What do you use your dehydrator for?
September 18, 2022 4:35 AM   Subscribe

After years of nursing an idle fantasy of being the Kind of Person Who Has a Dehydrator, I find myself in rather sudden possession of an actual dehydrator. I've done apples a few times now (delicious) and feel a bit like the dog that caught the car -- turns out I have no idea what else to do with this thing! Please give me all your recipes and ideas, snowflakes inside...

It's this type of kind of guy, if that makes a difference.

We keep a vegetarian household and can't have dairy, gluten, or peanuts in anything. Budget is pretty tight so maybe can't really do so much with e.g. expensive fruits from faraway lands? What I do have lots of is free time to spend prepping things, as well as a mandoline-type slicer and a decent blender.

Bonus points for anything savoury that meets our snowflake needs. Also for anything that uses up excess bananas. Thanks, MetaFilter!
posted by cabbage raccoon to Food & Drink (36 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Oh we have one of these! Mr. eirias is making raisins right now from some black grapes that were starting to go. Recently he has also made, essentially, banana candy -- if you dry bananas less than you would to make banana chips (which we haven't tried), you get a chewy and intensely sweet thing, almost like soft toffee maybe. And every summer we grow a million cherry tomatoes, dry most of them, and freeze them and use them in small amounts throughout the year to add "zing" to stuff.
posted by eirias at 4:48 AM on September 18, 2022 [5 favorites]

Banana chips are the bomb.
posted by flabdablet at 4:59 AM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Choc-dipped orange slices are my favourite. Dark chocolate works very well (and usually easier to obtain non-dairy versions).

Dehydrating tofu in advance of rehydrating in flavourful marinades.

Whole meals, veg and cooked grains: dehydrate to preserve and lighten packed weight for cheap and nutritious trail hiking meals. Super-quick prep of just water, heat, eat.
posted by dragon garlanding at 5:06 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I have no idea what else to do with this thing!

Cut things up. Put them in it. See how they turn out. If you like them, do it again.

If you don't like them, put them back in and see if getting them even dryer makes them better. If it doesn't, either throw them in to thicken up the next big batch of hippie stew, or feed them to the chooks. Cutting things thinner makes them dry faster and more evenly.

That's pretty much the only idea you need, at least to begin with.

You will accidentally collect plenty of other ideas to try out long before you've got anywhere near exploring the limits of that one.
posted by flabdablet at 5:06 AM on September 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Maybe this is a stupid question but uh how do you dehydrate cooked grains/whole meals/chili? Like what do you put the wet food in/on so it dries out and doesn’t fall through the holes in the shelves?
posted by cabbage raccoon at 5:32 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: We've been lax about ours lately but we've gotten a lot of mileage out of the discount (i.e. about to go bad) produce shelf. Apples, pears, stone fruit, mangoes, bananas - anything you can get super cheap and cut the bad spots out of. Melons too, those are interesting. We also (because we live in orchard country) often get a crate of seconds in season (apples, pears, or peaches, generally,) slice, dry, and then freeze them, and they keep pretty much forever. The labor isn't too bad and the difference in cost between that and commercial dried fruit is unbelievable.
posted by restless_nomad at 5:55 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

According to this, you dehydrate chili by lining the trays with parchment paper.

And - that site might have other "how to dehydrate" things; that's a site designed for backpackers, suggesting how to dehydrate things so you can bring them on camping trips.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:56 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: During the local height of cheap pick your own fruit season, we often will chop up whatever is seasonal and dry it. Pretty much any fruit works well, including your bananas, as do tomatoes. A friend dehydrates vegetable mixes and uses them as homemade “flavor packets” for rice and soup. The texture is a little different but it’s still good. Herbs and flowers are also easy, if you have an abundance.

There are trays that you can use for drying fruit leather and other goopy stuff. There are also finer-mesh ones for holding smaller dry items like blueberries, which are small enough to fall through the holes when they are dry. Ours came with a couple, and searching “dehydrator insert” seems to bring up examples from a few different brands.
posted by tchemgrrl at 6:04 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: We borrow a dehydrator to prep some homemade instant backpacking/camping meals that meet our dietary needs.

The item we dehydrate the most is spinach. We also do kale and other salad greens. We do not crumble these when dry to make a greens powder (which we could get commercially) - we like to leave them as whole as possible. Then, when we rehydrate the greens, we add them to our meals and have some texture, fiber, nutrients, etc. It really ups the quality of our meals.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:19 AM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I too have this idle fantasy but haven’t yet committed. My ideas include lots of dried seafood but I’ve got some vegan ideas.

- Dried herbs! Way more flavor than dried herbs you buy from the store that have been sitting in warehouses for years. If you’re being frugal and growing your own you can often have an excess of one and not another, dehydrate the bumper crop. Definitely try home dried basil and parsley.

- Beet chips made out of candycane beets cut on the bias so they have cool elongated oval rings.

- Cooked and seasoned chickpeas dried out to super crispy for supreme salad and soup toppings, with different flavors like chili or curry blends, or maybe garlic oil.

- I like to pretend I’m the kind of person who would dehydrate and preserve seasonal flowers like roses and lavender.

- I love persimmons but dried persimmons are often coated in preservatives and shipped from other continents and I’m always sad when their short local season ends. I bet they would dehydrate wonderfully, considering that’s how they are most often traditionally prepared.

- You could absolutely dehydrate minced mirepoix, or any aromatic base. Onions carrots and celery probably need to be dried for different amounts of time considering their varying amounts of water, but once you have them dried you could mix them up and keep them in a cereal box or something and have instant soup or stew base.
posted by Mizu at 6:41 AM on September 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

J Kenji Lopez Alt has a vegan parmesan recipe that is based on dehydrating miso and olives, which is super good. You can make similar powdered toppings for popcorn etc with kimchi or sauerkraut. Just squeeze the liquid out and spread them on parchment and dehydrate (until really dry) then blend until powdered. Very flavorful alternatives to cheesy commercial popcorn snacks
posted by okonomichiyaki at 7:06 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

My dryer thingy was bought for the specific aim of drying wild-picked mushrooms (mostly porcini, chanterelles, birch boletes [especially those, because they're a little gummy just fresh-picked and sautéed]), because typically, the weather at this time of year is too moist to just put them on a rack and wait.
...It works with store-bought mushrooms, too, if you for example find a deal and end up with too many to eat, or something...

One thing worth learning is to find the right temperature for various dried goods. I dried some mint and oregano the other week and used the default setting (ca. 155F) and they turned into bitter hay. A little internetting revealed that the temperature for fresh herbs needs to be lower than that.
Right now I'm drying apple rings on 130F and they turn out super nice and flavorful...
posted by Namlit at 7:06 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

Try foraging for things to dry! It'll depend on your environment, but for example outside a Polish city I'd forage for mushrooms (caveat, be sure what you're picking), dehydrate them and use them in stews, especially if sauerkraut is involved. Rowan berries should be perfectly ripe, once dried they make a gorgeous addition to tea or gravy (in the latter case, ground or whole). Other autumn berries too - chokeberry, sloes, hawthorn, basically check out local hedges and use PlantNet to identify any bright berries. Much less fuss than processing stuff into jelly, jam or juice.

Read a bit on local wild herbs, though your own harvest may need to wait until next year - most things are best gathered in spring or summer - but a dehydrator basically lets you get ahead of the herbalist's eternal problem with too few places to hang bunches of herbs for drying. Could be for health-support, could be just because they make good tea. Yarrow tea's one of my favourites, tastes a bit like aniseed and summer.

You can also use a lot of herbs as incense, smudging-style, just wrap up a bunch of something appropriately smelly tightly with plain cotton thread in a sort of thick cigar shape, then dehydrate it. Stores wonderfully, set the tip on fire and blow the flame out to let it smoulder and fill the place with smoke that'll kill other scents, then douse it in water and dehydrate it again if you're not using the whole stick at once. Doesn't have to be salvia (never mind endangered white salvia), for example mugwort and tansy are a good combination for nice scent and mosquito repelling.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 7:11 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zuchinni chips are quite good, I slice them thin with a mandolin and toss them in olive oil, nutrional yeast, salt, red pepper flakes, and oregano.

I have a large electric dehydrator, plus large screen drying racks in my living room and garage because I do a lot of drying/dehydrating.

In general, I dry some of whatever I'm harvesting or foraging. So this includes apples, pears, tomatoes, berries, grapes, all the herbs, aromatics for tea like bee balm, spruce tips, rose petals, elderflower, and lavender, wild mushrooms (either to rehydrate or grind to powder to add to soups etc).

You can make fruit leather by dehydrating mashed fruit like blueberries. Low pectin fruits will need to be made into jam and dehydrated after. Granola bars and seed crackers are fun as well.
posted by ananci at 7:19 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

As far as being thrifty: in principle this can let you save some money! E.g. if you can manage to buy clearance fruit that is heavily reduced in price because it's on its last sale day, you can dehydrate it that day, instead of passing up on the sale bc you won't eat that many berries or whatever.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:36 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Chop top off pineapple, peel to remove eyes, leave the core in. Cut into rounds, not too thick. Season with salt and, if desired, chili. Dehydrate until dry and the texture becomes chewy, not crispy or crunchy. Could be 12-14 hours on highest setting, but depends on machine. Looks a bit like yellow flowers, and the core becomes a small center to hold while eating.

Similarly, slices of mango, kiwi, apricot, watermelon.

Slice up mushrooms, especially larger kinds, and marinate in a sauce to your taste/needs (sesame seeds a nice touch) for veg jerky. You can also use soy protein but check if includes gluten.
posted by eyeball at 7:37 AM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

These might be more suited for an oven style tray dehydrator but if you are the type of household that ever has ana abundance of zucchini you could make these zucchini wraps / crackers.
posted by pipstar at 7:52 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’ve fallen down into a rabbit hole the past few weeks, watching YouTube videos of backpackers who are on the trail for months at a time. A fair number of them dehydrate meals. Some of the ones that have been intriguing are:

Canned beans and cooked rice (separately)
Tomato sauce
Mushrooms, zucchini, peppers (separately) to add to dishes
Lentil dishes from their favorite restaurants
Bananas, apples, other fruits

The main dishes rehydrate quickly with a camp stove.
posted by umwhat at 8:10 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Onions, garlic, shallots, scallions
You may need to put them on parchment
I'd experiment with making really good soup mixes by drying all the veggies in little cubes
posted by soelo at 8:18 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I dont know what your local area is like, but we have dozens of fruit trees on the edges of peoples properties that typically just drop their fruit to the ground. We will grab a few buckets of these every year for drying. Most folks don’t give two shits about this and are happy to let us pick to keep the fruit mess from taking over their part of the yard; one neighbor who has a plum tree let’s us pick a bunch in exchange for some of the dried prunes. There is also a local organization that facilitates gleaning efforts more formally.

We regularly dry gleaned cherries, persimmons, plums, hops and many surplus herbs

Mushroom hunting is also a hobby over here, and certain varieties dry very well.
posted by furnace.heart at 8:28 AM on September 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: What you do is go to an expensive grocery store, and then go down their dried processed healthy snacks aisle. Figure out what you personally get excited about. Then go home and make it in your dehydrator on the cheap.

Dried cooked chickpeas with ginger is really good.

Another thing you can do is just dehydrate anything any time you're not going to use it up before it goes bad.

I'm here to anti-recommend getting an entire huge box of expiring brown bananas, dehydrating them, and then leaving the whole lot unattended around a hungry person with an engrossing book. GI distress may ensue.
posted by aniola at 8:30 AM on September 18, 2022 [6 favorites]

Everything will keep better if you store it airtight (reused jars, i add a wrap of masking tape for longer going) with a desiccant packet or two.

I just dehydrated this year’s picked-out-and-put-aside food dessicant packets, getting ready for drying orchard fruits.
posted by clew at 8:48 AM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: We have some silicone sheets that came with our dehydrator for the liquid stuff. You could use any tray that fits inside, though flexible things are easier to detach crackers from.

Flax seeds, either whole or ground, make a fantastic base for crackers: soak them with some water to make a slurry, add additional flavors or veggies, pour on to a sheet (a little thicker than you think it should be) dehydrate.

Aforementioned comment about banana chips applies, many digestive systems are not attuned to the levels of fiber that compulsive snacking on something like this can provide.

And yeah, this time of year we just keep our ears open for neighbors with excess from gardens and offer to give half of it back processed.
posted by straw at 9:04 AM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

You can slice tomatoes about 1/8" thick and dehydrate them, then pulverize them to make tomato powder that you can use as a flavoring in all sorts of things.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 9:26 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Aforementioned comment about banana chips applies, many digestive systems are not attuned to the levels of fiber that compulsive snacking on something like this can provide.

(I think in this case it was also partly about excessive amounts of fructan, the same FODMAP that's found in wheat.)

Dehydration dehydrates food. Drink plenty of water with your dehydrated foods.

Dried persimmons (as thinly-sliced as possilbe - use a mandolin if you're ok with losing some finger) are the BEST.
posted by aniola at 9:34 AM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Make kale chips: wash and de-stem kale leaves, tear into pieces, spray with liquid aminos or soy sauce, sprinkle with nutritional yeast.

Dry spicy peppers cut into thin rings, pulverize until desired texture (chili flakes or powder).

If you peel a batch of tomatoes, dry the skins and blend with salt and dried garlic to make a delicious and versatile tomato salt.
posted by mezzanayne at 10:04 AM on September 18, 2022 [4 favorites]

This works for us because we grow our own garlic, but if you can buy some cheaply enough:
- peel the cloves and chop roughly
- put them on a screen and dry
- pulverize (we use a blade-type coffee grinder from the thrift shop) and voila! Homemade garlic powder! So much more flavorful than store bought.
posted by dbmcd at 12:47 PM on September 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One year I got way too many hot peppers from my CSA, so I sliced them and dehydrated them (out on my back porch because it was unpleasantly fragrant), then used a spice grinder to make my own chili powder. It was about 75% jalapeños, so it had a nice unique fresh flavor.
posted by Sparky Buttons at 1:59 PM on September 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I don't have a dehydrator, but I recently came across dehydrated satsuma segments - the whole segment. I had only seen the dried slices before, but these were delicious as they had a much higher proportion of flesh to pith. Definitely worth a try.
posted by tavegyl at 11:59 PM on September 18, 2022

Best answer: I use exactly that dehydrator for drying 3D printing filament. It is, to the best of my knowledge, vegan and gluten free...

I use my oven on a very low setting to turn my tomato crop into "sun dried" tomatoes, and a dehydrator would be very useful for that, but I don't consider mine to be food safe due to aforementioned 3D filament. Dried tomatoes are an amazing umami bomb, though, and need no additional ingredients. (That said, a friend adds salt and pepper and uses them as snacks.). I just cut them in half before drying, but note I use small cherry tomatoes when I'm doing it. I would recommend halves or quarters, though, so that the skin holds the wet tomato and stops it oozing.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 12:30 AM on September 19, 2022

The one time I had real dried banana chips and not the store bought oily sweet banana chips, I thought I’d died and gone to flavor heaven.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:42 AM on September 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

Don't know the details, but beef/deer/whatever jerky is like YUM YUM shoe leather that's better than anything you buy at the store. I do miss my deer jerky.
posted by zengargoyle at 9:15 AM on September 19, 2022

If you buy fresh herbs but don't use all of them, you can dehydrate what you don't finish.

If you've got a dog, cut up a sweet potato into chunks or rounds and dehydrate that as a healthy dog treat.

Homemade fruit rollups - puree fruit and lay it on the tray with some parchment paper on it.

Dried tomatoes are great.

If you're on facebook, there's a great group of dehydrators (the people, not the machines) there. They dehydrate everything: frozen veggies; cooked beans; so much inspiration!
posted by hydra77 at 10:43 AM on September 19, 2022

Best answer: Kiwi fruit is really really tasty dehydrated. I was surprised how well it turned out!
posted by exceptinsects at 2:29 PM on September 20, 2022

Best answer: You can now save silica gel packets. Throw 'em in on the tray with whatever you're dehydrating and you will have dried out the silica gel for re-use with your freshly-dried foods, too!
posted by aniola at 4:46 PM on September 20, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all so much! I have started a little box to keep silica packets in and will be happily dehydrating all autumn long!
posted by cabbage raccoon at 4:17 AM on September 25, 2022

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