Dried fruit seems pretty pricey for what it is (literally fruit sans water). It’s understandable – there’s labour and machinery involved in drying fruit. Drying food also takes a lot of water weight out, so you’ll end up paying for more fruit when you buy 100g of dried mangoes, compared to 100g of fresh mangoes.
But if you’re a sucker for fancy dried fruit, you probably don’t want to keep shelling out RM10 for a single-serving snack. Luckily, dehydrating your own food is a more cost-effective way to get your fix. Here’s how.
What can you dehydrate?
Dehydration removes all that pesky water from food. This hinders the growth of microorganisms, allowing food to last longer. It’s one of the oldest forms of food preservation. Almost anything can be dehydrated:
- Fruits: fruit can be dried and made into chips, vegan jerky, fruit rolls, mixed into snack mixes and more.
- Vegetables: bought a batch of discounted veggies? Dehydrate them for later and use them in soups and stews.
- Meat: store-bought jerky is expensive, but you can make your own chicken/beef/pork/etc. jerky with minimal fuss.
- Herbs: if you have more than you need, dry your herbs for future use. Store them as they are, or turn them into powder.
As you can see, you’ve got quite a few options. Heck, some people have even dehydrated yoghurt, kombucha scoby and liver. But for the purposes of this article, I decided to hold off on the organ meat and start with a few common Malaysian fruits.
How do you dehydrate fruit with a dehydrator?
You could go the traditional route by sun drying them, or using your oven. But using a dehydrator is generally the most convenient way. Sun drying requires some outdoor space, decent weather and some cheesecloth to ward off birds, insects and nosy neighbours. You can also use your oven, but a dehydrator is more cost-efficient (dehydrating can take hours) and can operate on lower temperatures.
Once you have your dehydrator ready, just follow these steps:
- Wash your fruit
Give them a wash or a scrub. Citruses like limes or lemons can be a pain, as you’ll need to scrub each of them under running water.
Experts advise washing your produce even if you don’t plan to eat the skin, as bacteria can be transferred from the knife to the flesh of your fruit. But we’ll leave this up to you – we aren’t going to ask you to wash your bananas.
- Dice ‘em or slice ‘em
You can dice or slice your fruits into half or quarter-inch pieces. Thinner slices will dehydrate faster, but try not to slice them too finely. This can result in paper-thin dried fruit that isn’t very fun to chew on. I learned this the hard way. An exception to this are citruses – since you (presumably) won’t be eating them on its own, it’s alright slice them as thinly as you can.
- Pretreat to prevent browning (optional)
Thanks to oxidation, light-coloured fruits like bananas or limes can darken when dehydrated. To prevent darkening, you can pretreat the fruit pieces by blanching them, or spraying/soaking them in ascorbic acid or citric acid. Then, you’ll have to wait for them to dry completely.
If you lack patience, as I do, you can skip this step. Your dried fruit will still be tasty, but some people might be put off by the colour.
- Place in the dehydrator racks
Arrange your fruit pieces on the racks. You can place them snugly next to each other, but avoid overlapping, as this causes uneven drying and could make them stick together.
If you’re dehydrating multiple fruits at once, arrange each of them on a different rack, as they may have different drying times.
- Set your temperature
I started at 60°C, then lowered to 45°C to 55°C when the surface moisture had evaporated, as I was afraid a higher temperature would harden the exterior. You could also check your dehydrator’s manual for recommendations. With experience, you could experiment with different temperatures and adjust accordingly to your preference.
- Wait until dry
All that’s left is to wait. American food blogs generally suggest a few hours of drying, but in my experience, it could take as long as one to two days – perhaps due to our Malaysian humidity. Keep checking your fruit (with clean hands) to see if they’ve completely dried – you can tell if they easily snap, or if there’s little squishiness when you press them. Then, wait to cool before storing.
Using this method, I experimented with five Malaysian fruits:
Experiment 1: mangoes
I sliced these as thinly as I could, which resulted in smooth, paper-thin dried mango. Tasty, but not much mouthfeel. Slicing these into bigger chunks would have made pretty good snacks.
Experiment 2: pineapples
Having learned from my mango experiment, I sliced these into thick chunks (about half an inch). They dried beautifully, turning golden-brown without losing their bright yellow hue.
Just one problem – I don’t like pineapples. They’re too sour, and they make my mouth pucker and they make a baffling pizza topping. But in the spirit of culinary research, I put aside my personal biases and nibbled cautiously. I’m glad I did. When you dry fruits, flavours become more intense. These dried pineapple chunks were intensely sweet and sour, but I surprisingly found them palatable – and yes, even good. The insides were dark brown and gummy, a little like pineapple jam, and so very good.
Experiment 3: jackfruit
I cut these into quarter-inch strips, which became tough and stringy when eventually dried. Not too fun to eat. Slicing them into bigger pieces may make better snacks, but I don’t think I’ll give this another try. I’d rather have fresh jackfruit.
Experiment 4: bananas
I tried a few variations, ranging from half-inch slices to as-thin-as-I-could. The thicker pieces made great, chewy snacks. I loved them so much I immediately made a second batch. This time I sliced them lengthwise, jerky style. These were just as good, but a little hard to eat as they stuck to the teeth.
Experiment 5: limes
A bit more prep is involved when dehydrating citruses, as you’ll have to scrub each fruit individually. But it’s worth the effort – the dried lime wheels were great in soups, for flavouring water and as cocktail garnishes. They also make nice homemade gifts.
Well, was it worth it?
The great thing about dried fruits is that there are many other ways you can use them, rather than just eating them on their own. You can use them in cooking, or as garnishes in dishes or drinks. You could mix them in breakfast cereals or oats.
Personally, I really liked popping them into a bottle of water. I’ve always found the idea of putting fruit in water very decadent, but it does taste very good. And anyway, this bougie water is cheaper (and healthier) than store-bought fruit juices or soda water. A friend I had given some dried limes to said:
“Very good. Tart and lemony but with a hint of sugar. Love it. I’m into cold, flavoured water now. 😄”
Now that my little experiments are over though, I probably won’t be taking my dehydrator out regularly, unless I get a hankering for more dried pineapple or bananas, or if I find a batch of discounted fruits at the supermarket.
But if you like dried fruit – whether on its own or as part of other culinary creations – making your own can be a worthy investment of time and money.