Since the beginning of man, the need to preserve food has been a concern. Even as far back as the days of the nomads, people have needed to keep food from spoiling. Over time, the process of drying foods was discovered. Yeast and bacteria are unable to grow when the water is removed from meat and produce. Drying is the oldest method of preservation. Evidence as far back as 12,000 B.C. has been found that Oriental and Middle Eastern cultures used the power of the sun to dry vegetables and fruits. There was a challenge in areas though where there was not enough sun. Thus and an early form of “still houses” were invented by the Middle Ages. By using fire, the air was heated at a low temperature to remove the moisture from fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
Fast forward to today and drying of food can take place on your counter top with an efficient food dehydrator. It is based on the same concept as that used back in 12,000 B.C. using heat and air circulation to dehydrate food. You can still use the sun, and when I lived in China I used to see this practice, frequently done still, but it is a long process. Another option is in your oven. The problem with dehydrating food in the oven is that food can scorch and brittle. Electric food dehydrators do the best job of keeping the low temperatures, 1400F, needed for drying. If the temperature is raised, you end up cooking the food and not drying it.
There are so many variables to consider the moisture, weight and amount of the food. Fruits, fruit rolls, and vegetables are recommended to be dried between 1300F – 1400F, meats and fish should be dried at the highest temperatures your food dehydrator will emit. Nuts, on the other hand, are full of oils and will turn rancid if you try to dehydrate them too quickly. The best temperature for nuts then is between 900F – 1000F. Herbs and flowers need to also be dehydrated at the lowest setting because they are also full of oils that give them their great aroma. An electric dehydrator can dry foods that require longer drying times and higher temperatures together. Consideration needs to also be given to foods that have a strong odor like garlic to prevent the overpowering smell from permeating everything in the dehydrator. It will take several times of drying each type of food find out the right length of time for each food type and thickness. When starting out you should side on the error of over drying to prevent bacteria from growing.
Table of Contents
Excalibur is based in Sacramento, CA and was founded in 1973 dedicated to food dehydration.
Gourmia is based in Brooklyn, NY with a mission of engineering cooking tools for a healthy lifestyle.
Nesco is a longtime producer of pots and pans as well as farm accessories in Milwaukee, WI.
NutriChef comes in as one of the newest companies, 2004 to the food industry. It was started by a couple, Barbara and David Cox, who were inspired while in Japan at the abundance of healthy fresh foods and the low rates of heart disease, obesity, and cancer. The company’s mission is to improve people’s lives and lifestyles through healthy meals.
Presto, National Presto Industries, Inc, is known for responding to consumer demands. Holding stake to a long standing history in innovation Presto is a leader in electric housewares. The company started in 1905 with industrial sized pressure canners. In 1917 the United States Department of Agriculture gave a huge boost to business by determining that pressure canning was the only safe method of preserving low-acid foods without the possibility of poisoning.
The Best Food Dehydrators
#1 Nesco Snackmaster Pro Food Dehydrator FD-75A
Best Food Dehydrator for Versatility $$
Nesco has improved the dehydration process with their patented Converga-Flow drying system which forces air down the pressurized chamber and then stirs it up across each tray converging in the center. What used to take days can now be done in just hours. They have moved the fan to the top eliminating liquids dripping onto the heater. The exterior is made of opaque Vita-Save protecting the food from lights and preserving the foods nutrients and vitamins. The temperature can be set between 95-1600 F to give a broad range of food that can be dehydrated. You can dehydrate between 5-12 trays for drying of larger quantities of food at once. It comes with two fruit roll sheets, 2 Clean-A-Screen flexible screens (for small items such as herbs), and jerky spices.
#2 Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator
Best Food Dehydrator for the Money $
While this dynamo comes in at a much lower price point it still stands up to the challenge. This 4 tray drying system can expand with separately purchased trays up to a total of 8 trays. The see-through cover allows you to inspect the drying progress. The drying trays and covers are dishwasher safe making cleaning an ease. The drying trays also nest for compact storage making this a great option for you if space is limited.
#3 Excalibur 3926TB Food Dehydrator
Best Food Dehydrator for Large Quantities $$$$
9 trays offer 15 square feet of drying space! If you have a large family or garden this will keep you well stocked and prevent all your precious produce from going to waste. Hunters will love making jerky with their prize. Crafters can make their own potpourri and dried flowers or fruit to add to their creations. The Excalibur 3926TB comes with flexible polyscreen trays to prevent food from sticking. There is a 26-hour timer to help manage drying time. The thermostat adjusts from 1050F to 1650F. What this dehydrator takes up in space it makes up in quantity.
#4 Nesco American harvest FD-61WHC Snackmaster Express Food Dehydrator All-In-One Kit with Jerky Gun
Best Food Dehydrator for Jerky Lovers $$
Built with versatility in mind, this All-In-One kit will dry Jerky down to tender flowers in hours. It comes with 5 trays (expandable to 12 trays) and a jerky gun. Nesco does not cut back on this dehydrator’s quality by including the Opaque Vita-save exterior keeping nutrients and vitamins in by keeping light out. All the parts are dishwasher safe making for easy cleaning.
#5 NutriChef Kitchen Electric Countertop Food Dehydrator
Best Food Dehydrator for Ease of Use $
NutriChef retains up to 97% of the food’s nutritional value. Simply take it from the package, insert the food you wish to dehydrate and push the button to get started. It comes with 5 trays. Extra trays can be purchased and a total of 20 trays can be used at one time. Each tray can be stacked at 6 different heights as needed.
There are so many amazing food dehydrators and variations we felt it was necessary to include the 5 “runners up”:
- Nesco FD-60 Snackmaster Express 4-Tray Food Dehydrator
- Nesco FD-80A Square-Shaped Dehydrator Amazon Frustration-Free Packaging
- Gourmia GFD1650 Premium Countertop Food Dehydrator, With 6 Drying Shelves, Digital Thermostat, 8 Preset Temperature Settings, Airflow Circulation, Countdown Timer – White
- STX International STX-DEH-600W-SST Dehydra 10 Tray Food and Jerky Dehydrator with 40 Hour Timer, 600W, Stainless Steel
- NutriChef 3-in-1 Food Dehydrator & Steamer Cooker – Electric Kitchen Dehydrator – Jerky Maker – Dried Fruits -Steam Rice Black Color (PKFDSRC11BK)
Dehydrator Buyers Guide
While you can still go the traditional route and dry your food outdoors, modern technology has reduced the time and made food dehydration much more reliable through electric food dehydrators. In reviewing food dehydrators we suggest the following criteria:
Size / Space – with so many varieties of food dehydrators on the market you don’t need to compromise and buy a machine that is much larger than you can comfortably accommodate. There are many smaller machines that perform as well as the large high volume machines on the market. You need to also consider how much food you want to dehydrate at a given time. If you have a large garden you may need a much larger dehydrator to dry your harvest at its peak.
Modifiability – This is very similar to size but also different. What we are referring to firstly is are you able to remove racks or increase space between stackables to accommodate larger pieces of food. Some food will require more air circulation so it will need more space. Most stackable models do not allow for trays to change depth but there are a few out there that have different depths.
Circulation of Heat – The manner that stackable dehydrators are designed with a heat source and fan either at the top or bottom, if you add several stacks you may find you need to rotate the trays frequently to prevent over dehydration almost cooking of food on trays closest to the heating source. If you have large quantities of food to dehydrate, the larger box dehydrators might be the more sensible option. They will need less attention while dehydrating because they have fans that circulate the air consistently throughout the unit.
Material – Electric dehydrators are made of plastic or metal. The FDA has regulated that the plastic used must be without BFA. Due to health concerns, people may prefer to have a metal dehydrator. Metal will also have a much longer lifespan than plastic.
Fans – Air must circulate to remove the moisture from food. Fans are one of the most important features in an electric food dehydrator. We strongly suggest not purchasing an electric food processor that does not have a fan.
Noise – Noise naturally is the next thing to consider after discussing fans. Some machines do produce a good amount of noise. Others are a gentle soft whir. Consider where the machine will be used and if the noise level is an issue. It may not be an issue if you are using it far away from living or sleeping quarters.
Temperature Control – While we spoke about the circulation of heat earlier it is also just as important to be able to adjust the heat that food is dehydrated at. Meats and thicker, moister food will need higher heat to dry. Some foods are sensitive to heat due to oils and need much lower heat. Consider the variety of food you will dehydrate. If you are just dehydrating one type of food or are going to just dehydrate flowers or nuts, a couple of settings may be appropriate.
Cleaning – While everyone wishes they would just automatically clean themselves or elves would come in and clean, it is necessary to examine how easy your food dehydrator will be to clean. Many of the stackable dehydrators have dishwasher safe trays making clean-up much easier than large boxy dehydrators that may not even fit in an ordinary kitchen sink.
Timer – While the timer is more related to monitoring you instead of the moisture of the food, it is very important to the result. Some dehydrators have the ability to be set to work for more than a day; some just a few hours and others may not have a timer at all.
For every different intended use, there is a great food dehydrator out there. Do not settle for a machine that does not do everything you need or does way more than you need. You can find machines at all price points, sizes, and adjustability. Make sure that you first evaluate your need, do your research and compare and contrast 3 or 4 different machines to make sure you are ending up with the one you will use on a frequent basis. Food dehydrators can keep you on track to healthier eating, allow you to enjoy your rewards from months of labor in your garden, create treats for your pets and children, and save your colorful, beautiful, fragrant flowers from your garden.