Food dehydration or food drying for preserving purposes has been around in one way or another for centuries if not millennia. Until the last hundred years the food drying process has been relegated to finding a flat, dry surface that happens to be in direct sunlight. You can only imagine the hazards involved with this outdoor process ranging from bug infestation to inclement weather. Fast forward around a hundred years later and what you have got in today’s marketplace is a healthy diversity of self contained, electronic food dryers or dehydrators. As you might guess, they are not all created equal and vary widely. This article is one of several that will walk you through some of these differences.
Most modern food dehydrators can vary in shape from cylindrical columns with layers of trays to horizontal boxes with adjustable trays. These Dehydrator units all have their good points and not so good points. Let’s talk about some of the more controversial elements of both vertical and horizontal food dehydrators.
A food dehydrator works best when the airflow is moving un-impeded from one end of the unit to the other end. This air flow can be vertical or in other words…up, that is originating from a heat source at the bottom of the dehydrator and flowing up as in fan driven or convection (hot air will always rise). The other air flow alternative would be a horizontal dehydration unit. This is where the air begins movement from a fan and heat source at one side of the unit and moves horizontally across the food trays, once again in an un-impeded or un-blocked manner. Now of course, the million dollar question, which one is best, a vertical flow cylindrical unit or a horizontal flow box unit? When you are standing out on an open plane and feel the wind blowing against you, how is the wind blowing? Of course it is blowing horizontally. Most food dehydration experts agree that the horizontal air flow or box unit is the best. The horizontal air flow throughout the box is the same whether you place the food slices in the back or the front. In most vertical or stackable dehydrators the air flow is best near the bottom and become less effective near the top. This requires you to be more aggressive in switching out the tray placement for more even drying of your food slices.
Food Odor Mixing
The word marriage stirs images of a bliss full blending of the essence of two individuals into one. In the world of food dehydration it is a consequence that you will want to avoid at all costs. With today’s food dehydrators you can conceivably dry a wide variety of foods all at the same time within the same dehydrator. However the mixing or marriage of essences (tastes) and odors will always be an issue. With the horizontal or box dehydrator the air flow keeps the odors relatively contained within that immediate tray area. While the vertical or cylinder dehydrator will need to have more frequent tray changes or positioning to avoid this air flow mixing. Either way, both types will work well for a wide variety of fruits, vegetables and herbs. You just need to be a bit more aggressive in maintaining even air flow with the cylinder unit. Both types of dehydrators work well for drying meat into jerky but be aware, it is recommended that meat be done at a whole separate time than the soft and more fleshy fruits and vegetables. If you do meat dehydration then unit cleaning takes on a very important purpose.
Proper and regular cleaning of any piece of kitchen equipment is an essential and inevitable chore that will always be needed. Food dehydrators are no exception. The great thing is, these units are very easy to clean and when done properly should never get too dirty in the first place. All of the trays are porous, hand washable plastic and should not require any cleaning solvent other than soap and water. As bits and pieces fall down into the bottom of your dehydrator unit just a quick scoop with a damp rag should usually do the trick. If your heating element is exposed, make sure that all bits and pieces of food debris are removed from this area. If you are using wax dehydrator sheets on your trays always discard the sheet after every use and line the tray with a fresh dryer sheet. After drying meat always wash thoroughly with soap and water every area where the meat may have made contact. This will insure that no cross contamination will happen within your dehydrator and increase the years of use and enjoyment from your unit.
While there are some minor differences between the different styles of today’s food dehydrators, they should give you and your family many years of healthy foods. Whether you are dehydrating fresh fruits, veggies, herbs or meats today’s modern food dehydrators, with a little maintenance should last for many years.