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Food Dehydrator - Should I fork out the cash?

I was in California recently and went to a local farmers market. There was a booth where they were selling all different kinds of dried fruit. I fell in love with the peaches and nectarines. I bought some and have eaten them all and now I'm sad. :-(

I then thought "why don't I dehydrate my own fruit?" I have searched Chowhound for the best beginner models and searched Craigslist, Amazon and Ebay for affordable options for a starter hydrator and I'm thoroughly confused. It looks like the best brand is Excalibur but these things are pretty pricy, even for a 4 tray model (about $120+ with shipping). I found a couple of Rondo models locally on Craigslist but they look cheap.

I think, realistically, that I would mostly use it for fruit. I'm afraid the novelty might wear off. I would like to try jerky and maybe even yogurt but I'm not "gung-ho" into the food dehydrator craze... just yet.

Am I better off spending the extra $50 and buying an Excalibur model or should I start off with a cheaper brand, like Ronco? Also, I read some reviews of an Excalibur model that were negative. Specifically, they said that they had a problem with fuses blowing after only 8-10 uses. Anyone else experience this?

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  1. I fell in love with dried fruit also, a couple of years ago. I got a dehydrator for christmas from hubby and although I don't use it often, it is handy to have. Mine is not an expensive one. It may take a little longer than an expensive model, but the results are delicious. I would always go for the less expensive option, and then if you wear it out, spend the money on something more expensive that will hopefully last longer.

    You should try dried strawberries and pineapples, wow!! I made jerky a couple times, I don't eat it but my husband and daughter do, and I liked that I was controlling the size and ingredients. Plus my husband is a hunter so I used game meat to great success. Think I will see if there are nice nectarines at the store this weekend, that sounds yummy!

    1. You definitely don't need a dedicated dehydrator for jerky, any oven will work fine. As far as fruit goes, figure in the cost of fruit you'd likely buy and dehydrate, add $120 and decide whether it's better to just let someone else do the work for you. There's an awful lot of excellent dried fruit out there - not worth doing it yourself, in my opinion.

      1. we picked up a nesco FD-80 dehydrator and have had a good experience with it. the square shape allows for more usable space and it has temperature control so if you want to do "raw" food, you can keep the temp below 118 (if i remembered that right)
        we bought it for a 1 time use and found a dehydrator that was priced accordingly, it was 50 bucks on amazon, free shipping with a prime account to boot.
        dried fruit is fantastic in it. dried roma tomatoes and kale chips are another favorite.
        I use the dehydrator when we have produce that is going to go bad if we don't use it soon, so it keeps us from having to throw out food that would have otherwise gone bad.
        I personally think you should go for the dehydrator and if you want more yield or faster times step up to an excalibur. I'm still using the nesco one and the only complaint i have is that it doesn't have a timer, so i ended up using the timer for my christmas lights.

        1. There isn't much to a food dehydrater, a small controllable heat source, a fan to circulate the air, and some plastic trays. We picked one up at a discount department store (pick one, W-m, K-m, Target), it wasn't very expensive and it works just fine for fruit and jerkey. We dry all sorts of things to take on camping trips, even if we aren't backpacking, it's convenient to have dehydrated chilli for example, just add water and heat over the camp stove or camp fire. Purchasing dried fruit is fairly expensive, making your own is much less expensive. And you can dry what you want when you want it. You can dry almost anything.

          3 Replies
          1. re: mikie

            Does drying prevent spoilage or is it just more convenient/lighter to camp that way?

            1. re: iyc_nyc

              Yes to both. There are some backpacking recipe books that are all pretty much dehydrated recipes.

              1. re: iyc_nyc

                As sumrtym stated, it's yes to both. If you are backpacking you want the lighter weight, no need to carry a bunch of unnecessary water, and you don't have a cooler your packing around either. On the flip side of that, when doing what is commonly refered to as car camping, it's a convenience thing. For example, if you want to have pasta one night and you don't want to make the gravey at the campsite, you can make it in advance and then dehydrate it, then rehydrate it when you need it. Yes, I know you can buy a bottle of ragu. You can dehydrate fruit to have with your morning cerial and not have to worry about spoilage or refrigeration.

            2. I bought one last year thinking that it would be healthier to give dried fruits to my 2 year old daughter but I wish i hadn't bought it.
              First of all, it takes way too long to dry some ounces of fruits. I rather go to Trader's Joe or Costco and buy a pack of dried fruits. It took me more than 12 hours to dry some fruits.
              I don't think it's woth the hassle, time and electricity bill.
              I did make some nice beef jerky with it but you can make that with your oven.
              Also, don't forget the BPA from prolong heating of plastic.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Monica

                that's a good point about the BPA. I usually line the trays with parchment paper, not sure if that entirely eliminates BPA absorption since some might still be airborne but it should definitely reduce it by quite a bit...and makes clean up easier ;)

                1. re: cannibal

                  I assume you do realize not all plastics contain BPA. Bisphenol A is used to make Polycarbonate and epoxy. It is highly unlikely, and I know mine isn't, that the drying racks in a dehydrator are made of either of these two plastics.

              2. Thanks for the responses! I knew my fellow CH's would give me the details. ;-)

                I think y'all are right about buying an inexpensive one first and trying it out to see if it's something I'll enjoy and then if I get into it I can buy a better model later.

                Has anyone had trouble with the trays melting/warping? I read a few reviews from folks saying that was an issue with the cheaper brands (Nesco, Ronco, etc.).

                After reading your posts I remembered some amazing spicy beef and spicy pork jerky I got in Chinatown in NYC last year. We've been craving it lately. I could totally make that if I had a dehydrator!!!

                I don't really care for Trader Joe's dried fruit. A lot of store bought dried fruit has added sugar and some have preservatives. I like the idea of making my own and it being just fruit. I read a thread where someone make sheets of fruit (aka fruit roll-ups) - one was made from applesauce sprinkled with cinnamon and chopped hazelnuts. That sounds lovely to me. Another was dried tomatoes with maple syrup. It sounds odd, I know, but people raved about them. I like the idea of spiced pears and apples (cardamom, garam masala, etc), strawberries and balsamic vinegar and black pepper, and someone mentioned pineapple (with chiles maybe) - wow!

                3 Replies
                1. re: lynnlato

                  i haven't had issues with warping on the FD-80 trays but the insert that comes included with it for making those fruit rollup kind of things is warping a bit...not enough to affect performance but i don't know how much longer it will hold up. that particular piece got used a lot in the beginning and now doesn't come out much.

                  1. re: lynnlato

                    I honestly can't imagine a food dehydrator getting hot enough to melt the plastic trays unless there is a melfunction with the heater. If my memory serves me correctly fruit dehydrates around 120 degrees F, jerkey is a bit higher maybe around 140 degrees F, plastics don't melt at those temperatures. Even plastics that have low melting points, like LDPE are over 210 degrees F.

                    1. re: lynnlato

                      "After reading your posts I remembered some amazing spicy beef and spicy pork jerky I got in Chinatown in NYC last year. We've been craving it lately. I could totally make that if I had a dehydrator!!! "

                      I've been making jerky in an oven for decades. Very simple to do.

                    2. Does anyone here have much experience dehydrating in an oven (besides jerky)?

                      Mine goes down to 170f with decent accuracy, and while I know that some recipes call for dehydration at lower temperatures (120f and such), I wonder whether anybody has done much experimenting in an oven around 170. Is there enough of a difference to justify the expense of a dedicated unit?

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: cowboyardee

                        at 170, you can make beef jerky but i don't think you can make dried fruits and vege.

                        1. re: cowboyardee

                          Jerky's more forgiving and less delicate than fruit. I don't know that I'd be willing to try it. Perhaps if you keep the door ajar and leave the convection fan running (assuming you have a convection oven).

                          1. re: ferret

                            Not to mention that the oven requires a lot more energy than a dehydrator too.

                            1. re: lynnlato

                              If you were running it 24/7 I'd be inclined to agree, but in occasional use it's not that bad (you're running it at the very lowest setting - about 140-150 degrees).

                          2. re: cowboyardee

                            Or what about using a warming drawer? Those go low enough - but there's no fan in there - would that be a problem?

                            1. re: sherrib

                              Warming drawers are intended to maintain temp without drying the food out - so it's an anti-dehydrator. You need the air circulating around the food. Before I had a convection oven I always keep the oven door ajar when making jerky, aside from keeping the temp at a moderate level it allowed the air to circulate.

                          3. i had an American Harvest/Nesco and never had a problem with it. i gave it away before i moved back out here to CA, and i've been longing for it lately :( just make sure you take note of the *dimensions* before you buy one - bulkiness/space was one of the reasons i gave mine away.

                            in the meantime, do you need me to send you more dried fruit from the FM? ;)

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                              American Harvest is what we have as well. We've had it for a very long time. We don't use it continously, so it has a place on a shelf in the garage covered with a plastic bag. It's maybe 16" across and about the sime height, so it's not that difficult to store.

                              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                Thanks GHG! I think I'm going to buy a Nesco this week. Those darned peaches are in my head and I just ate the last of them today. I may also order some of those Graber olives - those things are interesting! And I also like the Tapatio hot sauce I had. Do y'all know how food lucky you are out there in SoCal?

                                Thank you... I'll let you know how I make out! :)

                                1. re: lynnlato

                                  Do y'all know how food lucky you are out there in SoCal?
                                  ~~~~~~~~~
                                  we do :)

                                  have fun with the dehydrator - can't wait to hear how it goes!

                              2. I love my Excalibur (9-tray), maybe 5 years old? But I considered the purchase for 6 months. I still occasionally hug this thing when my husband isn't looking.

                                No fuses blowing. No issues/problems. Use it at least 2 days/month; sometimes will use for stretches of weeks at a time. Will admit is a bulky monster, like a large old microwave. Where would it live in your home, to be useful right away?

                                Main uses:
                                raisins (I don't like commercial ones, but these are sweet, chewy, great)
                                apple, pear slices; strawberries, cherries, pineapple
                                sweet potato chips
                                cauliflower popcorn
                                dried tomato slices
                                cucumber, zucchini chips
                                yogurt
                                jerky
                                dried citrus zest
                                banana fruit leather (oooohh, this is good stuff)
                                dried cilantro/parsley

                                Prep time can be a consideration. My dehydrator takes about 8-9# of grapes for raisins; they need to be washed, stemmed, and I halve them for quicker/more even drying. That can be a couple of hours prep plus 16-20 hours in the box (trays can be rotated but don't need it). Fruit that needs a lemon water dip can take longer and be a bit drippy/messy.

                                Do make sure you find yourself using/eating dried products frequently before you buy. Buy locally or online and consider whether you can replicate them; for example, banana chips in a home dehydrator are chewy, not crisp like commercial ones (which are often dipped in honey and fried). Compound berries like raspberries or blackberries are fun when commercially made but don't have the same texture at home.

                                6 Replies
                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                  You hug it? Ha! I love that.

                                  Lots of good info DN, thank you. Do you have a special recipe for the banana fruit leather? And tell me more about the cauliflower popcorn, I'm intrigued! Do you do the dried tomatoes with maple syrup? I saw a bunch of folks raved about those but it sounds so strange.

                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                    Banana fruit leather is so simple: blend up bananas, add cinnamon if desired, add scant amounts water only if needed to get to thick slurry, then pour onto leather dehydrator sheets and dehydrate until no longer fluid (flip if needed at end to ensure center is dried). Will brown up but is naturally sweet. Add whatever other fruits you like while blending. They can be stacked with bits of wax paper between or rolled and individually wrapped in plastic wrap/wax paper.

                                    Cauli popcorn: chop up florets into popcorn-sized bits, rinse and drain in colander. Mix in bowl with pepper, nutritional yeast, cumin, cayenne (omit if desired), salt if desired. Spread on trays (leather sheets if desired, less fall-though). Dehydrate until crunchy.

                                    Dried tomatoes are nice when crispy. I tried the maple syrup recipe, was very nice but a bit sticky.

                                    Mushrooms (as kaleokahu mentions below) are also nice -- they can also be dehydrated to a hard crisp then powdered in a food processor, for a flavoring powder for soups/roasts.

                                    1. re: DuchessNukem

                                      Wow, thank you DN! It all sounds good, especially the cauliflower popcorn.

                                      I'm intrigued! I tried to find the Nesco unit at Target and was unsuccessful. I'm thinking Bed, Bath & Beyond and a 10% off coupon will be my next try.

                                      1. re: lynnlato

                                        I've got the same Excalibur model as DN. Absolutely no issues with it and I use it constantly. Joel and Dana, over at Well Preserved, did a huge project with their Excalibur making an appetizer for 1000 people last fall. You can read about their adventure with it here: http://wellpreserved.ca/2010/09/ They had theirs running 24/7 for over a week and it came through like a champ!

                                        Spend the extra $50 on the Excalibur. You won't be sorry.

                                      2. re: DuchessNukem

                                        I made the cauliflower popcorn but I over-dried it. :-( There isn't much moisture in cauliflower, I suppose. I'm going to try it again though. I like the spice combination.

                                        The pineapple was a huge hit with my family - wow, very good. Next up is watermelon and pears.

                                    2. re: DuchessNukem

                                      My next dehydrator will be an Excalibur! !!!!

                                      My five tray cheapo works with a lot of tray juggling to get an even product.

                                    3. lynnlato: I'm looking to purchase a dehydrator, too. One use no one has mentioned so far is my #1 anticipated use: MUSHROOMS. My neighbor and I are both mushroom hunters, but unlike me he dehydrates his morrels, chantrelles, shaggy beards, and other delectable 'shrooms. In contrast, I've carefully vacuum-packed and frozen mushrooms, but I prefer his re-hydrated dehydrated. Nothing is as good as fresh, but dang!, wild mushrooms out of season are worth $120!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                        Ooooh, thanks for posting this, KK. We have a local guy at our market who sells home-grown shitaki shrooms. I would've completely overlooked this idea.

                                      2. Got a dehydrating function on your oven? I know my Wolf has one. Don't know what other ovens have it but, if you've got it, you might avoid the expense of a separate unit.

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: rainey

                                          unfortunately your is the exception rather than the rule - most standard ovens don't have a dehydrate setting.

                                          1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                            My one y.o. range oven has a "proof" setting. I wonder if that would work. I'm more interested in jerky than fruit.

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              For jerky keep the oven at it's lowest setting and crack the door (pull it slightly open to the point where it doesn't automatically bounce back to a closed position). Then place the jerky strips on a wire rack (the kind that looks like an open checkerboard) and place a foil-lined cookie sheet on the rack below the jerky (catches drippings should they occur).

                                              You want it warm enough to dry without getting it to a cooking temperature.

                                              1. re: ferret

                                                Thank you SO much. Should I use the convection option?

                                          2. re: rainey

                                            I've never even heard of a "dehydrating function" before your post. No, my crappy GE profile is not equipped.

                                            I'll trade you - my GE profile for your Wolf? ;-)

                                          3. Been using a Nesco for a few years, Does the job well, There is some added expenses to the machine. I tcomes with 4 trays and you'll probably want more. Also the removable liners that make it much easier to remove fruit after it has dried and stuck to the tray, so figure some added cost. Also ther are at least two models, one with just a heat element, one with heat and fan. The latter being prefered. Some fruits take a day or two to dry. Fruit and fish and such were all preserved by drying for several thousand years or so before anyone was selling appliances, so you might try wind drying some stuff..at least for fun...

                                            Home dried doesn't come out as pretty and colorful as the commercial stuff, but fuss with pretreating solutions and times. (anyone got suggestions on pretreating?)

                                            The big cost factor is the expense of the fruit or vegetables...If you've got a garden and can dry the surplus tomatoes, or can get them from the local farmer for $4 per box that's good, plus you probably can get ripe fruit. If you are buying at supermarket prices there is little price gain.

                                            All that said, dried cantelope is fantastic, dried waatermelon is just tooo sweeet. Find, or create a recipe for fruit soup...

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: penche

                                              Great points. I'm afraid that I far prefer watermelon to cantaloupe but both are definitely worth trying! I love making fruit roll ups. Strawberries are also great.

                                              Anywho, I'd definitely recommend getting one. Citrus peel is so nice dry too. You'll find plenty of uses for it!

                                            2. My husband and I purchased a Nesco American Harvest model # FD-80. My husband uses it for mostly for jerky of every kind. I use it for fruits, herbs and veggies from our garden. We love it. I got it from Target on line for under $100.00 last year. I did a lot of research and this model does everything it claims it should. It is not uncommon for us to use it 2 to 3 times a week. I borrowed my mom's dehydrater from Mr. Coffee and I will never use it again, it is not very powerful so it takes forever to dry food. Good luck.

                                              6 Replies
                                              1. re: nilesdavis

                                                Thank you. No problem with the trays warping? I assume it has a fan?

                                                1. re: lynnlato

                                                  all the info's right here:
                                                  http://www.amazon.com/Nesco-American-...

                                                  you can also compare the specs & prices on the other models.

                                                  1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                                                    Thanks GHG. I ordered this model last night! I'm so excited - what a food dork, right? ;-)

                                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                                      you know it. a girl after my own heart :)

                                                      i can't wait to hear all about your dehydrating adventures...if you love it, you may inspire me to buy another one!

                                                      1. re: lynnlato

                                                        Ooh that is a cutie, small footprint, and a good starter dehydrator. If you love it, you might want a bigger/more versatile one someday; if not, definitely not a big loss. So glad you made the jump!

                                                        I had a baggie of my raisins yesterday with lunch, probably 8 months old, still so sweet and wonderful. My husband loves those in his oatmeal. I've been finishing off a batch of "raw Cheez-its" this weekend also (soaked cashews, red bell pepper, spices) that are a personal favorite, also.

                                                        Please do share your experiences/questions. You will have so much fun! :)

                                                        1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                          We split a neat sounding recipe for raw cheez-its over to the Home Cooking board so more people would see it. You can find it here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/769936

                                                2. I have an excaliber dehydrator. My only regret is that I got the 5 tray, and I wish I had gotten the 9 tray. I originally bought it to dry apples. We get these really tasty, delicious apples from Virginia Vintage Apples in the fall. This year, I probably dried about 70-80 apples total and they are all gone. :-( When you see how much the fruit shrinks, you understand why dried fruit is pricey, but also makes you wish to dry more at one time. I disagree with what an earlier poster said...if you start with exceptional, in season fruit, the results will be better than what you can buy commercially.
                                                  I have also used it to make jerky and Greek style yogurt.
                                                  It is bulky, so that may be a consideration, depending on your storage space. I keep mine in the basement and bring it upstairs when I want to use it. I disagree with the advice about buying a cheap one. I think you'll regret spending the money now if you decide to upgrade later.

                                                  1. first lynnlato, I can't advise you how much to spend, only you know what you'd be comfortable with.
                                                    I've posted before on a few sites how much I like my dehydrator. what it does to almost any kind of fruit is a treat.
                                                    I will say for me anyway, who is a novice, that it's a hit and a miss until you get it down, at least that's been my experience.
                                                    I got mine at a tag sale, 7 trays, still in box without the instructions but was fortunate that someone I don't even know answered my plea online and sent it to me via pdf.
                                                    it's easy to overdue the peach or nectarines and they blacken easily if you do over dehydrate them. then they have a burned flavor. my favorite things to do are grapes, tomatoes, apples, grapefruit.

                                                    1. I owned an Excalibur years ago, but I gave it away in favor of using my Farberware Convection Oven with the optional stainless steel mesh dehydrator trays. Both are easy to find secondhand.

                                                      1. Oops! I forgot to post photos

                                                         
                                                         
                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: Leolady

                                                          Hi. Do you mind saying what model this is? I looked online and the photos didn't resemble yours. I love the idea of getting something for other uses and that doesn't heat in/on plastic. Thanks!

                                                        2. OK, I just *have* to chime in on this thread!

                                                          If you get a cheap dehydrator, likely your problem will be uneven air and heat flow, and you'll have to check it a couple times a day and move food around inside. If you keep doing it (and especially if you are a backpacker!) you'll eventually give away / sell the cheap one to another newbie, and get an Excalibur. No big whoop-- the newbie will be happy, and so will you! Great way to get started.

                                                          i just can't deal with store-bought dried fruit, even from the "good" stores. Sugar, preservatives, bad texture. yeccch!

                                                          I've found a few gems over the years that i didn't see posted in this thread, so here they are. Your mileage may vary. Keep dried fruit with no preservatives in the fridge until your backpack trip or meal....on your trip, it'll keep for at least a couple weeks with no refrigeration.

                                                          -- Fresh pineapple. Tart, crunchy, chewy and intensely flavored. No added sugar. Slice thin for the dehydrator. Heaven!

                                                          -- Watermelon. Pick the sweetest one in your garden, and slice it up thick. It will (eventually) turn into sticky, gooey, chewy strips of sugar and flavor.

                                                          -- Fruit roll ups. Make your exotic fruit pureé, put it on wax paper, and go for it.

                                                          -- Spaghetti sauce. Backpackers only, probably. Do it on wax paper, rehydrate in water prior to your trail meal, and the powdered mixes will seem totally lame.

                                                          -- Tomatoes. Making your own sun-dried takes no effort, just drying time.

                                                          -- all your backpacking veggies. freeze dried, to my palate, sucks. i just make a mix of carrots, bell peppers, onions, the works....and add it to every meal.

                                                          DANBOB

                                                          2 Replies
                                                          1. re: danbob

                                                            Thank you for your tips, danbob. A couple of questions:

                                                            You use wax paper, instead of those special mats, to make your roll-ups?

                                                            How thick do you slice your watermelon? I assume you cut off the ring? Sorry, I'm a novice! ;-)

                                                            Thanks again for your input.

                                                            1. re: danbob

                                                              I have been experimenting with Shelf Reliance freeze dried and so far, they seem to be above and beyond the competition. It is sold at Costco and a few other places. It is a fairly new company based out of Utah that also sells food rotation system for storing cans.

                                                            2. Hi, just wanted to point out the Excalibur's are on sale till the end of the month, I am having the same dilema here....on a side note, anyone have the Excalibur with the 26 hour timer? just wondering what the advantage is over the regular model and how long the ones with out the 26 hour timer can run for? Thanks
                                                              http://www.excaliburdehydrator.com/De...

                                                              4 Replies
                                                              1. re: geminigirl

                                                                My Excalibur does not have the timer. Basically, mine runs till you shut it off. The timer model can be set for a specific shutoff time, but if you're not home to remove the food, it's now sitting, exposed to air and humidity, and can re-absorb moisture.

                                                                I just try to plan my drying so that I'll be around when the food needs to come out. I could never figure out why I'd want the timer.

                                                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                  CH ate my post....oh well, thanks for the info on the timer, its kind of what I was thinking but nice to hear from someone who has one. On a side note, what do you average for storage times. I'd like to make a lot with summer fruits for holiday gifts, but I have no clue how long they last and how you store them. Thanks.

                                                                  1. re: geminigirl

                                                                    Mine has the timer. I like it because if I forget, it turns off and I don't end up with an over dried product.

                                                                    We're still munching on peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, and various fruit leathers from this summer. There's no doubt that we'll run out of summer fruits before they have a chance to deteriorate! Dried summer fruits will make great holiday gifts.

                                                                    1. re: geminigirl

                                                                      Storage times... months. And much longer. (Mary Bell is my fave resource for such data, I don't have her books handy this moment.) I'll dig out a gallon baggie sometimes from the pantry with an 8-10 month old date, with delightful raisins or apple rings. Veggies tend to lose crispness quicker, but can re-dry for a couple hours and be great.

                                                                      A vacuum sealer is great if you have. Otherwise, solid, smaller (quart) baggies, tightly compressed, and then double bagged, help keep things fresh.

                                                                      Once folks know about your stuff, you seldom have a backlog. Family will beg for your "apple-o's", raisins, jerky, and banana leather. :)

                                                                2. I ordered my dehydrator 2 weeks ago and still have not received it - ARRRGH! 5 days ago Amazon told me to contact them by tomorrow if it hasn't arrived. Damn you, Amazon!

                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                    1. re: geminigirl

                                                                      I ordered the Nesco American Harvest square model. I decided against the Excalibur only because I have a short attention span so until I know that I'm going to stay interested in dehydrating I'm not going to fork out the cash.

                                                                      But I haven't gotten it yet! I got an email today from Amazon, and they're overnighting me another one. Should have it no later than Saturday! (hopefully) :-)

                                                                  1. Mine is a Nesco American Harvest, it's twenty-plus years old, and it works great- not so horribly pricey either as I recall. Plus, if i wanted to I could still get accessories or more trays for it. I've dried plum tomatoes (heavenly scent throughout the house!), DH has made a lot of elk and beef jerky, i'v e dried lots of fruit, green chiles, red chiles, mushrooms, peaches, and to make a long story shortish, wedon't even use it that often, but when it conks out i"m going right out and buying another one.
                                                                    That's my story and I"m stickin' with it. i feel strongly that you won't regret the purchase.

                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                    1. re: EWSflash

                                                                      Thanks EWSflash! Chiles, I would of never thought to dry them - duh! See, yet another example of why I love Chowhound. ;-)

                                                                    2. I know I'm not normal, but..... I've cooked and heated w/ wood stoves for decades and have simply strung my fruit and veggies w/ string and hung them over the wood stove.
                                                                      I make jerky in cold dry air. When I hunt and butcher, I take the scraps, pound them thin and hang them in the attic of my garage in Maine or from the rafters of my garage in NM in the cool/cold November air to dry.

                                                                      5 Replies
                                                                      1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                        Love my Excalibur! In addition to the dried fruit (pineapple rocks) and homemade fruit rollups for the kids, I dry herbs in it...If i buy fresh and only use a little for a recipe, it's perfect for drying the rest. Also from the garden directly....and it's awesome for making Kale chips...tear pieces of kale, mix it well with Annie's Goddess Dressing and dry it on the mesh sheets....heavenly...

                                                                        1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                          Honey, there's plenty of stuff hanging in the not-so-cold-or-dry air of my garage here in N.TX. They wave to me everytime I get something out of the chest freezer out there. It feels nice to have my own outdoor friends.

                                                                          Don't get me wrong, if it were a climate-approp option I'd go for it. I have handmade my own solar oven for the brutal summers we have, made some lovely stews and chicken last year.

                                                                          I've made creme fraiche out there in the summer, but can't leave anything bare. Hungry friends, you know.

                                                                          1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                            Duchess, now this thread is going places -- wind dried fruit and a solar oven!! Tell us about your solar oven, how it was designed, built and how it was to cook in it.

                                                                          2. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                            In the past when we had a woodstove that's where I did all my drying as well (and a good bit of cooking- see The Country Journal Woodburner's Cookbook by Janet Batchand which seems to be out of print, damn it! It's a good book). Unfortunately the switch to a pellet stove and then the move to this house (heat pump, propane gas logs) put an end to that. So I think you're very normal... in that respect anyway! ;-)

                                                                            1. re: Passadumkeg

                                                                              I gave an electric food dehydrator, as a Christmas present, to my old Yankee MIL one year and she was really pissed! Why could I wast money when it was so easy and cheap to dehydrate foods w/out one!

                                                                            2. My Nesco American Harvest is square, roomy, quiet and works like a breeze! I've just finished my first batch of fruit and I'm thrilled! Peaches, strawberries and bananas. I dipped the peaches and strawberries in pineapple juice as a "pre-treatment" although I can't say they improved the color much as I have nothing to compare to, but they taste so good - especially my peaches.

                                                                              I have a batch of grapes in there now and I'll get to work on cutting up my pineapple probably tomorrow. It's official, kids, I'm hooked! What a great way to cure my Facebook addiction! ;-)

                                                                              Thanks for all the tips. I can't wait to try the fruit roll-ups, cauliflower popcorn, raw cheez-its and everything else!

                                                                              16 Replies
                                                                              1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                Great! Please keep posting, i just ordered mine as well and can't wait to get started!

                                                                                1. re: geminigirl

                                                                                  Holy crap, the grapes are taking forevvvva. I wasn't thrilled with the banana slices either, but my daughter loved them. I thought they were really strong tasting. Of course I'm an underripe banana lover so the dried version tastes liked a very overripe banana. Bleck. I had greek yogurt today with pieces of cut up dried peach and a sprinkle of granola - oh soooo good.

                                                                                  I wll definitely keep you posted, GG. I hope you'll report back too.

                                                                                  1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                    you're killing me with these posts - i think i need to go buy another dehydrator to replace the one i gave away :)

                                                                                    1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                      I discovered when dehydrating whole currant tomatoes into tomato "raisins" that the skin needs to be well nicked in order to dry in a reasonable amount of time. The unnicked ones took days while the next load of nicked ones were done in 24 hours. I imagine grapes would be the same.

                                                                                      1. re: morwen

                                                                                        Wow, thanks for that tip. Someone upthread mentioned cutting the grapes in half but I didn't do that because the instruction booklet said not to. My grapes are still dehydrating (I've had to unplug the unit a couple of times when I wasn't going to be around for a long while).

                                                                                        GHG, go get you one girl! ;-)

                                                                                        1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                          There's any number of books out there on food dehydrating but this one that I took out from our library was eyeopening for me and it's very affordable:

                                                                                          http://www.amazon.com/Food-Drying-Att...

                                                                                          1. re: morwen

                                                                                            Thanks, this is sitting on my coffee table, library check out as well!

                                                                                          2. re: lynnlato

                                                                                            LOL (sorry) -- at Hour 28 on my first whole-grape raisins, I saw that they were still squishy and wet. We then went out of town for a day and a half, and I didn't want to leave the dehyd on, nor the partially-dried fruit just sitting in it, so pulled them off, dumped into container and tossed in fridge.

                                                                                            Returned to wet sloppy mess that I nonetheless re-spread on the trays and attempted to continue dehydrating then abandoned in disgust after 12+ more hours (due to still wet, misshapen, unappetizing, and appearing to never wish to dry). And I just HATE to waste food.

                                                                                            My booklet, and more importantly Mary Bell (Goddess of Dehydration), both said to put them in whole. I tried halving (dry with cut side up) and haven't looked back. I do look for larger grapes so the final product is substantial, but even smaller ones are terrific.

                                                                                            And re: bananas -- just do remember that everything concentrates and sweetens in the dehydrator; also, salt flavor concentrates. Start with less-ripe bananas if that's your preference -- they'll also keep shape better due to being firmer, plus you can slice them lengthwise for a compact portable snack.

                                                                                            Do try some sliced pears or Asian pears (slice into a bowl of water mixed with a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice to deter browning, shake off, then tray). The texture is toothy/gritty/chewy and they are sweet but with deep flavor.

                                                                                            1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                                              I knew I would want to try blueberries as I have a great local place to pick. One of the books I looked at talked about "checking" fruit with a thicker or waxier fruit like blueberries and grapes. It was basically either poking them with a knife of fork or putting some in a colander and dipping into boiling water briefly to soften up the skin. Anyone ever use this method and advice on how helpful it might be? Thanks

                                                                                              1. re: geminigirl

                                                                                                Definitely give them a poke or a nick. The moisture needs to be able to escape from the inside otherwise they take days and days (and days) to dry. Harder fruits like cranberries benefit from being blanched. Drop them in boiling water for a minute then remove pot and all from the heat. This allows the skins to burst but doesn't cook the fruit. Or cut them completely in half. Cranberries will turn into little marbles if you don't cut them in half or blanch.

                                                                                              2. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                                                DN, you have given some great advice - I can't thank you enough! Asian pears are on my calendar for next week. After I get over the newness of it, I'm sure I'll stop buying expensive fruits and look for better bargains at the farmers market. For now though, it's just all so new and exciting.

                                                                                                It's official - I'm a food dork. ;-)

                                                                                          3. re: lynnlato

                                                                                            I'm with you on banana chips, I like under ripe ones, so I may have to give that a try. Did you do peach halfs of slices, skin or no skin?

                                                                                            1. re: geminigirl

                                                                                              Peaches - skin on and a little less than quarters - thirds maybe.

                                                                                              Cauliflower popcorn tomorrow and maybe pineapple too. Ha!

                                                                                              1. re: lynnlato

                                                                                                A huge thank you for these fab postings...Ive been drooling over the Excalibur 9 tray off and on for months...and am now at decision time...should I splash out or not??? not only have you all convinced me ;) and supplied me with stacks of ideas...I've also thoroughly enjoyed reading through each reply...I even had my dh laughing re the hugging the machine secretly (after all, if they were honest, they would do the same with their toys ;) )
                                                                                                Anyway after stumbling across this page I have now signed up and look forward to being part of such a knowlegable load of goodfoodaholics... I love it!
                                                                                                PS I picked up a second hand model last year, paid nothing for it...but after it all but cremated my carefully picked and prepared string beans...I gave up on it!!!
                                                                                                Excalibur...is the way forward!

                                                                                                1. re: carrerclan

                                                                                                  A big thank you to you, carrerclan, because you just reminded me that I need to get to work and dehydrate some gorgeously sweet carolina peaches! Have fun and let us know what you dry up!

                                                                                                  1. re: carrerclan

                                                                                                    Hi carrerclan -- I love my dehydrator. I considered the purchase carefully for 6 months before I bought the Excalibur. Consider your level of interest, your use of dehydrated foods, and your past history with gizmos before investing in an expensive new toy lol!

                                                                                                    Do recall that this is a sizable critter. If it can't live in an easily accessible permanent station, will you drag it out each time you need it? Do you already buy and use lots of dried fruits,veggies, jerkies, etc? Do you enjoy prepping 5-10# of food at a time (you can always do smaller batches), and waiting 8-12+ hours?

                                                                                                    Although I have never looked back on the Excalibur, I think that Lynnlato's route may be the best for folks new to dehydrating: a smaller, less expensive 'starter' model, to ensure that you like using it and eating the results.

                                                                                                    (Sorry to hear about the beans. Green beans are a multi-stage procedure anyway, and too much hassle for me: blanching, freezing, then dehydrating.)

                                                                                        2. I have an American Harvest with adjustable heat ranges, and a few Snackmaster Jr's with no adjustments. No problems with them at all. I inherited the AH, and I found the Snackmasters at thrift stores for $5.

                                                                                          As to how much energy they use-not enough to even notice on an electric bill for sure. Mango slices in the AH were done overnight.

                                                                                          Where I live, I have done sun died tomatoes on the porch in one day. 113 degrees, slight breeze, and single digit humidity got the job done. I dry chili peppers by just setting them out on the counter to allow air to circulate around them-yeah it gets hot here. I haven't done much drying this summer due to not being home long enough to monitor the progress, nor watch for thunderstorms, and high winds/dust. I find our weather forecasts funny 108, and chance of rain.

                                                                                          Depending on where you live, you can dry naturally outside with some racks, and some screening. Dad made one out of redwood strips, and screen to dry peaces, and apricots that we grew. High humidity will hamper drying. One could also make an attachment so that a woodstove could be used to dry foods during the winter.

                                                                                          If you can find Cal Yee dried fruits, try some. They have a dry yard in Suisun Valley CA, and the Yees are some great folks. Long time farmers in the valley. BTW Suisun is pronounced Sue-soon after the Susuni Indians that inhabited the area.

                                                                                          1. Don't waste the money on a cheap dehydrator. I did it once and I've regreted it since. That was 4 years ago. I finnally decided to pay the price and buy an excalibur 3900.

                                                                                            The one I bough a few years ago, dried unevenly and was a major pain to clean. I usually ended up throwing out 70% of what I dried due to poor drying. (Not all of that was my fault)

                                                                                            I've been putting off buying a good dehydrator for quite some time, but I am very glad I paid the extra money for the excalibur, and I am glad I went with the 9 tray model.

                                                                                            1. Please, please can we revive this post???

                                                                                              I am wanting to make "soup in jars" gifts for Christmas & would like to put in some little bits of veggies for extra flavor, color & nutrition.

                                                                                              Also, dried bruits & leathers would make great little jar gifts, not to mention homemade granola in jars too. Oh, & what about jerky for gifts? Homemade spices & herbs? What are you putting in food gift jars? I always start in July with getting the Christmas ideas going & folks always seem to like homemade gifts.

                                                                                              With that said, what fruits & veggies dry best? Does anyone have a knockout recipe for soup in a jar? I have the Nesco dehydrator in my cart over at Amazon.

                                                                                              Just waiting to hear if you know of any books that could make a first time "dryer" have good success. I would hate to mess up some really expensive items.

                                                                                              So what are you drying right now? Updates on what dryer you are currently using would be great.

                                                                                              Thanks

                                                                                              2 Replies
                                                                                              1. re: cstout

                                                                                                Still using my trusty Excalibur. Not drying much right now because it's 450 degrees here and I don't want anything to send it that extra degree (my books!).

                                                                                                Dried apple rings are always met with approval. (One nephew called them Apple-O's, we loved it.) Make two or three different varieties for gifts; tart Grannies taste different from sweet Pink Ladies, and from rich Braeburns; sprinkle some with cinnamon before dehydrating -- and oh man does the house smell great. (Dip rings in a dilute lemon juice solution before drying to minimize browning.)

                                                                                                Dried pear varieties are also seriously tasty, these usually end up sliced from pole-to-pole. The texture can be a little grittier than apples but the flavor is grand.

                                                                                                You can also dice apples and pears (or grapes, or mango, or peaches), dehydrate, and mix up an oatmeal seasoning blend with a dry sugar (such as turbinado) and spices. Would store the dried fruit separate from the sugar and spice until ready to mix for gifts, to extend shelf life.

                                                                                                Banana leather is a kid favorite (also my older FIL's fave). Use cinnamon liberally. Use very ripe bananas, and don't add anything for sweetening, these are more than sweet enough. I pour them out small pancake size and roll in wax paper squares. Would look nice in a wide-mouth Mason jar.

                                                                                                Veggies: carrots, celery, bell peppers, onions (you will smell onions in your house for a few days lol), zucchini all dry well in dice or strips/coins. Dry hard for soup mix. Tomatoes go well thin-sliced, dried to hard (and in ultra-hard, can make tomato powder, great for seasoning). Mushrooms are fab dehydrators, but can pick up moisture from the air quickly so need aggressive packaging; they are also great dried very hard and powdered.

                                                                                                Current concept in trials (to probably finish in Sept., when cooler): cook beans, then dehydrate said cooked beans. Add to dehyd veggies, seasonings for quick-cook soup. Will report back on efficacy but will be a while. :)

                                                                                                1. re: DuchessNukem

                                                                                                  Thanks for all the great ideas & tips. Wish I could start drying right now. I sure do want an Excalibur, but instinct tells me to start small.

                                                                                                  So glad you posted these tips for us pups.

                                                                                              2. Check this website out & you will REALLY want to get a dehydrator. (I did & I do really want one)

                                                                                                http://wellpreserved.ca/category/pres...

                                                                                                Just kinda browse around there, great ideas, recipes for preserving, canning & dehydrating.

                                                                                                Also, the alphabet letters at the top of the website will lead you to all kinds of other ideas/recipes.