If you've never seen a dehydrator, don't know what one is, or have one but don't know how to use it then this article is for you.
Now that we're into autumn it's time to dust yours down (or get it out the loft!) and start getting creative with it, so that you can make the most of this really-rather-useful machine. Here follows a mini-teach in, which will take you from scratch if you've never seen or heard of one before, or remind you of a few key things if you own, or have used one in the past.
What is a dehydrator?
A dehydrator is typically an oven-shaped piece of equipment (although you can get round ones), usually powered by electricity, that gently dry food out - as opposed to cooking it - resulting in a crunchier and crispier version of the food than what went in. i.e. It keeps the food “live” but the food tastes cooked.
How does it work?
There are currently two different methods of drying employed by the models on the market today. The first, and most popular, is the fan method, where warm air is generated within the machine and the fan at the rear distributes it evenly throughout the unit - this is the most effective. The second method uses a heating element, usually located at the base of the unit, which relies on the heat rising up through the trays to reach the top, drying each tray as it goes. Perhaps you can already see that the potential problem with this is that the lower trays dry more quickly than the top ones, so you need to rotate them!
Raw fooders who are conscious of the need to preserve enzymes (which is essentially what a live food diet is all about) don't set the thermostat above 125 degrees F. Although enzymes are killed at 118 degrees F, the temperature of the food on the inside is always less than the temperature on the outside, so it's really not an issue. Far better to have it set slightly high and it dry more quickly than set it too low and have the food ferment!
When should I buy one?
When you feel like you've eaten just one salad too many! ... OR ... when you really fancy something crunchy and crispy and nuts and seeds just don't hit the spot anymore ... OR ... when you've spotted a raw recipe that you long to make but a dehydrator is required to make it - like my amazing raw pizza for example! ... OR ... when the cold weather hits and you want something more comforting and moreish than what's gone before.
But before you buy, of course you need to be sure that this is not a fad or a whim purchase. Investing in a dehydrator should ideally be a statement to yourself that you are taking a raw food lifestyle seriously (or at least to another level) and to be clear and happy that this is an investment in you and your health rather than yet another gadget that will get relegated to the garage or attic! You'll know when the time feels right...
Who should I consult when purchasing?
Choose a retailer who really knows what they are talking about and has a non-biased opinion. If you've already had a peruse of the dehydrators available for sale today, you may have noticed that although there are now a few models to choose from. My long-term favourite is the Excalibur (pictured). This is for good reason. It's not that the other machines don't do the job, but in my opinion they simply don't do it as well, and most people regret choosing a cheaper option very soon after buying. So I stick with what I know to be the best in the world, the Excalibur models, which come in 5 tray or 9 tray options. Simple!
Also note that no other make comes with the special sheets that prevent the food from sticking to the trays. The Excalibur has these sheets specially made for them (previously known as Teflex, now known as Paraflexx) and while they do not come as standard and are an optional purchase, I highly recommend them as they are super-easy to clean and last for years - otherwise you'll be using copious amounts of greaseproof paper for the rest of your days!
One final word of advice: Many people make the mistake of opting for the cheaper version, even within the Excalibur range, purely for budget reasons. I did this myself. When I first started I bought a 5 tray Excalibur rather than a 9 tray because of the price difference and because I thought, "well, it's just me using it".
The problem with this is that we all generally tend to make our food in batches, so what happens is we load up our 5 tray to the max only to find that we're now stuck for the next 24+ hours waiting for that batch to dry before we can make any more recipes! Very frustrating. So best to just bite the bullet up front and buy the 9 tray, and I promise you won't regret it...
Next week - the exciting bit - how to get started with it and how to diversify and experiment as your confidence increases.
© 2011 Karen Knowler WOULD YOU LIKE TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR ON YOUR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Karen Knowler, The Raw Food Coach publishes "Successfully Raw" - a free weekly eZine for raw food lovers everywhere. If you're ready to look good, feel great and create a raw life you love get your FREE tips, tools and recipes now at www.TheRawFoodCoach.com.