How to Dehydrate: Learning the Basics
This post may contain ambassador, sponsored or affiliate links. Feel free to read my disclosure policy.
Dehydrating your food is a handy skill to have. It might seem like a daunting task, but trust me, it’s actually a piece of cake! And ooohhh once you get the hang of it, you’ll be HOOOKED on playing scientist and seeing what kind of experiments you can run in that dehydrator! It’s like a little kitchen laboratory where delicious snacks are the final result.
Besides the creative fun, dehydrating allows you to make customized meals that are both healthy AND delicious. That’s a win in my books! Plus, you can save a bundle on snacks and meals for your next outdoor adventures – without sacrificing flavour or nutrition. Dehydrating is equally useful for preserving foods at home as well!
- Using a dehydrator vs. oven
- How long ingredients take to dehydrate
- General rules of thumb for dehydrating
- Dehydrating fruit
- Dehydrating vegetables
- Dehydrating meat
- Dehydrating cheese // making cheese powder
- Dehydrating herbs
- Dehydrating grains, nuts & seeds // making nut powder
- How to rehydrate dehydrated foods
Using a dehydrator vs. an oven
Using a dehydrator is hands down the best option (it’s what they’re designed for after all) but using an oven does work. The downsides of using an oven is that they are much less energy efficient – and you won’t be able to use your oven for anything else for several hours… or in some cases, for over 24 hours!
- From my experience, if you wish to use an oven, it’s best to use an air-frying pan and, if possible, set the oven on convection mode to allow the most air flow
- Many countertop airfryers have a dehydrating option. These may seem great in theory, but you can’t make much at all in one go. It could work if you’re making a super small, single batch of something like jerky, but otherwise you’re very limited.
How long ingredients take to dehydrate
The amount of time needed to dehydrate something varies substantially. The content – or chemical makeup – of the item you’re dehydrating, as well as the environment you’re dehydrating in will either increase or decrease the amount of time. The particular dehydrator you use will make a difference as well.
more water = more time
more fat = more time
more thick = more time
higher air humidity = more time
lower altitude = more time
Truth be told, since results vary, it’s easiest to follow the general rules of thumb (see below), and to check on your food throughout the process. In most cases, items should also be dry to the touch, and no moisture should excrete when broken or cut in half and squeezed.
General Rules of Thumb
- Slice items into about 1/4″ thick pieces (smaller is ok)
- Arrange on a dehydrating tray with enough room for air to circulate between pieces (no over lapping)
- Place in dehydrator/oven and set at appropriate temperature
It’s that easy!
- You can dehydrate as many different foods at one time (as long as they’re in the same category and require the same temperature). Just keep an eye on them as they’ll each need different amounts of dehydrating time.
- Fruits and vegetables require the same temperature, so you can dehydrate them at the same time
Specific Dehydrating Guidelines
As a reminder, there are numerous factors that will alter the dehydrating time (water content, fat content, thickness and the humidity and altitude of where you live). For specific instruction for certain ingredients, find the ingredient you’re looking for on our How to Dehydrate: Ingredient Specifics page. The guidelines below, however, are a fantastic generic tool:
Typically, for most fruits, you can clean them, slice them, put them in the dehydrator and call it a day!
Fruits with Skins
For fruits with exterior skins, such as blueberries and cranberries, you’ll need break the skin before dehydrating them so the air can reach and dry out the juicy insides. To do this, poke them with a knife (tedious) or blanch them (boil for 1-2 minutes or until skin pops)
Can you use frozen fruit? Yes! Do you need to thaw them first? No – but they take longer to dehydrate from frozen. Except for cranberries, I have found that other berries with skins (such as blueberries) don’t need to be blanched if previously frozen.
But know…fresh is best! I find fresh fruit provides a better taste and texture in most cases.
This will vary on the size of your dehydrating trays, however, you’ll typically want to use 1/3 – 1/2 cup of pureed fruit per tray (with 2+ tbsps binding sweetener such as agave syrup or honey)
Some of our recipes with dehydrated fruit:
“Water-ful” vegetables like onions, mushrooms, tomatoes (I know, I know… it’s actually a fruit), and bell peppers can simply be cleaned up, sliced and put in the dehydrator.
Tip: Instead of dicing onions or tomatoes before dehydrating them, I slice them into rounds, dehydrate, and then chop into smaller pieces after. This helps contain the juices and flavour of tomatoes, and makes making as close to identical piece sizes for onions possible (they always stick together when diced).
Starchy, Stalky & Root Vegetables
For most starchy, stalky and root vegetables, such as potatoes, beets, and broccoli, you’ll need to cook them prior to dehydrating. The degree and method of cooking varies, but most commonly you can blanch or steam them. I recommend steaming to best preserve the water soluble nutrients in the vegetables.
Can you use frozen veggies? Yes! Do you need to thaw them first? No – but they take longer to dehydrate from frozen. You may need to thaw them so you can cut them into smaller pieces as well.
But as always…fresh is best! Fresh veggies provide better taste and texture in most cases.
Some of our recipes with dehydrated vegetables:
Meat in General
- If marinating meat, do so before putting in the dehydrator.
- It’s best to use lean meats. Fattier meat will take much longer to dehydrate and also runs the risk of spoiling sooner (especially if not stored properly).
Meat is put into the dehydrator raw. Yes, it’s safe to consume as the dehydrating process kills the bacteria, and removes the moisture that bacteria needs to live and grow. Dehydrating from raw provides the chewy texture we all love about jerky.
For meat cuts – such as pieces of chicken – it’s best to cook prior to dehydrating (otherwise you’ll end up with jerky!) Meats prepared like a jerky don’t absorb water or rehydrate well, which makes for a chewy and/or crunchy final product. It’s recommended to bake or pan fry meats (avoid using any oils; water is a great alternative). Once cooked, if needed, use a paper towel to pat excess oil before dehydrating.
Ground meat should always be cooked before dehydrating. Cook meat in a frying pan (avoid using any oils; water is a great alternative). Once cooked, drain well and, if needed, use a paper towel to pat excess oil before dehydrating. If you still find it to be greasy, you can lightly rinse with water.
Some of our recipes with dehydrated meat:
Cheese in General
There are so many fun things you can make with cheese! Crunchy cheese snacks – or powdered cheese to add into meals are my favourite.
All types of cheeses dehydrate differently but it’s important to not have the heat too high or else it causes the cheese to melt as opposed to dry. When dehydrating any cheese, it’s best to flip or turn over with a spoon every few hours and blot any excreting oils.
Hard cheeses take the longest. You can cut them into 1/4″ cubes, but thinner will take less time. Personally, I like shredding cheese, rolling it into a loose ball and flattening it into 1/4″ mounds. For one, it takes less time to dehydrate, but it also melds together to make a crunchy pile of goodness. You can also spread shredded cheese out to create dried shreds to add into meals.
Soft cheeses take less time but the same recommendations as above apply. For soft crumbled cheese such as feta or cottage cheese, remove as much liquid as possible (even strain or pat dry with paper towel) and spread out evenly on your tray or sheet.
To make powdered cheese, shred or slice cheese very thin and spread onto sheet without overlapping. Once fully dried (and cooled), put into food processor and blend into a powder.
Some of our recipes with dehydrated cheese:
Herbs are so simple to dehydrate! You can make your own spices or even your own teas. Plus it’s a great way to avoid wasting left over fresh herbs.
Simply wash and disperse herbs onto mesh-lined dehydrator trays. I recommend leaving some stem or even stalk intact and removing them once the herbs are dried. If you de-stem and chop the herbs before dehydrating, you can end up with wet herbs that clump together (making it difficult to spread out on the tray) and it’s more tedious. It’s easier to chop or grind into finer pieces once dried.
Dehydrating Grains, Nuts & Seeds
Dehydrating grains, such as rice, pasta and quinoa, is an awesome way to step away from using Ichiban noodles and actually enjoying nutritious whole grains in instant meals
The process is simple. Boil or prepare your grains as regular. Once cooked, drain as much liquid as possible and spread on a mesh liner (or parchment paper) in your dehydrator or oven, avoiding over lapping as much as possible. Grains typically only take a couple of hours to completely dehydrate.
- Pro tip: if you’re drying rice for a dehydrated meal, try mixing in flavours prior to dehydrating (ex. soy sauce, vanilla, hot sauce, etc.). This adds flavour while reducing the need to pack them out for your backcountry trip.
Nuts & Seeds
It’s not exactly necessary to dehydrate nuts and seeds – they have a long shelf life without any preservatives or refrigeration. However, you may be interested in soaking and dehydrating them in order to gain the full nutritional value (they have a natural enzyme in their raw state that is difficult for your body to digest).
To dehydrate, place raw nuts in a large jar or bowl with a few shakes of salt. Add enough water to cover and let soak for a minimum of 7 hours.
After soaking, drain out all of the water. (Feel free to rinse and/or remove the skins at this point – but it isn’t necessary) Finally, spread around dehydrating tray or sheet. Dry for approx 24 hours. (Yes, a full day!)
How to Make Nut Powder
Follow the instructions above, then place in a blender and pulse until only a powder is left. You don’t want to set and leave your blender on high – the heat and over blending can agitate the fats and cause your powder to be oily and clumpy
Some of our recipes with dehydrated grains, nuts & seeds:
How to "Rehydrate" Dehydrated Foods
Not all dehydrated foods need to be rehydrated before you eat them. Some are good as is! Things like dried mangoes, bananas chips, jerky…
But if you’re diving into the craft of dehydrating and making meals, you’ll definitely need to know how to rehydrate them properly. Thankfully it’s easy! There are 2 effective ways:
1) Add boiling water, stir and let soak.
- Pro: minimal cooking effort and clean up required
- Con: may easily take 20+ minutes for food to be ready to eat; final product texture can be inconsistent
2) Add in water, bring to a boil and simmer for a few minutes and then let soak for a few minutes after
- Pro: fast and effective way to rehydrate thoroughly
- Con: requires more attention and clean up
3) Add in warm water, and refrigerate for 24 hours
- Pro: minor monitoring
- Con: extensive waiting time, refrigeration required
The amount of water and time needed varies for either method for each dehydrated food item or meal; learning this comes with practice and experimentation.
- Use a container with a lid to contain as much heat as possible… Have an insulated container? Even better.
- After soak time is finished, add more hot water if you find the meal dry or crunchy.
So, there you have it. Dehydrating is quite simple at it’s core; it merely requires some planning and patience. Whether it be for a healthy snack or for sustenance on a hiking trip, dehydrated food not only tastes delicious and lasts longer, but can also be a cost-effective method to preserve food. So if you are curious about dehydrating, go ahead and give it a try – the possibilities are endless!