Make snacks and preserve food with an electric dehydrator.
In times of plenty, a dehydrator is useful for preserving surplus fruit, vegetables, meat and herbs. It can also be used to make delicious, healthy snacks for school lunches and lightweight meals for overnight tramps.
We test dehydrators by drying apple slices, kale, tomatoes and beef.
You can hang food on a line outside or put it on screens to dry in the sun the old-fashioned way. It’s also possible to dehydrate food in an oven, but yours might not have a low-enough temperature setting. The most convenient method is to use an electric dehydrator, with an integrated fan to warm and circulate air over food placed on trays. The air removes excess water from the food, extending its shelf life.
Rectangular dehydrators often have pull-out trays and a fan at the back. This configuration allows for good airflow and even drying. Also, food is less likely to fall on to the electrics.
Round dehydrators usually have stackable mesh trays. Some round models are expandable (you’ll need to buy extra trays). As the height of each tray is fixed, you won’t be able to dry anything “taller” than the tray unless you use a spacer ring to create extra height.
Depending on where the motorised fan is, food can obstruct the airflow. This means you’ll have to rotate the trays at regular intervals to ensure food dries out evenly.
Also, if the fan is placed at the bottom of the unit, you’ll have to take care to ensure food doesn’t fall through the mesh screens and short the circuits.
Size: Dehydrators are bulky (some are bigger than a microwave). They’re also slow (by design), so be aware that part of your benchtop will be out of commission for an extended period.
Capacity: Round dehydrators tend to have less usable surface area, so you might not be able to dry as much as you could with a rectangular model.
Temperature range and settings: Some dehydrators have fixed settings (eg low, medium and high). Others allow you to choose a temperature between 30°C and 70°C, for example.
Trays: These are usually plastic mesh screens (for airflow), but some manufacturers include a flat tray for drying puree or very small pieces of food that would otherwise fall through the regular screen. If you don’t have a puree tray, place a piece of baking paper on top of the mesh tray. Bear in mind that even if the trays are dishwasher safe, they might not fit.
Viewing window or door: Rectangular dehydrators often have a see-through sliding door, making it easy to check what’s going on inside. With round dehydrators, the sides of the stackable trays can obscure the contents. If there is a see-through lid, you’ll be able to monitor the top tray.