Drying foods is a technique that has been used over the millennia to preserve food especially for the winter months. Removing original water from food greatly delays development of bacterial growth and mold enabling dried foods to last much longer than fresh foods would.
Initially, food was dried in the open air where they could be taken out into the sun every morning until they were dry enough. Although some foods are sometimes still spread in the sun to dry, technology has changed things a bit with high-tech dehydrators taking over from the once adored open-air techniques. With the renewed interest in natural foods, mainly because of their high nutritional value, commercially dried foods have become quite expensive so it’s not out of normal to find a farmer drying his or her own berries at home.
Dried fruits are a great source of energy because they have a high concentration of fruit sugars. These fruits also contain a large amount of minerals and vitamins. Drying however destroys a few vitamins especially vitamins A and C. This can be reversed by treating the fruits with sulfur before drying. However Sulfur also destroys thiamine, a constituent of vitamin B. Since fruits are not considered a big source of vitamin B, this setback can usually be ignored. Vegetables which are a good source of thiamine, niacin and riboflavin can also be dried.
The water obtained from drying should always be stored for soaking or cooking the dried foods or can be used in making nutrient-rich soups, gravy and sauces.
So, which foods can be dried?
You can dry just about any food, as long as it contains some natural occurring moisture, which most foods actually do. Fish, meat, fruits, vegetables and herbs can all be dried.
Fruits are the easiest to dry because the moisture evaporates more easily and actually not much moisture has to be lost for the fruit to be counted as dry. Typical fruits that are often dried include cherries, peaches, berries, pears and ripe apples.
Vegetables often dried include corn, pepper, peas, okra, zucchini, green beans and onions. Carrots can be dried as well but why dry them when they can be stored for a long time without going bad?
Fresh herbs of any type can be successfully dried irrespective of which part of the plant it was obtained. However, leaves, blossoms and seeds give best results.
Most types of meat can also be comfortably dried. Beef, venison and lamb are usually dried for jerky. Fish is also popularly dried.
Some foods are however not suitable for drying because they contain very high amounts of moisture. These foods include melons, cucumber and lettuce.
Using dried foods
Dried vegetables can be soaked before cooking, though this is not mandatory. You can reconstitute by soaking 1 cup of dried vegetables in 2 cups of water and leaving for 2 hours.
To release the full flavor in herbs, cut or chop the dried pieces into bits before adding to food. Leaves can be rubbed between the palms or ground in a mortar using a pestle. If possible, add herb powder into a liquid in your recipe.
Jerky can be used as a snack or a backpacking staple. Dried fruits can also be used as snacks or eaten at breakfast with cookies, granola and cereals.