – a goldmine of information on preserving food and funny with it – so do check it out.
If you’ve got any questions or comments I’d love to hear from you, just fill out the comments form below or hit the contact button and I’ll get back to you within a day or often less.
June 04, 2013