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Cost effectiveness of a dehydrator for dried berries.
January 14, 2010 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy dried berries from the retailers or DIY using a dehydrator. Which option is cost effective?

I like munching dried berries but all the dried berries I found in the US so far are fructose syrup infused. I would prefer non syrup infused berries. I checked online and found few stores like this, this or this.
I feel like they are bit expensive so I am considering buying a dehydrator. I would like to know which option is cost effective, buying in bulk from one of these retailers (or any other you recommend) or DIY using a dehydrator. My budget for dehydrator is not more than 100 dollars.

Many thanks in advance.
posted by zaxour to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Can't you just use your oven?
posted by prunes at 12:47 PM on January 14, 2010


you can dry them with your oven on the absolute lowest setting (150-200, hopefully), with the door propped open a crack to let steam out. Put them on a piece of unbleached cotton muslin so they don't stick. It will take 4-6 hours, depending, for small berries; just test them once in a while to get them where you like them.

The sugar in commercial dried fruit is also to help preserve the color and extend shelf life. Your dried berries will be dark in color unless you also give them a sugar solution or an ascorbic acid dip (you don't have to, of course), and you should freeze them for long-term storage rather than tossing them in a bag on a shelf.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:51 PM on January 14, 2010


Don't forget to factor in that you can use the dehydrator for other things, should you be so inclined, like apple chips, jerky, dehydrated vegetables for soup kits...etc.
posted by carlh at 1:06 PM on January 14, 2010


Is there Trader Joe's in your area? The have a wide selection of dried fruits for very good prices. I believe that most are not sugar infused though some (like cranberries) are.
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 1:42 PM on January 14, 2010


I think it really depends how much interest you have in drying foods, how much space you have and how concerned you are about additives.

Spend some time searching out "dehydrator recipes." As carlh says, these can include dried fruit/veggies and dried meat. If a number of these recipes interest you, think about a dehydrator.

But which one? You might have a look at craigslist for a used dehydrator. My experience has been that the smaller, more space-efficient round stacked tray machines take a lot longer than the bigger, hard-to-store boxy types (like the Excalibur) that blow hot air from the back of the dehydrator. Do you have space for either type in your house? Do you have space to store what you dry? Will you use it, realistically?

The best thing about drying your own food (mmmm, jerky) is that you know *exactly* what goes into it and how it is prepared. How important to you is that?

Cost is an issue for you--don't forget that you're going to pay for the electricity to run it. Maybe you're handy and can make a solar dehydrator? There are also ways to make your own electric-powered dehydrator, most of them involving a box fan and screens. Start looking at craigslist, too. (I have often seen round dehydrators at thrift shops, but never the box-style; ymmv.)

The cost of dried fruit will probably not be going down, and if you have local farmer's' markets that carry dryable/appealing produce, it might be worth it to you to dry your own.
posted by MonkeyToes at 2:32 PM on January 14, 2010


Before I run some numbers, I wanted to point out that two out of three of the things you linked to are not traditional "dried fruit" that you could make in a dehydrator, but are instead freeze-dried fruit. Freeze-dried products are light and crispy, rather than raisinlike, chewy, or leathery, and always cost more per pound, in part because there are more berries per pound.

For traditional dehydrating (using a special dehydrator or an oven) 1 lb dried fruit output requires 4-5lbs fresh fruit input because of the water weight loss. (got those numbers here). That 4-5 multiplier value may vary fruit-to-fruit; you might be able to google for that.
In general, you can calculate value by the item you're interested in buying dried, and your source of fresh. Blueberries $17/lb dried compares to $17/5=$3.50 per pound fresh. Can you match that price at your grocery/farm market?
posted by aimedwander at 2:35 PM on January 14, 2010


If you want a cheap food dehydrator, start stalking thrift stores. I see them there for about $10 all the time.
posted by ErikaB at 4:34 PM on January 14, 2010


Thank you folks for quick replies.

The oven option, I have tried it for tomatoes and not for the berries. Tomatoes take forever and get mould infested rather quickly. I guess, due to their water content. Also, I am not quite in favour of oven option because of a toddler at home.

Trader Joe's is a good option, there are a couple of them in the vicinity but I am new to the US so getting used to the system.

MonkeyToes & aimedwander bring in interesting points. The calculation is rather correct. I should think in that terms and also, how much I will be using this unit. Excaliber dehydrator units are rather expensive + the cost of running them (Anybody knows how expensive is it to run them?) So I need to check how much food do I need to dry in order to recover my investment and if thats worth in the long run. At the moment, I don't plan to dry anything else.
Plus, I am rather on picky side on what I am eating, hence no fructose stuff. Its fine if they look weird or are crispy instead of chewy.

If anybody has recommendations for all kinds of dried berries/fruits, all are welcome, if at all, I decide not to buy a dehydrator after more homework/comments. So please let the comments pour in.

Many thanks again.
posted by zaxour at 2:22 AM on January 15, 2010


On Good Eats, Alton Brown suggests dehydrating food not by using heat, but using air movement, and there are some compelling reasons to do so. His solution is to use a box fan, and stacking layers of food between furnace filters (it is a DIY solution, but you could probably find alternatives, as long as they allow air to circulate around the food freely). I believe he used lemon juice on the food before beginning to help keep the fruit from browning. Just put the fan on the ground facing up, a filter (unused, of course) on top of the fan, a layer of food, another filter, another layer of food, etc., and end with a filter on the top. Strap the filters to the fan so they don't move, and turn the fan on. The direct air current over the food will pull the moisture out of it without cooking it, and because of the constant air flow, you won't have the same issues with mold (at least that is how I understand it) as if you just have your food sitting in a warm oven.
posted by markblasco at 7:37 AM on January 15, 2010


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