What is a dehydrator, and do I really need one?

A dehydrator

A dehydrator is basically a big box with a fan which enables warm air to circulate around inside to remove the moisture from food. That’s it!

What’s a dehydrator for?

Well, if you want to make crispy things like crackers or chips – or chewy things like fruit leather – then you need to ‘dry out’ your mixture of fruit, veg, nuts or whatever. Spreading out a mixture of sprouted grains and/or soaked nuts and veggies will give you crackers. Spreading out a mixture of fruit will give you fruit leather. And dehydrating cut veggies will give you a selection of dried veggies for an ‘instant soup mix’ for example.

You can make your own bread, wraps, crackers, fruit leathers and other recipes that mimic a ‘cooked’ texture, such as crunchy kale chips, flax crackers and other savory treats, as well as pancakes and cookies (for one of my pancake recipes go here).

Do I really need a dehydrator?

I don’t use a dehydrator in my recipe collections because most people don’t have one, especially when they get started. Plus recipes that require a dehydrator take much longer than 5 minutes to prepare! And to be honest, you really don’t need one. There are plenty of delicious curries, puddings, cookies and other goodies that you can make that require no special equipment (take a look at some of my recipes here).

For recipes that do require a dehydrator, you can try using your oven on the lowest setting. The result won’t be technically ‘raw’ but it will be much healthier than ready-made food, that’s for sure!

How do you use a dehydrator?

If you have decided that you do want a dehydrator, I want to make sure that you know how to use it and which one to get.

Here’s a picture of my dehydrator (an Excalibur). I’ve taken the door off so that you can see the inside.
DehydratorWithTrays copyThere are slots to slide in trays of food.

You can put food directly onto the white mesh trays (the top tray in this picture). This would be for food that is already dry enough to not drip through the mesh holes, such as pieces of whole fruit or veg.

You can also put more moist mixtures of food onto mesh trays that are covered with a Teflex sheet (the tray below). You would do this for batter for bread or crackers for example.

Basically, you spread out your mixture evenly across the tray and dehydrate it for a few hours, flip it over to dehydrate the other side a few hours more, and presto, you’ve got your own bread, or crackers, or whatever. Easy!

The main principle – which took me ages to get right – is to dry one side until you can peel away the Teflex sheet without the food sticking to it. Then you know you can flip it over and dry the other side.

Here’s an image of some crackers ‘in progress’:

DehydratorTrayWithCrackers copySee the Teflex sheet underneath?

I dehydrated these for about 4 hours, at which point the top was pretty dry and I was able to flip the tray over (in other words the top side becomes the bottom but it goes directly onto the mesh) and peel away the Teflex sheet,  so that I could dry the underside.

You’ll see that I ‘scored’ my crackers before dehydrating…which basically means that I took a pizza wheel and made the shapes that I wanted so that once they are dry, they’ll break apart easily into lovely triangles.

You could also use cookie cutters to make crackers in fun shapes for children…or for yourself!

What’s the best dehydrator to get?

I recommend the Excalibur 9-tray model. The Excalibur isn’t that much more expensive than lesser brands, and you really do get what you pay for.

TSM Products does a which is much cheaper than the Excalibur, but read the reviews before you buy. Some people are very happy with it but I haven’t used it personally.

There are stainless steel ones too that have gotten good reviews, such as L’Equip which is quieter and cheaper than the Excalibur and takes up much less space, so if you don’t have a lot of room in your kitchen and you want a stainless steel look, this may be a good choice for you.

9 trays for a dehydrator might sound like a lot, but you’d be surprised at how quickly they fill up. Especially when you consider that to get the very best results, you sometimes need to leave empty slots in between your trays for ‘puffier’ recipes such as cookies, pancakes or bread.

For example today I made crackers, cookies and falafel – and used up 5 trays, but the dehydrator was full since I needed to leave space in between.
DehydratorVeryFull copyIn this picture, I’ve got cheezy crackers on the top two trays, spicy sausage and falafel in the middle, and some more falafel as well as some buckwheat oatmeal cookies on the bottom.

You also want to take into account that the fuller your dehydrator is, the longer things will take to dehydrate, as the air has to circulate around more food. So these goodies will take a while to be done!

Whew! Hopefully this has given you some useful information to see if you want a dehydrator for yourself.

Questions? Post them in the comments below!

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