Food preservation is one of the most important factors in off grid living. Since many, if not most, off-grid locations are also somewhat remote, those who prefer not to rely on grocery stores need a way to preserve food that they grow or forage.
Because bacteria and mold tend to grow in dark, moist places, removing the moisture from the food by dehydrating can stave off decay longer than many other methods. It does not require refrigeration, and it results in food that is lighter and easier to carry, if needed. An off-grid dehydrator will assist in storing enough food to last through a hard winter.
How to Dehydrate
There are different ways to remove the moisture from food items. Some of them are quite efficient while others may not last as long or work as well. Some involve machinery while others can be done with no other items. Which method one uses will depend on the desired result, the available materials and machinery, and the time one has available for processing.
This method has been used since ancient times. Unlike most other methods, this one is done without direct sunlight, because some nutrients are minimized or destroyed by exposure to the rays of the sun. This is best for things like herbs and other greens, including leaves meant for tea.
Plug in this machine after filling it with food items and its elements provide heat while fans keep the air moving to dry food. Most include a gauge for the temperature and allow some degree of adjustment to properly dehydrate all types of foods. Sometimes these can be loud, depending on the fans included, so it may be desirable to use them in the garage or a separate room that can be closed off.
Small amounts of food can be dehydrated in the microwave, using the “defrost” setting. This is best with fruits and herbs. Fruits take around half an hour (more or less) while herbs generally take only two or three minutes. Always check often to prevent overdrying.
The regular oven can be used to dehydrate. Set to about 140 degrees Fahrenheit to dehydrate, because higher temperatures may cook the food instead of drying it. While this is not the most efficient way to dry food, it works in a pinch, and is great for warming the house at the same time (so it is best to do this mainly when it is cold outside) because it works best with the door propped open to release the moisture.
For thousands of years, the sun has been used to dry food for preservation. Slices of food – especially fruit – are put on racks or hung on lines in direct sunlight. This works best when the temperature is 86 degrees Fahrenheit or above, and the humidity is about 60%.
Like sun drying, this method uses the power of the sun. However, unlike sun drying, it uses solar power rather than direct sunlight on the food. Usually set up outside, this involves an enclosure that looks similar to a small greenhouse. The sun’s heat dries the food without directly affecting it.
What to Dehydrate
While pretty much any food can be dehydrated, some foods provide a better result than others.
Fruits such as apples, apricots, bananas, blueberries, cherries, peaches, and pears, for a start, make great choices for dehydrating. They can be easily stored in jars after dehydrating, then eaten as-is, reconstituted, or added to things like trail mix. They can also be pureed and dehydrated into fruit leather.
Herbs like basil, dill, fennel, lemon balm, mint, oregano, parsley, and others can be dried for use in baking and cooking or simply for tea.
Meat and fish of all types can be dehydrated for use in stews and soups or for trail snacks.
Nuts and seeds can be soaked and sprouted, then dehydrated. This increases their digestibility as well as increasing nutrients.
Sprouted grains can also be dehydrated to use in baking or granola.
Vegetables are excellent options as their nutrients are needed and they can easily be carried and tossed into soups and stews.
A sheet of black metal corrugated roofing, topped by a food-grade screen, surrounded by a frame of pressure-treated lumber, makes a nice base for a DIY solar dehydrator. The upper layers consist of sheet metal painted black and a polycarbonate sheet. The upper two layers are kept together with a cedar frame, and the food-grade screen should also be connected to a cedar frame (which gives space for the food to be dried). Set all the combined layers, with the food items on the screen, in the sun. Angle as needed for the best sunlight exposure.
Buy a Dehydrator
These dehydrators require electricity, which can be provided by solar generators.
This dehydrator has a timer and a temperature control and provides six trays for drying food, along with a sheet for making fruit leather and a mesh screen. The digital controls make it easy to work. It can dry for up to 48 hours, with temperatures ranging from 95-165 degrees Fahrenheit. The outside is made of stainless steel and the six trays are also stainless steel. It is made to be relatively quiet, and it comes with a recipe book.
Four trays are topped with a see-through cover. A fan and heating element on the bottom keep heated air moving through the system whenever it is plugged in. Fully washable trays are made of plastic. Expandable to 8 trays, this device can also be used with trays made for fruit leather and trays with mesh screens (sold separately). The pre-set temperature is 165 Fahrenheit.
This cylindric stack of six trays includes a mesh screen and a fruit leather sheet. The digital controls regulate time and temperature, while a built-in overheating protection keeps the unit safe. The clear plastic (BPA-free) trays make it easy to keep track of how well dried the items are without the need to open the machine and change the temperature level.
This expandable set starts with five trays but up to seven more can be added, for a total of 12. The adjustable thermostat lets users set the temperature between 95- and 160-degrees Fahrenheit, while the top-mounted fan keeps the air moving through the trays. The light-blocking exterior prevents nutrient loss.
The stainless-steel exterior and BPA-free food trays make this dehydrator look good on the counter. Dry a variety of food with temperatures from 96 to 158 degrees Fahrenheit, using the handy dials on the front of the machine. Clear BPA-free trays make it easy to see the progress. Fruit drying sheets are available separately.
The five gray plastic trays are paired with a digitally controlled base that has a 48-hour auto shutoff and provides continuous airflow. One fine-mesh sheet and one fruit-roll sheet are both included. Its simple design dries evenly, so trays do not require rotation.
Stainless steel trays are durable. The fan is mounted on the back rather than above or below to provide even drying. The door has a transparent window for monitoring the process. The digital thermostat works with the adjustable temperature to keep the heat at the proper level while the timer shows how long is left; the unit automatically turns off when the timer expires or at 48 hours, whichever is first. Fruit roll trays and mesh trays are included.
These dehydrators rely on the power of the sun and ambient heat to dry the food.
This hangs indoors or out (outside in direct sunlight is most efficient) and keeps insects from reaching the food as it dries. The netting allows heat and sun in while keeping contaminants out. It is best used for fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Fill the five trays with sliced foods, close the mesh exterior, and hang up in sunlight for a non-electric dehydrating experience. Instruction book is included.
Good for fruits, vegetables, and herbs, this eco-friendly option protects food while drying it with sunlight. Place on a porch or in a sunny window when it is 85 degrees Fahrenheit or warmer for best results.
This guide encourages drying herbs, preferably that are home-grown, for best results and excellent meals.
This book by Rory Anderson discusses preserving food in a variety of ways, including dehydrating.
How to grow and preserve food in case of emergency and also for winter. In the Spring of 2020, many discovered that food was not as easy to obtain for a few weeks; with the knowledge in this book, this type of situation ceases to be as severe a problem.