If you’re a homesteader, preserving food is an absolutely essential skill. If you want to live a sustainable, low-cost lifestyle, you need to be able to optimize the foods you grow, harvest, hunt, forage or buy, so you have a healthy, low-cost supply on hand during cold weather, or during tough times when food is not so plentiful.
While freezing and canning are popular options, another excellent way to preserve foods for the long haul is with a dehydrator.
A food dehydrator is an appliance that dries food items by removing the moisture from them. There are several different types of dehydrators available, and they vary in price as well as speed and food batch capacity.
In most cases, dehydrating foods, such as meat or pieces of fruit, enables them to be stored for long periods of time at room temperature. If you are concerned about your access to the power grid, or plan to travel for long periods of time, then dehydrating food items is a good choice for food preservation.
Dehydrated foods preserve the majority of their vitamins, minerals and calories after being preserved; they also shrink in size in most cases after being run through the dehydrator, making them easier to store or to carry.
Most foods, including meats, fruits and even eggs can be preserved through the dehydration process, too, so owning a dehydrator gives you a great deal of food preservation options.
Finally, dehydrating commonly available food items is much more economical than purchasing these types of foods at the supermarket or gas station as well.
So, if you have a dehydrator right now or plan to purchase one soon, you can really put it to work on your homestead preserving food. Here are 40 great foods you can make in your dehydrator.
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Fruits are a great option to dehydrate. Dehydrating common fruits, like apples or apricots, often concentrates their sugars and flavors even as the fruit becomes more compact and easier to store or carry. You should definitely try dehydrating these fruits in your dehydrator.
Apples make a tasty snack for lunches, hiking, or hunting trips, and they are loaded with calories and flavor to tide you over. You will want to peel, core and slice your apples prior to dehydrating them.
Here is a great video that illustrates exactly how to dehydrate apples, which is similar to many of the other dehydrated fruit options mentioned in this article:
Dehydrated apricots are popular snacks for sale in stores and supermarkets, where they are a bit expensive. So, why pay top dollar for a snack that you can make on your own for just pennies on the dollar?
Apricots have a pit, so you’ll want to remove it prior to dehydrating, either by halving your apricots or cutting them into slices.
Strawberries are a great option for dehydration. Most strawberry plants only produce berries for a short period of time, and they are very perishable.
It is not unusual for strawberries to spoil in your refrigerator before you have a chance to eat them, so dehydrating them is a great way to ensure they do not go to waste. Simply remove the berries’ green tops, slice them up, and they will be ready for dehydration.
Dried kiwi slices are absolutely delicious; like many other fruits, dehydrating kiwis really concentrates their flavor. This is another common, low cost fruit that is easy to preserve in a dehydrator.
Simply peel and slice a tray full of tasty kiwis, and you’ll have several bags of dried fruit you can enjoy for the next several weeks!
Figs are another type of dried food you’ll find in roadside convenience stores and supermarkets, and in open air markets in many parts of the world.
People are increasingly growing fig trees of their own in the United States these days, too. Figs are especially tasty after dehydration, and it is one of the most common way this fruit is consumed.
While they do take a little more prep work than some other fruits, if you have easy access to figs you’ll definitely want to dehydrate them if you have the chance.
Pineapple is another great candidate for the dehydrator. Dehydrated pineapple slices are great to snack on, mix well with other dried fruits and nuts, and are tasty toppings to your favorite cereal when you cut them up.
You can get a great deal of dried fruit treats from a single pineapple, too, so try dehydrating some when you have an opportunity.
Cherries are another fruit that tastes great when they are dried and can be stored for a long time in your pantry as well. If you have an orchard nearby or a cherry tree of your own, you can dry large quantities of cherries whenever they are in season.
These tiny fruits can be pitted prior to dehydrating, or you can remove the pits after they have been dried out.
Dehydrated orange rinds are increasingly used as seasonings to zest up a meal. They are often called for in a wide range of recipes and are even ground up to make a delicious herbal tea.
Instead of tossing your used-up orange peels in the compost pile or trash, you should definitely consider preserving them in your dehydrator. Dried orange rinds are easy to prepare, and once you’ve mastered making these tasty tidbits, you’ll be able to prepare other citrus peels in the same manner as well.
Grapes or Cranberries
Raisins or dried cranberries are one of the most popular school lunch snacks out there, and if you have a dehydrator, you can make large batches of them whenever you’d like.
Forests and roadsides are loaded with wild grapes in some parts of the country, like the Northeast, and dehydrating these grapes into raisins is a great option for preserving them.
Additionally, cranberries are often heavily discounted right after Thanksgiving, so that is a great time to buy bags of them to dehydrate as well.
Banana chips are another popular snack you find in convenience stores and gas stations that are really easy to make on your own. They are dried to a harder consistency than many of the other fruits noted here and are great mixed in with nuts and other dried fruits for a tasty trail mix.
You can learn how you can make these delicious snacks by watching this informative video:
Fruit leather is essentially a fruit puree that is dried up into a thin, easily stored snack food; think of the popular fruit rollups commonly used as snack foods in school lunches.
Since they are made out of puree, fruit leather can help you optimize every part of the fruits you harvest. Here are a few fruit leather recipes you can try in your dehydrator, although the options and combinations available for this type of snack are virtually unlimited.
Strawberry Fruit Leather
All-natural strawberry fruit leather is a healthy delicious snack, and it is really easy to make. Here is a video that shows you exactly what you have to do to prepare this great snack:
Blueberry Fruit Leather
If you grow blueberries or have easy access to them, you should definitely make this fruit leather. Blueberry fruit leather is easy to make, tastes great, and with its bright blue color your kids are sure to love it in their lunches, too, too.
Pumpkin Apple Fruit Leather
In the fall, when pumpkins and apples are both prevalent in fields, orchards and fruit stands, you should take the time to make some delicious pumpkin apple fruit leather.
This dehydrated snack, a mixture of pumpkin and apple purees and a few spices, such as cinnamon and pumpkin pie spice, is the perfect snack to tuck into your fleece pocket before a nice autumn hike.
Just follow this recipe to get your puree ready, and then dry in in your dehydrator just like any other fruit leather.
There is practically no limit to the fruit leathers you can make in your dehydrator. If you have fruit left over after making jams or preserves, a dessert or some other recipe, put it to good use by drying it into a tasty fruit leather snack!
Vegetables are fine candidates for the dehydrator as well. Drying out the vegetables you harvest, buy or forage is a great way to preserve them for use later on.
Veggies often take a little more prep work for drying out than fruit does, but it is still quite easy to preserve them in this fashion. So, if you are ready to give it a try, here are some great vegetables you can dry in your dehydrator as soon as you have them on hand.
Asparagus are an easy vegetable to grow and one of the most commonly foraged plant in some part of the United States. However, they are an acquired taste, and not everyone enjoys eating them.
If the finicky eaters in your household often leave asparagus on their plate untouched, perhaps you should consider dehydrating these tasty spears! Here is a great video showing you exactly how to dehydrate your asparagus:
Other than dipping the roasted leaves in butter or eating the hearts in salad, most of us don’t vary the way we prepare and consume artichokes all that much.
If you grow artichokes or can get them from your coop or local grocery store, they are great vegetables to prepare in your dehydrator. So if you want to try something different, here is a great recipe for drying artichokes.
If you grow beans, you’ll often have more of them on hand than you can eat, sell and trade in one setting; instead of letting them go to waste, or bore your family by preparing them the same way every single time, you should definitely try drying them out! Here is a great video that shows you exactly how to dehydrate beans:
Sliced carrots are a great and healthy snack, and you probably pack them in your kids’ (or your own) lunches each week. If you would like to try something a little different, carrots are also a great candidate for drying as well.
Here is a great step-by-step video you can watch to learn how to dry carrots in your dehydrator:
Every homesteader should learn how to dry their own garlic, especially if they grow their own or otherwise have easy access to garlic from time to time.
It is a great way to store the garlic you grow or buy in the supermarket; dried garlic is also an essential ingredient, either whole or ground into powder for many common recipes. Homemade garlic powder is a great item to consider selling at farmers markets and county fairs, too.
Onions are a great candidate for the dehydrator. They make tasty additions to soups and salads and can also be ground into powder as well. They are also quite simple to dry in your dehydrator, requiring little more than to be peeled and sliced.
You may want to dry them in your garage or barn, however, since the smell of dehydrating onions can be overpowering!
If you grow chives or can forage them from your back yard, they are also a great vegetable to dry in your dehydrator. Like many other thin veggies, they are easy to rehydrate whenever you need them. Dried chives also make delicious additions to many recipes as well.
There are many different types of peppers and they are great candidates for dehydrating! Colorful bell peppers, cut into strips with the seeds removed, make great snacks after being dried out.
Spicy peppers are often dried whole and then used as seasonings or ingredients for sauces and many recipes.
If you’d like to see how to make your own dried bell pepper slices, check out this video:
If you grow smaller peppers, such as spicy chilis, here is how you can dry them as well:
Even if you don’t grow your own broccoli, it is one of the most commonly available vegetables in every supermarket and relatively inexpensive as well. You can also dehydrate broccoli that you buy to make a terrific homemade snack.
Everyone loves potato chips; they are one of the most popular snack foods around. If you have a dehydrator, you can make a similar snack out of the potatoes you grow or buy at your local supermarket. They are easy to buy in bulk, and a few potatoes go a long way in a dehydrator.
Beets are commonly preserved as delicious pickles, but they are really tasty if you dehydrate them as well. Dried beets are also used to make beet powder, too, which is popular in many recipes and as an herbal remedy as well.
Beets may take a little bit more preparation than other vegetables when it comes to drying them out, but like potatoes, a few sliced beets go a long way in a food dehydrator.
Zucchinis (or Cucumbers)
In mid-summer, many homesteaders and gardeners have more zucchini and cucumbers than they know what to do with, a great problem to have. If you can’t eat, pickle or give these delicious vegetables away fast enough, you should consider slicing them up and dehydrating them.
Dried zucchinis and cucumbers are easy to make and take little to no preparation time. Once the summer is underway and your squash plants start producing, you can enjoy these tasty treats into the fall and beyond.
If you’re not already making dried tomatoes, you are really missing out! Dried tomatoes are practically bursting with flavor and are truly delicious, and they are an essential part of many recipes as well.
Additionally, most homesteaders and gardeners grow tomatoes, and it is always good to think of new ways to preserve them.
So, the next time you’re wondering to do with that bowl of tomatoes you just picked, try drying them out. Here is a great video that shows how to dehydrate tomatoes:
Peas are also a great option for dehydrator preservation, since they so plentiful and cheap, require minimal preparation prior to drying and are simple to prepare.
It is easy to store dried peas in your pantry for months, then rehydrate them whenever you want them for dinner. Peas are also one of the best dried vegetable snacks out there, especially after you flavor them up a little bit with some spices!
If refrigerator or freezer space is an issue, dehydrating lettuce is a good option for preserving the harvest of this popular leafy vegetable.
Dried lettuce is easy to make and is another vegetable that can be rehydrated when you’re ready to consume it. The flakes are also great to feed to your small farm animals or pets as well.
If you grow herbs on your homestead, a dehydrator is a great way to preserve those herbs to have them available all year round. Dried herbs are a terrific choice to add as seasonings to your meals; they can also be ground into powders, many of which are called for in popular recipes.
Here is a great video which demonstrates how to dry leafy herbs like basil in your dehydrator:
Vegetable leathers are similar to fruit leathers, as they are made out of pureed mixtures of vegetables that are then dehydrated into a tasty thin film. They make great snacks to put into a lunch bag, or to carry in your pack or pocket when you are enjoying a long hike outdoors.
Here is a video describing a recipe for making tomato leather, which is a great vegetable leather to start off with:
Meats, Poultry and Fish
Your dehydrator is also a great way to preserve various meats, poultry and fish. When you dry meat in a dehydrator, the end result is typically called jerky.
Here are a few popular types of meats and other animal products you can preserve in your dehydrator.
Note: Prior to deciding on how to safely store the meat jerky you prepare, you should review the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s guidelines on jerky and food safety.
Standard beef jerky is easy to make. To get the best jerky, you’ll want to start with lean beef that has minimal marbling. Most recipes call for letting the beef soak in a marinade of brine and spices for 12-24 hours prior to dehydrating. You can alter the flavor of the jerky considerably by using different types of spices in the marinade.
Here is a great video which demonstrates how to make a standard and delicious beef jerky in your dehydrator:
Venison, the meat from a deer, is another great meat to preserve in a dehydrator, since it is very lean, can be a bit tough to chew and tends to have a gamy taste that turns some people off when cooking it normally.
Chicken jerky is another great dried meat that is perfect for carrying with you when you are out in the field and you want your pack as light as possible.
Like the other meats mentioned here, chicken jerky is also easy to make in your home dehydrator as well. If you have a large flock of chickens that you cull on a regular basis, making chicken jerky is a great option to preserve the meat.
Fish jerky is an acquired taste, but if you have a dehydrator you should try making it at some point to see if you like it. When making fish jerky, lean, white fish works out best. Fattier fish such as salmon can be dehydrated as well and are quite delicious, but they typically have a much shorter shelf life.
Other Foods to Dry in Your Dehydrator
There are other foods that are great to preserve in a dehydrator as well. Here are some that you should try out sooner or later.
Dried eggs, more commonly called powdered eggs, are delicious and a terrific way to preserve an important, high protein food for the long haul. We discussed how to make powdered eggs step by step here in a recent article HERE.
Perhaps we should have included them in the vegetable section, but nevertheless, mushrooms are a terrific food to preserve in the dehydrator as well.
There is nothing complicated about drying mushrooms; they are as simple to prepare as many typical vegetables. Dried mushrooms are fun to snack on and are also great in salads and many other recipes.
Another food that you can surprisingly make in your dehydrator is yogurt. If you’ve got dairy cows or goats on homestead, your dehydrator can help you turn their milk into a delicious, healthy, probiotic food.
It only takes a few short steps to make yogurt at home, and once you do, you may never buy it at the grocery store ever again!
Here is a video that discusses how to use a dehydrator to make your own yogurt:
Note: Yogurt made in your dehydrator is not a preserved food and will have to be consumed right away or refrigerated.
Cheese is another food that you can dry in your dehydrator as well. Drying cheese is simple to do and is a great idea for long term storage of this popular food item; alternatively, you could use your dehydrator to make powdered cheese, which is a great ingredient in many recipes as well.
If you have more milk than you can consume in one setting or sell at market, or you just want to preserve the milk you have now for leaner times, you can use your dehydrator to make powdered milk.
This classic food preservation technique enables you to preserve milk, a highly perishable food, and store it long-term at room temperature.
Here is a recent article that walks you through producing powdered milk step by step with a food dehydrator.
Most homesteaders use the bones leftover beef from meals to make broth for soups and stews. While you can freeze this soup stock for use later on, it takes up a lot of space in your freezer.
One way you can preserve your soup stock when space is at a premium is by drying it into bouillon. Bouillon is relatively easy to prepare, and will let you store your delicious soup stock on your pantry shelf or in a cabinet instead of your overpacked freezer.
If you make a great deal of chicken broth for soup, you use your dehydrator to turn that into bouillon as well.
A good dehydrator is relatively inexpensive and doesn’t take up too much space on a pantry shelf or tucked away somewhere on your countertop, so you should think about purchasing one for your homestead when you get the chance.
Having a dehydrator on hand will open up new options for preserving the foods that you harvest, hunt, forage or buy, and help ensure that your pantry is well-stocked year-round.
You’ll also be able to try making the 40 delicious dehydrated food recipes detailed here, or experiment with some of your own as well.
When Tom Harkins is not busy doing emergency repairs to his 200 year-old New England home, he tries to send all of his time gardening, home brewing, foraging, and taking care of his ever-growing flock of chickens, turkey and geese.