Choosing a Food Dehydrator

Choose the best food dehydrator for your needs for drying fruits, vegetables and meats.

| September/October 2016

  • A food dehydrator is a valuable tool to the home food preserver.
    Photo by Fotolia/Ali Safarov
  • Be aware of flavors mixing when dehydrating different foods at the same time.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • Depending on what you plan to preserve, choose the size and style of dehydrator that will best fit your needs.
    Photo by Janet Horton
  • In the food dehydrator, leave enough space between food items to allow them to dry uniformly. Additional moisture leftover after processing causes food to spoil more quickly.
    Photo by

Dehydrators are an invaluable tool for preserving homegrown foods. There is a dazzling array of products available on the market, which can make purchasing a dehydrating unit confusing. However, knowing a little about how dehydrators work, some different types, and how you want to use your dehydrator makes sorting through the information a bit easier.

Most dehydrators work by utilizing heated air and distributing it with a fan into an enclosed space to dry food. Although they can differ in size, power, and design, all dehydrators (aside from solar dehydrators) have a fan and screen-style trays or shelves that allow air to circulate around the food placed inside. Many also have thermostats to control the air temperature if desired.

There are basically two types of dehydrator design: vertical-airflow and horizontal-airflow. Vertical-airflow dehydrators have a fan either in the top of the unit or in the bottom. This type of dehydrator has trays that stack on top of one another inside the unit. Food closest to the fan dries faster, so shuffling trays during the drying process may be necessary to ensure even drying. Units that have the fan mounted in the bottom are considered more efficient because heat rises. However, food may drip onto the fan causing a bit of a mess and difficult cleanup.

Another drawback to the vertical-airflow design, if you are drying different foods at the same time, there’s a chance of imparting varying flavors to the foods being dehydrated as the fan pushes the air from one shelf of food to the next. Most vertical-airflow dehydrators have the capability to expand as trays are stacked upon one another. Some of the “deluxe” models of vertical-airflow dehydrators do not have these issues. The fans in these models are covered to prevent food from spilling onto them. In addition, special ducts help distribute air more evenly. This eliminates the need to rotate trays during the drying process, and keeps food flavors from blending.

The tray design in these units can make food placement difficult, as there is a channel that extends through the center of each tray. This reduces the overall surface area available and can make laying out strips of food such as jerky a bit tricky.

Vertical-airflow dehydrators have the capability to expand simply by adding more trays to the stack. Different models have different limits, but for the purposes of most households, they should have plenty of room. Lower priced models may have five trays, which is about 5 cubic feet of drying space. The stackable trays are easy to store and are usually small enough to fit in a standard size dishwasher or kitchen sink for cleanup.



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