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Food Dehydrators: 10 Quick Tips

1. Most climates are too humid or don't get enough direct sunshine to properly dehydrate foods just by leaving them outside. Using an electric food dehydrator may not be as cheap as the sun, but it's still less expensive than canning or freezing ... and much cheaper than throwing away spoiled, fresh produce!

2. Not only do dehydrated foods last longer, but they offer concentrated enzymes and nutrients to fuel your body and keep you healthy. Since the flavors are intensified, too, dried foods are ideal for cooking and snacking.

3. As a rule of thumb, 12 square feet of tray space dries about a half-bushel of produce. A half-bushel, by the way, is approximately 20 pounds of apples or tomatoes.

4. Dehydrating preserves food by removing the water needed for bacteria and mold to grow. Dried vegetables and herbs will be brittle, while dried fruits will be leathery or rubbery.

5. Dehydrators with base-mounted fans that blow hot air vertically are the least expensive option. You'll have to diligently rotate the trays throughout the drying process to ensure even drying, especially if you're dehydrating fleshy foods like tomatoes or peaches.

6. Dehydrators with horizontal flow feature a heating element and fan on the back of the unit, eliminating the bothersome need for tray rotation. This also reduces flavor mixture so you can dry several different types of foods at one time.

7. Convection dryers don't use fans at all, so they are much quieter than other models. They're also much slower, which may result in less flavorful foods.

8. Most dehydrators fit on a countertop, but some larger models are free-standing. If you'll be using your dehydrator only rarely, get a model that can fit on a storage shelf in your pantry.

9. Stackable trays are good if you'll only be drying thin items, but removable shelves let you use your dehydrator for other purposes. You can culture yogurt, leaven bread, soften butter, sprout seeds, or hatch chicks. In addition to food, you can dry flowers, glued craft projects, rain-soaked boots, or water-damaged books.

10. Look for a unit with a timer or automatic shut-off if watching grapes turn into raisins isn't your idea of a good time.