One of the biggest challenges in creating a sustainable disaster kit is finding food that will stay edible and nutritious for long periods of time. Of course, there is always the option of purchasing canned food, preserves and other commercial food products.
However, there is a now a general consensus that we should gently wean ourselves of processed food because of some questionable chemical compounds that manufacturers are now adding to processed foods and beverages.
If these ideas resonate with you, you may want to explore an alternative avenue of preparing and storing food that actually preserves the food and its nutrients without the need for harmful chemicals. This avenue is called food dehydration/drying.
When did we start drying food to preserve it?
It has been around for thousands of years because it’s relatively easy and more importantly, it is effective in preventing molds and bacteria from colonizing the food that you have carefully prepared and stored for your family.
What are the best practices in dehydrating food for long term storage?
The dehydration process should be continuous but at the same time you shouldn’t try to dry foods too quickly.
If you try to dry fresh produce too quickly, the outer layers of the produce will dry out but each one of your dehydrated fruits/vegetables will have a moist core. This moist core can lead to spoilage later on.
Food dehydration has two essential phases: surface dehydration and core dehydration.
Dehydrating the surface of fruits and vegetables requires a higher temperature (about 70 degrees Celsius). The evaporating moisture helps maintain a high air temperature around all the items that need to be dehydrated.
The second phase, core dehydration, requires a lower temperature (around 60 degrees Celsius).
You must be more vigilant after arriving at the second phase of the drying process.
You must be aware of the maximal period of time that your food can be exposed to high temperatures before it begins to develop a burnt taste. In the event that the food does develop a burn taste, it may still be edible but it won’t be palatable, especially to kids.
The purpose of dehydration is to remove as much moisture as possible; it’s not a cooking method. You are dehydrating the food so you can store it and even possibly cook with it later on.
My answer will always be the same: no, because summer means the days will be hot and humid and the extra water in the air can slow down the evaporation process.
If you try to overcompensate by increasing the temperature of the electric drier or oven, the fruits/vegetables that you are trying to preserve may develop “hard cases.”
When a fruit/vegetable has a “hard case,” the outer layer is hard and dry, which actually prevents moisture at the core to easily escape. Both the inner and outer layers of the food should be able to give off vapors easily.
If you are using a wooden drying rack, changing the order of the individual racks will help dry each layer evenly. It will also help if you group together equally-sized pieces.
Circulating fresh air is essential for successful and speedy dehydration of all types of food. Make sure that the area where your drier is located is well-ventilated so that food vapors can escape into the air unabated.