Jul 1, 2014 at 2:18 pm #1318548
I've decided to finally begin preparing my own food via dehydration to mostly prepare dinners entirely or to be able to spruce up soup / rice mixes etc.
I know next to nothing about this so please feel free to inform me of things/ rules/ pitfalls I should know about.
What's the largest size that a vegetable product can be cut and still dehydrate well?
Ground beef? Does meat have to be free of any fat?
Are there any dehydrators you would avoid, why? What's to stop me from simply dehydrating a store bought can of chili? Do you think it's worth the trouble?
I feel that this would be an excellent way to just make what I need, be done with it and not waste time trying to find and liven up dried soup.
I'm getting a book on the subject but I'd like to get some opinions/ advice from folks who use a dehydrator.Jul 1, 2014 at 2:43 pm #2116517
You can do it, but you may need to practice for a while in order to get good results.
In general, the smaller and thinner the food pieces are, the more thoroughly it will dehydrate. For meat, this is also true, and also the leaner the meat, the better it works. There is probably a very low percentage of fat in the meat and it will work OK. If parts of the food get dehydrated 100% and other parts get 90%, you've got a mess.
There are two basic strategies. One is to take each individual food ingredient and dehydrate it. Transport small quantities of each out on the trail, and then mix them in camp, typically by simmering them together. That makes your stew. The other strategy is to take the combined food, like chili, and throw it on the dehydrator. Carry the dry result out to camp, and rehydrate it by simmering. With the first strategy, you can optimize each ingredient to dry effectively. With the second strategy, nothing gets dried perfectly, but it is simpler. You will probably find that the first strategy works best for some stuff and the second strategy works best for other stuff. That's why you need to practice and sample the results.
There are several food ingredients that you do not need to dehydrate yourself, and that is because the pre-dried product is already on the store shelves and it is cheap. Onion flakes come to mind. Also bacon pieces.
I get very good results with most thinly sliced fruit as long as it does not have a membrane (oranges have membranes on each segment). Garbanzo beans are easy. You just have to make sure that you get them 100% dry. If you get them only 95% dry, they will grow mold. Green or red bell pepper pieces dry very well. I buy quinoa, cook it, and then dehydrate it to make instant quinoa (which is different from quinoa flakes).
My food dehydrator is about 35 years old now, so I have no use for the fancy modern ones.
–B.G.–Jul 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm #2116523
Thanks Bob. That's some good info.
If time is of no importance to me, can't I just simply dehydrate combined foods until they are completley dry or do they just not ever completely dry out?Jul 1, 2014 at 3:05 pm #2116526
@millonasLocale: Santa Cruz Mountains, CA
"can't I just simply dehydrate combined foods until they are completley dry or do they just not ever completely dry out?"
Frankly so far this is ALL I have been doing.I think doing individual components separately is so you can mix and match for variety. I feel like if you want to go to the trouble of cooking a nice full dish you wouldn't want to do that anyway. Yes, you can just throw it in there (within reason) and it will fully dehydrate. Parts of it fast, and other parts slower. Just wait until it is all dry.
I just started doing this several months back. This is the dehydrator I got:
though the price on this thing seems to change more that the stock market. I think I got it for $55. Its plenty nice and easy to use. You basically need to cut things up in small pieces. The smaller the better, but bigger just requires longer. I have mostly done fully cooked dishes, and not used a lot of finesse, nor found it necessary. In other words I just put the food in there and if it is overnight I don't worry about the time – only that is it fully dehydrated before I stop. Seems to work fine. I haven't done food meant to be eaten in the dehydrated form – jerky, bannana chips, and so on. I'm betting you want to take them out when they are done, and not overdone. Otherwise I've found the whole process a no brainer. You do want to try to minimize the fats and oil on the final thing you dehydrate. If they are integral to the food plan to add them in when you rehydrate. The fat and oils will lower the lifetime. I figure most people doing it for backpacking would be happy with a month two lifetime, and are not doing for some far future zombie apocalypse. I'm just now getting ready to do my JMT meals for August and September. I found that if you take a "single serving", lets say 2 1/2 cup of chili, or something else ready to eat, it is about right on the above dehydrator to divide that into 2 trays. So you can do about 3 trail meals per batch on it. It depends on the food of course, but the final result is like 1 1/2 cups of dehydrated, and (you guessed it) it needs 1 cup of water to rehydrate. Hope that helps a bit.Jul 1, 2014 at 3:12 pm #2116527
My ancient dehydrator is similar to the one that Marko suggests.
The smaller the food pieces that you dehydrate, the better they will compact for the trail.
It helps if you run your dehydrator during the winter when the waste heat can warm your home. Also, it helps if you can run the dehydrator on power from a solar panel. They tend to burn several hundred watts and you tend to let them run overnight, so solar power can help out on the cost.
–B.G.–Jul 1, 2014 at 3:21 pm #2116528
That's why it takes some practice. You need to find out which food types will dehydrate quickly and thoroughly, and which ones don't.
With some combined foods, the wet part will dry quickly, but then the chunky parts do not. When coated with the wet part, the chunky parts might take ten times as long to eventually dehydrate. It is difficult to just look at a combined food and know how it is going to work out.
If you do have unlimited time and electricity, then you can run your own tests.
Also, some dehydrators have a temperature thermostat and others do not. Some foods react better to a hot temperature, and others react better to a barely warm temperature. It takes practice to know how to work your own food. Mine has no thermostat, but I figured out how to raise or lower the temperature anyway. For my most favorite dehydrated foods, I know what temperature is needed and how many hours are needed.
–B.G.–Jul 1, 2014 at 3:28 pm #2116529
I just started dehydrating a couple of months ago. I found that making a meal and then dehydrating all at once is a pretty good way to go.
Example, I made some small rigatoni pasta, drained it, added a big jar of sauce and some diced tomatoes, and spread it all out to dehydrate, then packaged it in freezer bags.
Also, I dehydrated a couple cans of black bean chili, which were put in bags along with dehydrated canned chicken, as well as some instant rice. I plan on putting all of this into a tortilla.
I have experimented with how much water to add back in. Generally, the water volume should be about 50:50 with the food volume. Or something close to that. Perhaps a little less water at times.Jul 1, 2014 at 3:36 pm #2116530
"I figure most people doing it for backpacking would be happy with a month two lifetime, and are not doing for some far future zombie apocalypse"
Precisely. I'm planning to prepare food a week or a few weeks previous to my trips so I'm not terribly worried about long term storage.
I have developed the habit of taking some broccoli, a carrot and a shallot along to add as a fresh ingredient to my soup packs and I will just continue doing this to add to whatever I dehydrate.
Great info everyone, much appreciated. You guys just saved me a bit of wasted time.
Got a Nesco Snackmaster on the way.Jul 1, 2014 at 5:04 pm #2116561
@johnzotkLocale: Northern Rockies, USA
I recently joined the dehydrating group (sounds like something that would happen on the trail to one's person). Purchased the Nesco Pro which was recommended here on BPL. So far I have prepared pasta mini wheels, spaghetti sauce, and ground beef. Divided into three portions, two were frozen for later use and one was consumed as a test. The flavor is not bad and the spaghetti ingredients rehydrated nicely.
A little off-topic, about 10 years ago I made a dehydrator from scratch using an aluminum foil-lined cardboard box, some dowels, aluminum trays, and a heat lamp. It worked OK but the lamp was rated to only about 200 watts as I recall and there was no circulation fan. The temperature was adjusted by opening the top of the box. Thought about adding a thermostat but never got that far. My Nesco peaks at about 675 watts. The commercial unit is much nicer. I am looking forward to some decent meals this summer.Jul 1, 2014 at 9:51 pm #2116674
@sarbarLocale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
The Nesco is a great unit for learning on :-) Easy and simple – and affordable.Jul 7, 2014 at 7:18 pm #2118087
@yakLocale: IN, USA
> I have experimented with how much water to add back in. Generally, the water volume
> should be about 50:50 with the food volume. Or something close to that. Perhaps a
> little less water at times.
I weigh the stuff with our kitchen scale.
For example: My red bean sauce weighs 10oz for a serving straight off the stove. After dehydrating, it weighs 3 oz. To re-hydrate, I add about 7 oz of water.Jul 8, 2014 at 9:41 am #2118183
I have a Nesco that I got used on Amazon for ~$35, works fine. I use it to dry ingredients separately (black beans, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, peas, beans, sweet potatoes, etc), which I store in vacuum sealed canning jars. When it's time for a trip, I simply crack open the jars and combine the desired ingredients with some sort of packaged meal (mac & cheese, Lipton/Korr noodles, curry packets, etc) in a Ziplock style freezer bag. The dried veggies add flavor, texture, and nutrition to otherwise boring and/or nutritionally lacking meals.
I find that dehydrating the materials separately gives me the versatility to control/experiment with portions and recipes and it greatly increases the shelf life, as there are essentially no fats. For example, I often add beans, tomatoes, and peppers, and chili seasoning to make a delicious chili mac & cheese. Also, I can add olive oil at the time of cooking to give the meal richness and flavor without risk of the meal going bad in the weeks/months between when I dehydrate and am on the trail.
Also, I avoid dehydrating ground beef, as it's a hassle and, after removing almost all the fat, has little flavor. Instead, I just add TVP (textured vegetable protein), which can be purchased in bulk at many Co-Ops or hippie grocery stores. TVP has a texture similar to ground beef and is about equally flavorless, at a small fraction of the price and effort.Jul 8, 2014 at 9:49 am #2118185
@gordongLocale: Front Range, CO
I dehydrate my stuff. Comes out good. Fruit, beef jerky, and full meals.
I would suggest staring with simple pastas as I have had very good luck with them. Here is what I have done.
Spaghetti with meat sauce:
Cook it just like you were going to have at home for dinner. Brown the (93/7 – lower fat) beef and make sure it is broken up into the smallest pieces possible. Add the marinara sauce and mix well. Put aside to cool.
Prepare the noodles as you prefer. I would suggest a little on the al dente side as they could become a lil mushy after reconstitution. After rinsed and cooled, chop the pasta up into little pieces. No, you can mix the sauce with the noodles. I like to weigh it before drying.
Place it on your dehydrator tray and use dehydrator sheets if you have them. Lay it as thin as possible to ensure it dries evenly. Each machine takes a different amount of time. Once completed, I weigh it again. This way, I know how much water to add back before grubbin.
Good luck!Jul 10, 2014 at 11:08 am #2118761
@sbhikesLocale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Trader Joe's sells 96% lean ground beef. I find that works well for dehydrating.Jul 10, 2014 at 1:49 pm #2118799
My dehydrator arrived!
So basically I'm going to experiment with meat sauce first that I can then add to Bear Creek Stroganoff or instant garlic/ parmesan mashed potatoes.
My big loop hikes for the summer will require eight days of food. Thanks for the tips, especially on the meat dehydration.
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