Modern day humans have so many items it is seldom possible to know how everything works. We go about our lives every day using items that we generally think we understand, but in actuality have no real idea of the inner science or mechanics of these items. For example, a prepper usually enjoys the idea of having dehydrated fruits and vegetables and some dried meat for an emergency situation.
But does the average prepper know how the processes of dehydrating or drying food work? How they differ from one another? Both these questions deserve to be looked into deeper because both of these items have pros and cons to them. Knowing what might better suit your needs usually helps in the long run.
What is Dehydration in relation to preserving?
Dehydrating is done by removing water from a food item in a specific manner to lengthen the time of preservation than normal refrigeration. This is usually substantial because the average amount of time food can be stored in a refrigerator (30-40 degrees ) is about 5 days, due to bacteria growth. However, when correctly removing the moisture from a food item, it is possible to "starve out" the microbes that would naturally break down the food item. This is why dehydration is highly sought after by survivalists and preppers alike, as it can lengthen the time of storage to 8-10 years when stored at 70 degrees!
Science behind Dehydration
Dehydration is the process in which an item is completely drained of its hydration, meaning the removal of all water. It is actually easy to dehydrate items with little issue. You can use ovens and even a microwave. User be warned though, this is not recommended as it will not achieve a perfect level of dehydration and equilibrium for the food item. In fact, incorrectly dehydrating your food can lead to spoilage on the inside, while the outside becomes hard as a rock. Instead, it is much safer to use a machine or buy the product from a manufacturer who specializes in creating this kind of food.
However, you're here to understand the specific science behind creating dehydrated foods, which is actually not that complicated. Dehydrating food can be done with high temperatures and just the right type of air current. When dehydrating meat, temperatures should be at 140-150 degrees Fahrenheit. While, fruits, herbs, and vegetables can be dehydrated at 130-140 degrees Fahrenheit.
Depending on how you are dehydrating these items, the time can vary greatly. But generally, it is around 6-8 hours. It should also be said that items that are not correctly turned over might not fully reach an acceptable level of dehydration. The rule of thumb is, the closer to brown and smaller you go, the better dehydrated the item is.
Pros of Dehydration
- No chemicals or artificial preservatives
- Very cost effective
- Reduced weight, potentially losing 50% of the original weight
- Can save nearly spoiled food
- Minimal Nutritional loss
- High in calories
- High in sodium
- Lasts years
Cons of Dehydration
- High in calories (Could also be considered a pro)
- High in sodium (Could also be considered a pro)
- High in sugar
- Loss of fresh flavor
- Could be costly if not done smartly
- May require specific equipment
What is Drying in relation to preserving?
Potentially even older than dehydrating, is the method of drying fruits, vegetables, and meats. This process is well known and highly integrated into many cultures. In the past, some cultures hunkered down for the winter, there would be a flurry of preparing supplies and resources, as to not starve. Drying would be an almost exclusive part of this preparation, the drying of fruits, vegetables, and various meats. This was done by exposing meat and other food items to the sun on flat rocks and wooden racks. Some cultures even created "Still Houses" in which items were cooked by an open flame and smoked until they were "dried".
Science behind Drying
The science behind drying is simple enough, just about anyone can correctly dry food in no time. Anyone can take portions of a food item, put them on a tray and have the wind and the sun naturally dry out the item. Reaching 130-150 degrees is the ideal temperature, and with some wind to help the process along. It is very similar to dehydrating however it is not as precise.
This means this item will not last as long as the same item if dehydrated. It is easier to replicate dehydrating, as a simple rock can be the perfect tray. However, if not turned over and constantly watched, it is still possible to have the same issue of hardening and potential spoiling.
Pros of Drying
- Lasts for months
- Capable of adding extra flavor and variety in food
- Easier to dry items
- Many ways to dry with little issue
- Reduced size
- Reduced weight
Cons of Drying
- Time consuming
- Has the possibility of developing scorched flavor
- Loss of certain vitamins and minerals, including vitamins B and C
- When using the sun, exposure to the elements can present a problem
- Requires constant supervision for a long period of time
Differences Between The Two
The difference between these two methods of preservation is distinct but easy to miss. Dehydrating food is done by removing all of the moisture found within the food item and the process is often done with specific equipment. Drying food is removing water in a more traditional way, by means of using the sun to evenly dry the food items, removing as much water as possible.
Dehydrated foods last much longer than dried foods, due to the near complete or completely depleted water content, the food tends to ward off potential microbes and bacteria for longer periods of time. Dried food only lasts a fraction of time stored in optimal settings, as there is still enough water to allow for the growth of microbes at a faster rate.
When trying to correctly prep yourself for whatever might be coming, having food that lasts is incredibly imperative. Which means you will have to plan according to many factors, including where you live and how you can procure a more stable food source. For those needing to survive the long haul and have essentials stored away due to living in a cold rural area, dehydration is for you. While those who live in a much sunnier climate, and living near a grassland can make do with just drying. Personally, I enjoy the idea of a balance between the two, some dehydrated items for the long haul and some dried items for the foreseeable future.