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These neat machines look a bit like air purifiers or humidifiers.
They work by circulating hot, dry air around food at a temperature of about 150F. They are priced anywhere from a budget-priced Nesco that works better than you’d think for that price (I have owned one) to the very amazing (but very expensive) Excalibur that doubles as a yogurt incubator, bread proofer and much more.
Take the time to look at your options. The more expensive ones tend to have better fans and air circulation as well as stronger motors, meaning they dry more quickly and evenly. But a small, round one may be all you need.
* Speed – There’s no doubt that dehydrators speed up the process of drying food, sometimes significantly. Fast drying means bacteria have less time to grow, and it also means that foods tend to retain their color better.
* Space – A dehydrator takes up a lot less space than spreading foods all over screens or stringing them on thread and hanging them in garlands.
* Convenience – When drying food in a dehydrator, you don’t have to carry your food indoors at night and put it back out in the morning. You also don’t have to worry about leaving an oven on all day if you have to step out.
* Expense – Dehydrators can be expensive. Expect to pay anywhere from $40 to $400 for various models. Price really matters – although the cheaper ones will do the job, the more expensive ones will do it faster and dry the food more evenly.
* Energy use – Dehydrators don’t necessarily use a lot of energy, but they certainly do use more household electricity than air and sun drying. We can not run a dehydrator when we are at our off-grid cabin.
* Storage – You won’t be using your dehydrator every day, so storing it when you’re not using it (which is most of the time) can be a problem. They are large and bulky. Then again, when you are using it, your dehydrator can take up a lot of precious counter space.
* Saves space – Since you already have an oven in your kitchen, you don’t have to make space for another appliance, or for homemade drying racks.
* Relatively fast – Oven drying is not as fast as a dehydrator due to the lack of circulating air; but it’s generally faster than air drying.
* Energy use – Oven drying is probably the most energy-consumptive method. Even on a low temperature, it takes a decent amount of electricity to keep an oven warm constantly.
* Inconvenience – You can’t cook or bake anything else in the oven until the food is dry.
* Unpredictable – It is very difficult to keep an oven at the right temperature for even drying and I have burned far too many trays of food that were supposed to dry. Unfortunately scorched dried food usually can’t be saved.
Air and Sun Drying
* Free energy – You don’t have to concern yourself with using electricity – sun and air are free!
* Flavor – Some claim that air and sun drying produces the best flavor in produce, and infuses it with “natural energy” instead of electrical energy.
* Pests – Bugs, rodents, and pets can spoil your efforts.
* Weather – If the weather turns wet and you can’t get your food inside on time, your whole venture may be ruined.
As you look at this list, it seems like dehydrators do stand out as the most effective means of drying food. But if you can’t afford one or if you don’t have a place to store one, or if you are just working with a small amount of food to dry, the oven and the air and sun can still work. You can also check at yard sales this summer and see if anyone is selling a used dehydrator for cheap.
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