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Dehydrating the Harvest

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Dehydrating the Harvest

Enjoy the fruits of your garden all year long with the age-old wonder of home food drying. Vegetables, fruits herbs, flowers and even tofu can be squirreled away and enjoyed from one season to the next.

Enjoy the fruits of your garden all year long with the age-old wonder of home food drying. Vegetables, fruits herbs, flowers and even tofu can be squirreled away and enjoyed from one season to the next.

Food drying, also called food dehydration, is cheap, easy and the benefits are many. You can feed the whole family with foods that are pesticide- and chemical-free because you’re in control. This creative form of prolonging the lifespan of your food is like money in the bank. In drying your own food, not only are you cutting down on packaging but you’re also creating a food supply for times of financial crisis, natural disasters or just plain old hunger.

The home-drying process is not complicated: dehydrators remove water from the food. Air is heated up inside the unit which circulates the air and then absorbs moisture in the drying chamber. The temperature of the air is low enough to dry the food, not cook it. It’s as simple as that! Many dried foods are a little darker in color than when fresh as well as more fragrant and sweeter in taste.

The dehydration process minimally affects the nutritional value of food. Vitamin A is retained, but because it’s light-sensitive, foods that contain this vitamin, like carrots, bell peppers and mangoes, should be stored in a dark place. Dried fruits and vegetables are high in fibre and carbohydrates, neither of which is affected by drying. Despite an increase in sweetness, the calorific value stays the same. Dried fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat. Minerals available in certain fresh fruits, such as potassium, sodium and magnesium, are not altered when the food is dried.

Touch Test

When dehydrating, the best way to find out if a food is properly dry is to touch it. It will feel sticky, moist, leathery or hard. Remember that it will feel softer when warm, so always let the foods cool for a few moments. Either turn off the dehydrator or remove the drying tray. It’s better to overdry than underdry.

Moisture is the enemy of dried foods. Once exposed to the air, they absorb the moisture and become limp. Store clearly-labeled dried food in airtight containers in a dry, dark place with a moderate temperature. Your kitchen cupboard is an ideal spot.

For optimum quality, dried fruits and vegetables should be replaced annually. Herbs and flowers, once dried, last a long time. You should use dried foods within one year, just as you would canned foods. You will enjoy their quality year round by using them at their peak. Dried foods that have been stored away for too long lose their taste and tend to darken in color. Follow the "first in, first out" rule and be sure to rotate the container on the shelf so that you can use the oldest dried foods first.

So grab a few dried apricots, tomatoes and pineapples the next time you go for a hike. They’re bound to put an extra pep in your step.

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