What do you do with your harvest at the end of the gardening season?
There are so many options for storing your vegetables. Some vegetables may be stored whole, while others need to be processed before storage may take place.
One of my favourite methods for processing the harvest is through dehydration. Many veggies, fruits and herbs can be successfully dehydrated. All you need are a few tools, time and patience.
In this post, I will walk you through vegetable dehydration. I will cover the tools required, followed by the steps. At the end of the post, you will find a download for a convenient chart, showing blanching times for a list of common vegetables.
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What is food dehydration?
Food dehydration is one of the oldest methods of food preservation. In prehistoric times, people sundried their seeds for long-term storage. Indigenous people sundried their meat, vegetables and fruit on stones or grass mats, by first cutting them into thin strips and then laying them out in the sunlight. The thin strips would allow the moisture to evaporate, thereby allowing for long-term storage and portability during migration.
When modern dehydration techniques were discovered, hot air became the primary principle behind the various forms of equipment developed. Hot air causes food to shrink a great deal from its original raw state, evaporating moisture and shrinking the product.
Today, food dehydration may be easily accomplished with a small kitchen appliance, called a dehydrator. A dehydrator extracts moisture from food, stopping the growth of bacteria and microorganisms. When food is properly dehydrated and all moisture extracted, food may be stored for an extended period of time with no risk of spoilage or contamination.
Why should you consider dehydration as a preservation technique?
Dehydrating your produce is a very simple process. After slicing your veggies and fruit to size, simply lay them out in the dehydrator, setting the temperature and turning on the appliance. After a specific period of time, check to see if they are ready.
Dehydrated veggies and fruit are not cooked, but merely dried until all moisture is removed throughout. Therefore, dehydrated produce maintains all of its flavour and nutritional value. If choosing to reconstitute your dehydrated produce, either soak it in boiling water for 5 to 30 minutes, or add it directly to soups or stews as you would with fresh produce.
When food is fully dehydrated and stored properly, it has little chance of spoilage or risk of botulism. In addition, a large quantity of produce, once dehydrated, will shrink and take up little space, therefore allowing a large quantity of food to be stored in one container.
A dehydrator uses little electricity, so it won’t inflate your monthly energy costs.
How to Dehydrate Vegetables:
- My favourite dehydrator
- A easy slicer
- Cutting tool
- Large cutting boards
- Large bowl
- Glass canning jars
- Select blemish-free vegetables and wash them thoroughly.
- Using a mandoline slicer or sharp knife, slice your vegetables into similarly thick slices. Uniform thickness among the slices will help to ensure consistent dryness during dehydration. Very thin slices will dehydrate quicker than thicker slices.
- The more juice your vegetables contain, the longer their drying period, i.e. tomatoes vs. carrots.
- Blanch sliced veggies for a specific amount of time, depending on the vegetable. Specific blanching time and information in the chart below.
- If you choose to leave the skins on your vegetables, either slice through them (causing the skin to run along the edges), or lay your veggies skin-side down on the dehydrator trays.
- Spread your sliced veggies over the trays. Edges may touch, not overlap.
- Turn on your dehydrator, setting the temperature between 125 F and 140 F. Any higher and the food will cook.
- Dehydrate your veggies until they are hard or pliable and moisture-free. More information on testing for readiness here.
- Turn off your dehydrator and leave your veggies to cool down completely.
- Once entirely cool, store veggies in airtight glass jars.
- Check your veggies after 24 to 48 hours, to ensure the moisture level hasn’t increased. If it hasn’t, it is ready for storage. If it feels like the moisture level has increased or you see condensation on the glass, put your slices back into the dehydrator and continue to dehydrate until all moisture is gone.
More on Blanching
Before we throw our vegetables into the dehydrator, we need to consider an important first step – blanching! Unfortunately, I didn’t consider this in my first year dehydrating. I simply sliced up my veggies, laid them out in the dehydrator and turned it on. When the veggies dehydrated into an inedible hard consistency, I realized something was wrong.
Why do we need to blanch our vegetables before dehydration?
Most vegetables need to be blanched before dehydration, in order to stop enzymes in the food from breaking down texture and taste and causing vitamin loss. Blanching also preserves vegetable colour and helps achieve a quicker dehydration.
*There is an exception to this rule. Onions, tomatoes, horseradish, peppers (hot or sweet) and mushrooms do not require blanching before dehydration.
This chart gives specific dehydration tips for these “no blanch needed” vegetables:
|Onion||Chop or slice onions||Will dehydrate in 3 to 9 hours (due to low water content and depending on size).|
|Tomato||Slice down the middle and lay halves, skin side down||
|Horseradish||Slice or Grate||Dehydrate for 4 to 10 hours.|
|Hot Peppers||May be dehydrated whole||Optional: Slice down the side and remove seeds, membranes and stem.
Dehydrate for 8 to 12 hours.
|Sweet Peppers||Slice to desired thickness||Dehydrate for 8 to 12 hours.|
|Mushrooms||Slice and lay flat||Dehydrate for 8 to 10 hours.|
These vegetables DO require blanching before dehydrating:
|Potatoes||Slice, then blanch for 5 – 6 minutes|
|Carrots||Slice, then blanch for 3 minutes|
|Beets||Boil until fork tender to remove the skin, then slice 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch thick|
|Green beans||Chop into 2 inch pieces, then blanch for 2-3 minutes|
|Squash||Slice into 1/4 inch thick slices or chunks, then blanch for 1 to 2 minutes|
|Corn||Blanch for 4 to 5 minutes, then cut off the cob|
|Celery||Slice, then blanch for 2 minutes|
|Eggplant||Cut into 1/4 inch slices, then blanch for 3 minutes|
|Garlic||Slice with a mandoline or into thin slices and dehydrate until rock hard|
|Zucchini||Cut into 1/4 inch slices, then blanch for 3 minutes|
|Peas||Shell peas, then blanch for 2 minutes|
How to test that your vegetables are fully dehydrated?
Depending on the vegetable, your dehydrated slices will be ready when they are fully dry and hard, or leathery and pliable.
Test by pressing your finger into the slices. If the veggies feel moist or “juicy” leave them to continue drying until all moisture dissipates. They are ready for storage when you can bend the slices and they feel dry and leathery to the touch.
Vegetables that contain less moisture may be tested by bending a slice. If the slices are firm and brittle and difficult to bend, they are ready for storage.
Once you get the hang of dehydrating your vegetable harvest, knowing how thick to slice your vegetables, their drying times and when they are ready for storage will become second nature. I’ve prepared the above charts in a handy PDF format. Download them and feel free to laminate and store them in your kitchen for handy access.
Do you dehydrate your vegetable harvest? Please leave me a comment below sharing your experience with dehydrating vegetables and which vegetables you dehydrate most.
Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.