Trails for everyone, forever

Home News Blog Dehydrating 101

Dehydrating 101

Posted by Rachel Wendling at Aug 07, 2017 05:00 PM |
Filed under:

As hikers and backpackers, we depend on lightweight, easy-to-prepare food for our backcountry adventures. But the standard shelf options are often limited and expensive. For a budget-friendly and customizable menu, it’s worth it to dehydrate your own food. Here’s how.

by Brittany Manwill

As hikers and backpackers, we depend on lightweight, easy-to-prepare food for our backcountry adventures. But the standard shelf options are often limited and expensive. For a budget-friendly and customizable menu, it’s worth it to dehydrate your own food. Here’s how.

Food-12.jpg
Chili or stew is a useful dehydrated food to keep on hand. Photo by Erik Haugen-Goodman.

INGREDIENTS

Most, but not all, things can be dehydrated, but some require extra prep work. Raw meat, raw egg and other things you wouldn’t eat raw need to be cooked before dehydrating. Some fruits and vegetables benefi t from blanching before dehydrating, and there are special considerations for meat and seafood. Even typical dry goods, like rice and pasta, can be dehydrated once cooked. They’ll be quicker to prepare and require less water than cooking from their original state.

EQUIPMENT

If you want to delay investing in a specific machine, your home oven will do just fine, although you’ll lack the temperature control that most recipes require. The perfect temperature evaporates all moisture without actually cooking the food—typically 120-170 degrees. For this kind of precision, efficiency and long-term cost effectiveness, your best bet is, unsurprisingly, a food dehydrator. Models range from $40 to more than $400. No matter which you choose, pick one with at least 500 watts and temperature control to at least 160 degrees. Fans and extra trays make cleanup easier and allow you to cook more at once.

INSTRUCTIONS

Directions vary significantly depending on your machine, humidity, food type, food size and method. Generally, food should be heated until it is entirely dry. Fruit will feel leathery, while vegetables will be brittle. Meat will be gravelly, flaky or jerky-like depending on the type used. Follow your machine’s directions, but be prepared to improvise as necessary.

INDIVIDUAL INGREDIENTS

Dehydrate each ingredient individually and package a recipe together afterward. Wash and dry food, then slice it into thin, uniform pieces (1/8-inch to 1/4-inch) and lay it on the dehydrating tray without overlapping. Cook according to your machine’s instructions. Once you have a pantry stash of dried staples, you can create custom meals or bring add-ins for your favorite store-bought backpacking meals.

WHOLE MEALS

This technique is great for leftover chili, soup, spaghetti and other saucy meals with similarly sized ingredients. Simply lay the food on a lined tray and spread it out evenly. After dehydrating, break the sheet into pieces and portion it out for your next trip.

STORAGE

Let food cool completely before storing in airtight containers in a cool, dark place. For pre-portioned meals, vacuum-sealed pouches or ziptop baggies work well. Shelf life depends on several variables, but a safe assumption is about six months to one year at room temp. For a longer shelf life, toss the bags in the freezer or fridge.

COOKING

Cooking your own dehydrated meals is a cinch. Pour the dehydrated food and water into a standard hiking pot, cover and bring to a boil. Assume about one cup of water per cup of dried food, adjusting as necessary. Bring it to a gentle simmer until the water is absorbed. If you’re low on fuel, cover food with boiling water and let it sit. A pot cozy will help retain heat.

This article originally appeared in the May+June 2017 issue of Washington Trails Magazine. Support trails as a member of WTA to get your one-year subscription to the magazine.

Comments