How to Dry Food at Home

CC BY 2.0. Adam

It's not hard, but just takes some time, organization, and steady low heat. If you've got an oven, you can do it.

A big part of combating industrial agriculture is taking control of sourcing and preparing one’s own food in as many ways as possible. While shopping at local farmers’ markets or via CSA shares is an excellent way to get fresh ingredients of high quality, fewer people nowadays are skilled at preserving that seasonal food for the historically ‘scarce’ months of the year.

Preserving knowledge has largely disappeared in the past two generations, simply because we live in times of seeming abundance and can’t be bothered with preserving foods that we could easily buy. It’s a skill worth re-learning, however, as the food industry becomes increasingly questionable and less trustworthy. There are enough recalls and warnings issued by the FDA each year to make anyone concerned about buying food from supermarkets.

Preserving food yourself ensures that you know exactly what’s in it -- and what’s not. There are various ways to preserve food but this post will look specifically at drying, an often-overlooked and very simple way to save food for future consumption.

Drying is effective because it removes the moisture that bacteria need to reproduce. Without moisture, food is safe from spoilage because mold and bacteria cannot grow. Dried food can usually be stored at room temperature. Paul Clarke of Resilient Communities gives the following suggestions for easy drying.

1. Sun-drying

This is a good method for fruit, whose higher acidity acts as an insect deterrent. In the middle of summer, if you have temperatures steadily above 85 degrees Fahrenheit (29 Celsius) that aren’t overly humid, you can put food outside to dry. Make sure that air can circulate beneath the food. Use a rack set on some bricks, place some aluminum foil underneath to reflect the heat, and cover with cheesecloth to keep away insects.

Another ingenious method I read about on The Kitchn is using the intense sun heat already captured in your car. Place trays of fruit/vegetable slices or berries on the dashboard of your car, with all windows closed, and leave it to dry during a long, hot summer day. It might take a couple days, but keep checking to make sure it doesn’t get too hard or actually cook.

2. Oven-drying

Ovens are steady and reliable, although they can take a long time and requires more work than drying in the sun. They’re good for meat, fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Set your oven to the lowest temperature and spread food on trays, wire racks, or directly on the oven racks. Turn as often as you think necessary – 20 to 30 minutes for fruits and vegetables, every few hours for beef jerky slices. Thinly sliced apples can transform into chips within 2 hours of baking at 225 F.

It’s possible to dry fruit slices in a toaster oven, too, and it takes much less time than in a conventional oven, though you’d have to do smaller batches.

3. Food dehydrator

A dehydrator is a worthwhile purchase if you plan to do a lot of fruit drying, but it is not necessary if you just want the occasional dried treat. Dehydrators are easy to monitor in terms of temperature, humidity, and drying time, and often can be pre-programmed to do the full job unattended.