Food dehydrating, Part IV: Racks, trays, mesh, and equipment for drying fruits, vegetables, meats and sauces.
Racks and trays for dehydrating
If you are building your own dehydrator, sun-drying, or using an oven, you will need adequate drying racks. Ideally, drying racks have slats that are fine enough to stop drying food from falling through as it shrivels.
Avoid metal trays that aren’t stainless steel — food-safe plastic trays are the best for dehydrating food.
Some people use wire screen (hardware cloth) for trays, not realizing that the galvanized metal is not food-safe. Aluminum, copper, zinc, and other metals will react with many ingredients and can leave dangerous deposits in your food. Food-safe plastic, stainless steel, or Teflon-coated trays are your best bet.
Use nylon mesh for containing loose foods like corn and from preventing the food from sticking to the drying racks
For dehydrating food such as peas and corn, polypropylene or nylon mesh netting, spread over a cake rack works well. Laying the mesh between the food and the drying racks also prevents the food from sticking as it dries, and makes it much easier to clean the racks.
Use food-safe nylon or polypropylene only
Rolls of food-grade, reusable polypropylene mesh netting can be found from various meat processing and commercial food equipment suppliers. Food-safe polypropylene and nylon mesh is safe for use at temperatures well above the temperatures at which dehydrators operate. For easy cleanup, they can be run through the washing machine when you’re finished. You may also find adequate mesh material at the fabric store, but exercise caution with any materials that are not explicitly deemed food-safe, as you may end up unintentionally ingesting traces of harmful chemicals.
Drying sauces and purees
Sauces, pastes and purees can be dried into leathers resembling fruit leathers. Sauces need to be spread thinly and evenly, usually no more than 1/8” to 1/4″ thick, on plastic-wrap lined trays or Teflon baking sheets. After the sauce is firm enough to handle (usually a few hours in the dehydrator), peel this from the plastic wrap and turn it over to ensure even drying.
Do not use aluminum foil or waxed paper for sauces.
Aluminum foil will react with acids and salts, and the paraffin on the waxed paper can melt and be displaced by the liquid, soaking the paper and ruining your sauce. Placing the sauce on plastic wrap or directly on a Teflon cookie sheet is the best. If you place sauce directly on Teflon, take care of your Teflon and only use a soft-tipped rubber spatula to peel the sauce away when it has dried into a leather.
Useful equipment for dehydrating food
Beyond a food dehydrator and drying racks, the following tools will make drying easier.
- apple corer
- food processor
- fruit/vegetable peeler
- mesh (food-safe nylon or polypropylene)
- oven thermometer
- scrub brush for vegetables
- sharp knives
- thick scrub brush for cleaning drying racks
- vacuum sealer (optional, but nice)