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Dehydrating foods is not only a great preservation method, but it also means that you have a new, fun snack to enjoy.
In the olden days, before the birth of electricity, my forefathers would have left food out in the sun to dry out. In some hot climates, people still do this, as in the case of sun-dried tomatoes.
Nowadays everyone and their mother has an air fryer in their homes. The little machine is super handy and can be used to cook almost anything. It can also double as a dehydrator to make super long life food items, saving you space on the countertop.
How does an air fryer work?
Air fryers circulate hot air inside the machine, cooking foods in a manner that mimics the effects of a deep fat fryer. The main benefit of using an air fryer is the minimal oil required for a crispy exterior.
Air fryers are loved for their ability to cook food evenly. The hot air dries out any moisture on the surface of the food. This is what creates the hard exterior. For this reason, they can be used in a similar manner to a dehydrator.
How does a dehydrator work?
Moderately warm air is circulated around the food in the dehydrator over a long period of time.
This means that any moisture is slowly and gradually removed from the food via a process of evaporation. This allows the food to dry out and dehydrate without cooking.
What are the main differences between air fryers and dehydrators?
An air fryer and dehydrator are fairly similar in design. They both circulate warm air and are known for their even temperature distribution.
Air fryers operate at a much higher temperature than dehydrators. This is because their main purpose is to cook food and fast. Dehydrators do not have the same speed requirement as air fryers and so they can work at a much lower heat.
This allows them to remove moisture from food without impacting the color but can take a lot longer.
How to Use an Air Fryer as a Dehydrator
Some air fryers will come with a built-in dehydrator function. This will have a combination of presets linked to it, meaning that you can just put your food in, press the button and leave it.
If your air fryer does not have this setting, there are workarounds. You should look and see what the lowest temperature setting on your air fryer is. It must be lower than 113 degrees Fahrenheit.
Above this temperature and foods begin to cook rather than dehydrate. This is not the same thing and will result in a different texture.
It is also important to ensure there is an air vent in your fryer. This will allow steam containing built-up water molecules to escape. If it does not have a vent like this, the steam will condense and the water will drip back onto your food. This will rehydrate your food and completely ruin the process of dehydration.
You should cut the food you are dehydrating into thin slices. This will make the dehydration process much faster and more efficient. It is important to ensure all slices of the food to be dehydrated are cut into equally sized slices.
The thickness of the slices dictates how crispy they become once dehydrated. Slices of the same thickness will dehydrate at the same rate ensuring a consistent final result.
I suggest patting the foods you are trying to dehydrate with a paper towel before placing them in the air fryer. This will help them to dehydrate evenly.
You should also raise your food off the base of the air fryer. This will also help with air circulation and even heating. Additionally, your food should be spread out in one even layer.
If there is too much to lay out like this, I recommend dehydrating in batches. It is a good idea to invest in a wire rack or two to fit inside to lay food out on.
Air fryers do not tend to be left switched on for extended periods of time. The standard operating time is around 30 minutes.
When you are using it as a dehydrator it will need to be left on for at least a couple of hours. You should check the manufacturer’s instructions to ensure it can withstand being left on for this long.
What are the benefits of dehydrating food?
There are many studies that show dehydrating food helps to preserve the nutritional benefits. This is a popular ‘cooking’ method among followers of the raw food diet.
These people do not eat foods that have been heated above 110 degrees Fahrenheit as they believe it compromises the nutritional content.
Dehydrating your food will help to extend its lifespan. This is because by removing the water content from your food it will help to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria. This slows down the decomposition process massively.
At the same time, dehydration enhances the flavors inside the food. As the water is removed, the flavors become more concentrated. As well as this, as foods begin to decompose they lose some of their natural flavor profile. This is not an issue with dehydrated foods as the flavors are locked in.
What are the best foods to dehydrate?
Fruits and vegetables make amazing candidates for dehydration. They have a high moisture content that often results in a chewy texture when sliced thickly or a crispy texture when thinly sliced.
Fruits are very sweet in taste and become even sweeter when dehydrated. This makes a super convenient snack or adorable topping for cupcakes and other baked goods. Dehydrated vegetables make for a fun savory snack filled with vitamins, minerals, and fiber.
Some fruits and vegetables will need pretreatment before you place them inside the air fryer. Fruits such as apples will need soaking in a Vitamin C solution for a few minutes before dehydrating to prevent them from browning.
Some vegetables may need steaming or blanching prior to dehydration. This can help to keep their color and is often used for vegetables such as green beans and carrots.
Other vegetables can be submerged in a sulfite dip to help increase their lifespan. The only downside to this is that it can cause allergic reactions.
You can also use your air fryer to dehydrate and dry out fresh herbs. There are a number of benefits to doing this yourself, principally the ability to make your own herb and spice blends. This is also handy if you have a bunch of fresh herbs left over and you’re not sure what to do with them.
There are many recipes online for dehydrated, raw vegan cakes, biscuits, crackers, and pizza dough. Honestly, the sky’s the limit in terms of what you can accomplish with a dehydrator. These turn out very crispy, virtually fat-free, and suitable for raw vegan diets.
Meat is another thing you can use your air fryer to dehydrate. This is a great way to make jerky at home. The added bonus is that you can season your meat in whatever way you like to suit your own personal tastes. It is a protein-loaded snack that will fill you up with ease.
How to Store Dehydrated Foods
You should ensure you protect your dehydrated snacks from heat, moisture, and air. All of these factors can cause the dehydrated food to take on moisture and become soggy.
I recommend storing anything that you dehydrate in a ziplock bag. Press out all of the air before sealing to ensure as minimal moisture comes into contact with the dehydrated food as possible.
Other suggestions include storing the snacks in an airtight Tupperware container or vacuum sealing the bag with them in.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.