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As an alternative to the long, arduous task of canning fruits and vegetables, drying has become a popular means of preserving the bounty from your garden and fruit trees. It is a known fact that the bacteria which causes spoilage is halted when about 90% of the moisture is removed from fruits and vegetables and the produce can be stored for lengthy periods of time. Another attractive asset of drying fruits and vegetables is the concentration of natural sugars which gives produce a wonderful sweet flavor while reducing the storage volume. Proper drying will also preserve nutrients in your produce.
Flavor, high vitamin retention and appearance when drying fruits and vegetables will depend on preliminary treatment. Sliced fruits should be dipped in pure lemon juice right after being cut to preserve the natural color. To preserve vitamin content and flavor the produce should be blanched. To do this the produce should be immersed in boiling water from 2 to 8 minutes. Beans, apples, broccoli, and celery take about 2 minutes to blanch. Corn, spinach, squash, tomatoes and cabbage should be blanched for between 1 and 1 1\2 minutes. Brussels sprouts, apricots, cauliflower and carrots will take 3 1\2 to 5 minutes, while peaches and nectarines take 8 minutes to blanch. When the produce is blanched it should be immediately dipped in cold water to cool and if necessary, peeled. Blanching is not necessary when drying mushrooms, garlic and onions.
To dry your fruits and vegetables you will need to slice them into pieces. Grapes, leafy vegetables, peas and beans do not require slicing. Corn can be dried on the cob and rubbed off after drying, but takes a much longer period of time. It is recommended that you cut it off the cob with a sharp knife before drying.
There are many forms of drying fruits and vegetables after they are sliced. They can be laid out on racks placed on cookie sheets in a very low oven or air dried by placing them in the sun. For the best results be sure the temperature of your chosen drying area is between 95 and 140 degrees. Too much heat can break down the vitamin content. Using an electric dehydrator is another way of drying fruits and vegetables, as is using solar driers. Although the method you use should be one that is most convenient for you, it is very important to make sure the produce has plenty of warm air circulation.
During the drying process check the fruits and vegetables from time to time to see if they need to be turned for better drying. The best way to check for dryness is by running the produce through your fingers to feel for damp or sticky areas. When the produce is dry, place it in plastic storage bags and seal, then check in a few hours to make sure no moisture has formed in the bag. If moisture is discovered, return the fruits and vegetables to the drying trays. How you store your dried fruits and vegetables is also important. Many fruits such as grapes, peaches, apples, pears, oranges and such, do better if stored in the vegetable bin of your refrigerator. Most dried vegetables can be stored your kitchen cabinets after being placed in sealed plastic bags or container.