How To Dehydrate Food:
A Prepper's Guide to Losing the Water Weight

How to dehydrate food is an important skill for emergency preparedness. You can stock your emergency food storage as you prepare your daily meals.

Dehydrating Food Saves Everything:

  • Money: produce is free from your survival garden, buy seasonal produce in bulk, no refrigeration is required, produces an extra-long shelf life.
  • Space: takes up A LOT less storage space then cans or bottles
  • Your Health: Dried foods are safe… drying prevents bacteria and mold growth.  Dehydrating removes the water from the food, but leaves the vitamins and minerals.
  • Your Time: just slice, prep, dry, pack and store
  • Your Taste Buds: dried foods have amazing intense flavor and do not melt into a sticky mess

Whether you want to preserve fruits and vegetables from your garden or the produce from your local farmers market... dehydrating food is the right method for you!



Want to Know About How To Dehydrate Food?
Here's what you will find:

What are the Advantages of Food Dehydrating?

There are many advantages to dehydrating your own food. You can:

  • Preserve the goodness during the harvest.
  • Save your favorite foods for future use.
  • Save precious space in your emergency food storage.
  • Prevent that end of the season waist.

Here is an article that talks about the advantages of food dehydrating.

How Does Dehydrating Preserve Food?

Drying removes the moisture from the food so bacteria, yeast and mold cannot grow and spoil the food. Drying also slows down the action of enzymes (naturally occurring substances which cause foods to ripen), but does not inactivate them.

Warm temperatures cause the moisture to evaporate. Air current speeds up drying by moving the surrounding moist air away from the food.

Because drying removes moisture, the food becomes smaller and lighter in weight. When the food is ready for use, the water is added back, and the food returns to its original shape.

How do I Get My Food Dried?

There are several different ways of dehydrating food, each has their own advantages.

Some of these methods are:

  • In a electric food dehydrator,
  • in an oven,
  • by the sun itself,
  • or by using a solar dehydrating unit.

All of these methods work by using the right combination of warm temperatures, low humidity and air current. We will discuss these options below:

How do I Use an Electric Food Dehydrator? 

Dehydrating food in an electric food dehydrator is taking advantage of modern technology. There is no possibility of burning yourself on an oven door, no issues with the weather or attracting birds or bugs to your dried food. An electric food dehydrator creates the perfect balance of air and heat to make the optimal drying environment.

When dehydrating food, electric food dehydrators work better than your oven or solar drying. Because of the constant low heat and continuous air flow exchanging moist air for dry, electric food dehydrators are faster and create a more even drying process.

No babysitting your dehydrating food… Just load it and wait.

Here’s how to dehydrate food in an electric food dehydrator:

  1. Read the owner’s manual. (It’s amazing how many people DON'T do this when they purchase a product)

  2. Start with fresh fruits, vegetables, or meat of the very best quality. Over-ripe, bruised and otherwise deteriorated produce will not give you’re the results you are looking for.

  3. Clean, hull and slice all fruits and vegetables, Keeping the slices all the same size so your food will dry evenly.

  4. Treat apples, pears and other fruits with citrus juice or ascorbic acid. This will help to retain the color of the fruit before, during and after the drying process. (See the details on Pre-treating Fruit see below)

  5. Blanche vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, celery, carrots, corn, peas and potatoes to speed drying time and to help maintain color. (See the details on Pre-treating Vegetables see below)

  6. Slice and season meats like chicken, turkey, fish, beef or game. Fish and Poultry need to be cooked or smoked before they are dried.

  7. Load your fruit, vegetable or meat slices onto the dehydrator trays, be careful not to overlap them.

  8. Turn 0n your electric food dehydrator. Your owner’s manual will have suggested drying times and temperatures.

  9. Check your fruits and vegetables frequently for dryness. Simply remove a slice from the dehydrator, allow it to cool and then feel it with your fingers. If the slice feels dry to the touch, it should be adequately dried.

  10. Package and store your dehydrated food.
    (Get the details on the Packaging, Storing and Using Dried Foods)

That’s all there is to it.

How Do I Choose the Best Food Dehydrator For Me?

Picking the Best Food Dehydrator is a personal choice.

You need to consider:

  • How much you will use it
  • Price
  • what you are using it for
  • and more

I have written an article on choosing the Best Electric Food Dehydrator for you.  The article walks you through what to look for in a dehydrator as well as talking about some of the top rated dehydrators. This way you can choose the best dehydrator for you.


Can I use My Oven to Dehydrate Food?

You sure can! Everyone who has an oven can learn how to dehydrate food. By combining heat, low humidity and air flow, an oven can be used as a dehydrator.

Your oven is perfect for occasional drying of meat jerky, fruit leathers, and banana chips or for preserving excess vegetables like celery or mushrooms. Since your oven is needed for every day cooking, and the excessive use of electricity or fuel, it may not work out if you want to dry your whole survival garden harvest, but for occasional drying it works great.

I like to use my oven to dry foods in the winter. With the door propped open for hours at a time it really warms up the house for me.

Oven drying is slower than using a dehydrator because it does not have a built-in fan for the air movement.

Timing could be an issue. It takes twice as long to dry food in an oven than it does in a dehydrator. Thus, the oven is not as efficient as a dehydrator and uses more energy. Because of the make-up, convection ovens do speed up the process. Convection ovens do have fans and they are getting more popular. There are even Tabletop Convection Ovens if you choose.

Steps for Using Your Oven to Dehydrate Food

  1. Prepare your fruits, veggies and meats for dehydrating in the oven is the same process as preparing them for the dehydrator.
  2. Check the oven temperature dial and see if it can register as low as 135-140°F. If your oven does not go this low, then your food will cook instead of dry.
  3. Use a thermometer to check the temperature at the "warm" setting.
  4. Prop the oven door open with a folded up hot pad or wooden spoon in the door to keep it open two to six inches.
  5. Circulation can be improved by placing a fan outside the oven near the door.
  6. Because the oven door is open, the temperature will vary. To get a more accurate reading on the thermometer, place it near the food. Adjust the temperature dial to achieve the needed 140°F.
  7. Cake cooling racks placed on top of cookie sheets make great drying trays. The oven racks, holding the trays, should be two to three inches apart for air circulation.
  8. Drying trays should be narrow enough to clear the sides of the oven and should be 3 to 4 inches shorter than the oven from front to back.
  9. Most ovens have hot and cool spots in them so rotate the trays a couple of times throughout the drying process.  This helps to get a more even dry.
  10. Once your food is dry… cool before packaging. If you do not thoroughly cool the food then it will sweat and mold in the package. (Check out the details on Packaging and using dehydrated foods below).

Using the oven to dehydrate food is a great way to go, weather you dry your food for emergency preparedness or that weekend back packing trip, it is a wonderful tool. So, slice up that fruit, get that oven ready and start drying.

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How do I Make Sun Dried Fruit ?

Ancient natives from all continents have used the sun to create sun dried fruit and other dried foods for thousands of years. I guess you could say they were the very first emergency preparedness group.  They preserved their natural fruits, vegetables, herbs and game using sun drying methods.

Of course the natives knew nothing of contaminants and food spoilage.  We have come a long way.

The high sugar and acid content of fruits make them safe to dry in the sun.  

BUT, Vegetables and especially meats are not recommended for sun drying. Vegetables are low in sugar and acid. This increases the risks for food spoilage. Meats are high in protein making them ideal for microbial growth when heat and humidity cannot be controlled.

Let’s talk about How to make sun dried fruit

  • You will need a hot, dry, breezy day. At least 86°F … higher temperatures are even better.

  • It takes several days to dry foods outside.

  • Sun drying can be risky. You never know what the weather is going to do. Humidity or strong winds can really ruin a good batch of apples. Humidity needs to below 60 percent for sun drying.

  • Slice and Prepare your fruit as you would for any other dehydrating method. (Check out how to prepare fruit for drying below)

  • Place you prepared fruit on trays made of screen or wooden dowels. Screens need to be safe for contact with food. The best screens are stainless steel, Teflon coated fiberglass or plastic.

  • Avoid screens made from "hardware cloth." This is galvanized metal cloth that is coated with cadmium or zinc. These materials can oxidize, leaving harmful residues on the food. Also avoid copper and aluminum screening. Copper destroys vitamin C and increases oxidation. Aluminum tends to discolor and corrode.


  • Place trays on blocks to allow for better air movement around the food.

  • Place the racks or screens on a concrete driveway or if possible over a sheet of aluminum or tin. The reflection of the sun on the metal increases the drying temperature.

String your fruit up

You can string monofilament (fishing line) through your fruit slices, giving them a little space between each slice, making a garland. Hang your fruit garland in the sun. This works nicely for firmer fruits like apples and pares….peaches and apricots can be a bit drippy.

Cover the trays or garlunds with cheesecloth to help protect the fruit from birds or insects. Sun dried fruit must be covered or brought under shelter at night. The cool night air condenses and could add moisture back to the food, slowing down the drying process.

When your sun dried fruit is done on the drying rack it MUST be Pasteurized to kill any bugs or bug larve left on your fruit.

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How do I use a Solar Drier?

The popularity of solar food dehydrating has led to using commercially made sun ovens as drying units and encouraging inventive users to build their own. A solar drying unit uses the sun as the heat source. There is no electricity needed.

Most commercially made solar ovens come with inside solar drying racks to place your fruit on. You just leave the door open a crack, turn the oven so it is behind the sun track and let it heat up and dry. The hardest part of using a solar oven to dry foods is making sure it does not heat up too much. The solar oven needs to keep it around 150’ F. The idea is to dry my food not cook it.

You prepare the fruit for drying in a solar food dehydrator the same as you would for a regular dehydrator. See how to prepare fruit for dehydrating below.

Don't want to spend the money for a commercial solar oven?
Make your own solar food dehydrator.

Below is an example of a home made solar food dehydrator.

A foil surface inside the dehydrator helps to increase the temperature. Ventilation speeds up the drying time. Shorter drying times reduce the risks of food spoilage or mold growth. Follow the same food drying guidelines as the other methods.

Learning how to dehydrate food using the solar method requires a little creativity if using a homemade solar food dehydrator.

Pasteurization of Certain Sun or Solar Dried Foods

Sun or solar dried fruits and vine dried beans need treatment to kill any insect and their eggs that might be on the food. Unless destroyed, the insects will eat the dried food. There are two recommended pasteurization methods:

1. Freezer Pasteurization - Seal the food in freezer-type plastic bags. Place the bags in a freezer set at 0°F or below and leave them at least 48 hours.

2. Oven Pasteurization - Place the food in a single layer on a tray or in a shallow pan. Place in an oven preheated to 160°F for 30 minutes. After either of these treatments the dried fruit is ready to be conditioned and stored.

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What is the Best Way to Dry Fruit?

Dried fruits are unique, tasty and nutritious.

Some say only the freshest fruit, but it is my experience that the fruit that is almost over ripe turns out the sweetest when dried.

  • Begin by washing the fruit.
  • Coring or remove the pits and cut out any bad spots.
  • Fruits can be cut in half or sliced. Some fruits like berries and cherries, can be left whole.
  • The peel can be left on the fruit, but un-peeled fruit takes longer to dry.
  • Thin, uniform, peeled slices dry the fastest.
  • Apples can be cored and sliced in rings, wedges, or chips. Bananas can be sliced in chips or sticks. Apricots can be cut in half.
  • Fruits dried whole must be “checked” (breaking the skin) and take the longest to dry.

Here is a very detailed page on How to Dehydrate Fruit.

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How do I Dry Vegetables?

When learning how to dehydrate food, it's important to know the different methods of drying fruits versus drying vegetables:

  • Vegetables contain less acid than fruits therefor need to be dried until they are brittle. At this stage, only 10% moisture remains and no organisms can grow in the food.
  • Most vegetables need to be blanched before drying. Blanching relaxes the tissue walls so moisture can get through and stops the enzyme action that causes change in color and flavor.
  • Prepare only as many vegetables as can be dried at one time.
  • Dry vegetables in a single layer on the drying rack.
  • Cool and package.

Think vegetables are boring?  Check out this detailed page on How to Dehydrate Vegetables.  You will see how easy it is to dehydrate vegetables and how creative you can be with the results.


Where' the Meat?

Dehydrated meat is a great ay to add protein to your emergency food storage.

Jerky is great, but did you realize that you can dry most any kind of meat and preserve it in your food storage for years.

Dried meats can be added to any recipe that call fro fresh meat, once it has been rehydrated.

Dried meat is a fun and creative way to add variety to your daily menus.

Check hou how to do it here at   Making Jerky and Beyond page.

How do I Package, Store and Use Dried Foods?

To package and store your dehydrated emergency food:

Make sure the dried food is completely cool before packaging.

Use dry, moister proof containers.

Store the packaged food in a cool dark place.

Want more details on packaging you food? Check out this page on Packaging and Storing Dehydrated Foods.

USING DRIED FOODS

Dried fruits can be eaten as is or reconstituted. Dried vegetables must be reconstituted. Once reconstituted, dried fruits or vegetables are treated as fresh.

To reconstitute dried fruits or vegetables, add water to the fruit or vegetable and soak until the desired volume is restored. Do not over-soak the food. Over-soaking produces loss of flavor and a mushy, water-logged texture.

For soups and stews, add the dehydrated vegetables without re-hydrating them. They will rehydrate as the soup or stew cooks. Also, leafy vegetables and tomatoes do not need soaking.

Add enough water to cover and simmer until tender. CAUTION! If soaking takes more than 2 hours, refrigerate the product for the remainder of the time.

Follow this link for dehydrated food recipe ideas.

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Credits: How To Dehydrate Food Page

(Some content on the "How To Dehydrate Food" page was extracted from "So Easy to Preserve", 5th ed. 2006. Bulletin 989, Cooperative Extension Service, The University of Georgia, Athens. Revised by Elizabeth L. Andress. Ph.D. and Judy A. Harrison, Ph.D., Extension Foods Specialists.)

(Some content from the "10 steps for food dehydrators" was derived from: about.com)