Dear Frugal Upstate
I LOVE all the information you’ve been posting on dehydrating! I tried dehydrating bags of mixed veggies this week (to save freezer space and make them last longer), and I wasn’t sure about how long to dry them. They are teeny tiny when done, right? Can you dry them too much? I put a few in water afterwards to test how well they come back, and they looked great. So, as long as there is no moisture left, you’re OK?
This is a great question! I know with any new skill I always worry a bit. Am I doing it right? Have I forgotten something? Are there factors I’m not taking into account? What do they actually MEAN when they say “leathery” or “brittle”?
As with many things in life the answer to “How long do you dry?” is “It depends!”.
To determine the answer you need to know a few things–why are you drying the food, and how long do you intend to store it for. If you are drying fruit roll ups made out of applesauce for your kids then you don’t want them to be brittle shards! You are going to want to leave quite a bit of moisture and sugar in there and have a nice pliable product that is easier to eat. Of course that means it will probably only store for a week or two in your cabinet–not that any fruit roll ups I’ve ever made for the kids have lasted that long! You could store them for longer in the fridge–but still you’d want to use them up in a month or so.
Most of the things I’m drying are for longer term storage. I assume that I’ll have to rehydrate them before using them in cooking (or throw them into something like a slow cooker soup that will be cooking long enough to rehydrate them). For long term storage I usually figure the drier the better.
How do you know if they are fully dry? Well one tip I had read on (which of course I can’t find again now to save my life) suggested taking a few pieces of the item out of the dehydrator, put it in a zippered baggie while hot and then seal the baggie. Give it a few minutes and see if any condensation forms on the inside. If it does-there is still moisture. If it doesn’t then you are probably pretty good!
Another method is to just take a few pieces out, let them cool (it will always be more pliable when warm) and then see if they “snap” when you break it. If so, they are dry enough.
Once you’ve got your food dry you want to KEEP it dry. To store your dehydrated vegetables for a couple of months you are probably fine putting them into a jar and keeping them in the cupboard (no matter how pretty they are you don’t want to leave them out on a shelf in the light–sunlight will eventually degrade some of the nutrition out of them).
For longer term storage you have a few options. I’ve put mine into canning jars, tossed in a desiccant packet (for any residual moisture) removed the air with my vacuum sealer and considered it good. I’ve vacuum sealed some, and I’ve put some into mylar bags with oxygen absorbers (watch out for sharp edges poking holes in mylar or plastic!).
For sort of medium term storage I’ve got them in jars in the cupboard with desiccant packets thrown in. (you can buy the desiccant online pretty cheap PLUS they are re usuable–just toss them in the dehydrator and dehydrate the moisture out of them and presto-good to go again!)
For tons of information on dehydrating from a real pro check out the Dehydrate2Store website. She’s got plenty of tips and videos including a tip on how to tell if your items are 95% dry, a nice dry time chart, and information on how to avoid case hardening. (note: case hardening is when the outside dries and creates a “case” where the moisture from the inside can’t escape)
She also answers the question “Can you overdry your food?”
The answer is NO. Of course you don’t want to leave food in your dehydrator forever. Over drying has never been a concern of mine, however under drying and leaving moisture in your food will cause your food to become moldy. I can assure you this, if you remove 95% or more of the moisture from your food and store properly your food will last for years and taste great.
There are also some good PDF’s out there that you can download, like the Drying Foods in NY guide from Cornell Cooperative Extension and the How to Dry Vegetables guide from Colorado State University Cooperative Extension.
Good luck on your dehydrating adventures!