Food Dehydrator Features To Look For
Horizontal Versus Vertical Airflow
One of the most basic distinctions in the types of food dehydrator that are available today is the difference in the direction of airflow. Vertical airflow units use a system of fans, or a single fan, to move air up and down through tray (or trays) of the unit. In horizontal airflow units, the air is sourced from behind the trays and pushes air forward, evenly across the trays. The big tradeoff between the two styles is that vertical tends to be less expensive but takes more effort, while vertical units are often pricier but deliver more even dehydration. Consider level of effort/time you have to put into the dehydration process compared to how much you are willing to invest.
Food dehydrators can be an excellent way to keep fruits, vegetables, and meats on hand without relying on unhealthy preservatives. When it comes to selecting which food dehydrator to use, consider how versatile it needs to be to suit your needs. Not all dehydrators can handle meats or pastes, which means if you want to make jerky or fruit leather (roll-up style snacks), it is important to make sure the model you are considering has the capacity/accessories to handle these types of food.
Food dehydrators come in a variety of sizes, come are small and designed for small batches, while others come in a much larger, but still counter-space sized, configuration. There are even models that are designed to be adjustable between the number of drying trays it has. Consider how much, or how often you plan to be dehydrating food. Many people who are just getting into the practice tend to opt for either a smaller or adjustable sized unit. Keep in mid though, the more trays being stacked onto a unit, the more work it may require to rotate them during the process for even results.
Similar to considering the size of the food dehydrator, the shape is something to keep in mind. For countertop models, which most are considered, there are typically three basic shapes that they come in; square, rectangle, and circular. If you plan on adding it to your arrangement of countertop appliances, take a moment to think of how it will look with the rest of your décor. A rather common remark among reviews is that a unit worked great, but did not fit in with the rest of the appliances in terms of appearance.
Apart from how a food dehydrator looks in terms of shape and size, the amount of noise it produces is an important factor to consider. In essence, food dehydrators use one or more fans that move heated air through the food to draw the moisture out. The process is by no means quick and as a result, some models will produce a fair amount of ambient noise while it is working. If you will around the kitchen, or workspace where it is set up, and are bothered by the noise, consider models that have either very quiet ratings, or that have a muted “night time” mode that is designed to keep the machine running more quietly for a long period of time.
There are typical two versions of thermostats you will find on food dehydrators; preset (low, medium, high) and the fully adjustable kind. Depending entirely on personal preference and level of experience with dehydrating foods, some people find that the presets are easier for beginners, or casual users, and that fully adjustable are best for experienced, or regular users. Consider what suits your preference and intended usage habits when selecting between models with adjustable and preset thermostats.
Best Food Dehydrator Brands
Excalibur has been a leader in the food dehydrator business for over four decades. Their excellence is based on the principle of quality over quantity. Food dehydrators and related accessories is all that they sell. The basic model for most of their dehydrators is a box style with horizontal airflow and a variety of optional features, such as timers, stainless steel construction, a variety of colors, and number of trays. They have more recently ventured into making a round stackable with vertical airflow, but their more popular models continue to be their five and 10 tray box models. On average, they tend to be one of the more expensive brand of dehydrators, but then they also cater to industrial dehydration needs as well as personal.
While not as dedicated to dehydrators as some distributors, L’Equip’s general company philosophy regarding healthy living sums up why they include a small selection of dehydrators. In all, L’Equip sells three models; the 524 and 528 (which are basically the same machine with the biggest difference being size) and the FilterPro (unique airflow system the includes filtration for the air). Despite the very concise selection, the L’Equip FilterPro is often featured on top ten lists because it is packed with features and is available for a fairly competitive price, considering it is such a high quality unit.
Nesco has been a name in many home kitchens for over three decades. They sell a wide selection of products, including an assortment of eleven different food dehydrators. Their products range in size and price, but they all are stackable style machines. This does not mean they only sell vertical airflow systems, some actually use a unique system that incorporates horizontal flow as well. Regardless of the debate between which style of airflow is better, Nesco machines are very popular for those just getting into dehydrating their own foods.
Another company that is known for its wide range of general kitchen products, the Waring Pro Dehydrator is the only model of dehydrator produced by them. Their aim is to provide a basic, but high quality, food dehydrator that is reasonably priced and easy to use. According to many customer reviews, they more of less achieved the goal they were after.
As a company, Presto has been around since 1905, but they did not begin making kitchen wares until the 1940s. However, since that time, they have come to be a fairly widespread and well received company when it comes to producing quality and cost effective products. They sell a small selection of dehydrators that are based on the same designs, with slight variances in capacity or extra features. Overall, they known for their fair quality and easily affordable products.
Arguably the company that set the standard format for late night and weekend infomercials, Ronco is another company that has a wide range of well known products. When it comes to their food dehydrators, they only sell three models and accessories for them. Of particular popularity and interest is their Beef Jerky Machine, which is specially designed more for making jerky than general use. Another point to note regarding Ronco is that their dehydrators are some of the lowest priced available that still rate very well among consumers.
Features of Professional & Commercial Food Dehydrators
While most dehydrators use a heating element and fan, convection units use the simple property of hot air rising to evenly dehydrate the food through its layers. One of the biggest perks to convection units is that they are lot quieter than other dehydrators. Additionally, the fact that they do not use a fan means they do not have to pull in outside air, limiting the potential for debris or contaminants being drawn in.
Glass Or See-through Doors
While it does not have to be the door per say, some form of panel that allows you to monitor the progress of the food visually is considered a standard for commercial quality dehydrators. When shopping for a professional quality food dehydrator, look for a model that includes the capacity to watch or check the progress of the contents without needing to stop the process and open the machine.
In addition to a see-through feature, an interior light is considered a mark of a high quality food dehydrator. Surprisingly, not all models that feature glass doors or panels that allow visualization do not always have internal lighting. Being able to not only visualize the food, but being able to do so clearly, is something to consider when looking for a food dehydrator.
While many models have basic knobs and buttons, many professional quality dehydrators use full, or mostly digital control panels. These offer the option to truly fine tune the temperature at which the food is being dehydrated. They also offer the ability to monitor different factors like internal temperature for each tray and humidity level. For a truly commercial quality unit, look for one with digital controls and monitoring.
When it comes to dehydrating foods and herbs, there are three basic options available. You can use the sun and natural elements, you can use an oven, or you can use a professional dehydrator. Each tends to have varying levels of power consumption, with dehydrators being the middle; they use up less than an oven, but more than the all natural method. Though they do have the perk of being a lot more hygienic than just hanging items in the elements. Professional units will take anywhere from 12 to 24 hours to completely dehydrate its contents. When considering a dehydrator, consider how much power it will consume during a cycle.
When it comes to using a food dehydrator, most people will agree, taking notes is one of the most important steps towards getting the most out of a particular unit. As you experiment with different foods, you may find that the included guide that most high quality or professional units comes with is not always 100% accurate. Keeping a record of how different foods turn out and adjustments you made can help you get the most out of your food dehydrator.
It is extremely important to take note of how thickly items are sliced or prepared. To get a truly even dehydration, not only do items need to be as uniform as possible, they need to be no thicker than recommended by the manufacturer. If they model does not recommend items be more than three-quarters inch thick, and you put in one to one & one-half inch thick pieces, you can expect it to take a good bit longer to completely dehydrate, or you will get severely uneven results. Keep in mind that the suggested thickness limits are given to ensure the best quality result possible.
Fruit Leather Trays Are Better
Some manufacturers suggest that you can use plastic wrap or wax paper to produce fruit leather on any type of tray. The truth is this is not a universal fact when it comes to dehydrators. It is best to use actual tray insets that are designed for your unit to make fruit leather preparations. They tend to produce the best results when comparing methods. Consider how much you will be using your dehydrator to make these types of snacks, and be sure your model comes with them, or has them as an available option.
Cool Food Before Storing
One purpose behind dehydrating foods is to help extend their shelf life. If you do not let foods cool entirely before storing them, you run the risk of being counterproductive. Hot or warm foods can lead to condensation inside containers, which can lead to mold. Consider using a cooling rack or units designed to facilitate the cooling process. An example would be be stacking units that fully pull apart and act as cooling trays as well.
Fats Can Be An Issue
For those who intend to make jerky in a food dehydrator, keep in mind you need ultra lean cuts. Fat does not dehydrate well inside meats and can lead to foods that go rancid. This can happen during storage, or during the dehydration process. While not all guides will inform you of this, it is important to keep in mind when considering a dehydrator for making jerky.
Flavors Can Bleed
When considering the different airflow styles for dehydrators, consider this fact; flavors tend to bleed over more in vertical airflow chambers. While some people actually find this can produce interesting and desirable results, others may not. Some examples of desired bleeding includes using a vertical airflow dehydrator to make apple crisps with hints of berry or citrus flavoring. Less desirable results occur when meat and fruits are dehydrated in the same batch. Think about what you want to use your dehydrator for and if flavor bleeding is something you’d want. To avoid this, opt for a horizontal airflow model.