Falling In Love With My Food Dehydrator

May 22, 2012 in Categories: by

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I never really understood the lure behind owning a Food Dehydrator until going paleo.  Once jerky became my emergency snack of choice, I was faced with having to read labels to minimize sugar content and make sure I was avoiding gluten.  And jerky from grass-fed beef was prohibitively expensive.  The first paleo cookbook I bought that contained a jerky recipe was The Paleo Diet Cookbook by Prof. Loren Cordain.  I longed to try his recipe, but without a food dehydrator, I felt I couldn’t.  Then I read Eat Like a Dinosaur by Paleo Parents, which has three jerky recipes and even alternate instructions for using an oven.  I did try two of their recipes (one was actually from their blog) in my oven.  My oven’s lowest temperature is 170F so, while it worked, it was hard to control the texture.  Lucky for me, I received a Food Dehydrator as an early Mother’s Day Present.  At my husband’s suggestion, I picked out which one I wanted and ordered it from amazon.  When it arrived so quickly, my husband thought it was cruel to make me wait until Mother’s Day to actually start playing with it.

My Food Dehydrator is an entrance level model made my Nesco, who are well known for their dehydrators.  The sticker price is about $50, but amazon has it on sale for $34 (with free shipping).  It is a low-power model, only 400W, which means it takes longer than more expensive models.  I don’t find this to be inconvenient at all because it still seems quite efficient.  This might be because it does have a fan, which I highly recommend in a Food Dehydrator since it dries much more evenly than models that only use a heating element, without the need to rotate trays.  .  It sits on my counter and sounds a little quieter than a hair dryer while running (the fan does have the downside that it does make noise).  It’s basic, with just an on/off switch, no temperature control and no timer.  But it works beautifully!  It comes with 5 trays, so I bought the 2-Tray Expansion ($13), which has already come in handy (although isn’t necessity).  I also bought a pair of Fruit Roll Sheets ($7 for the pair), which are a complete necessity for making any homemade flours (I actually just ordered a second pair).

So, in the last few weeks, playing with my Food Dehydrator has been a frequent pastime.  What have I made?  Well, jerky of course!  I have made grass-fed beef heart jerky twice already, which I love.  I made salmon jerky, which was also very good.  I have made kale chips more times than I can count.  The great advantage to making kale chips in the dehydrator is that they actually keep for up to a week!  I made two different flavors of fruit leather, which my husband loves and has requested I make again.  I have dehydrated the coconut pulp leftover from making coconut milk in order to make coconut flour.  I have dehydrated mashed sweet potato in order to make sweet potato powder (not to be confused with sweet potato starch/flour which is a processed starch from sweet potatoes).  I have even made cookiesI am in love!  I have so many ideas for other ways to take advantage of this handy little gadget (next up, dried banana slices for the kids).  It now qualifies as my absolute favorite paleo kitchen tool.

I thought you might be interested in some general guidelines for some of the things I’ve made so far (these are too simple to be posted as stand-alone recipes).  Even if you purchase the same model dehydrator as I have, your kitchen conditions will affect the drying time.  Especially as it gets closer to the suggested length of time, check and see if it’s ready.

Beef Heart Jerky:  Slice beef heart ¼” thick.  It’s easier to slice while partially frozen, so I take it out of the freezer and place it in the fridge the night before.  I trim off any vessels and big chunks of fat but don’t bother trimming off sliverskin or smaller fat layers.  I lay the slices on the trays of the food dehydrator, leaving only minimal space between the slices.  I sprinkle with salt (I like them plain, but you could use whatever jerky seasoning you like here) and dry for 4½ hours.  Since this jerky is not cured, it has to be stored in the fridge or freezer but is still okay to keep at room temperature for a couple of days if you want to stash some in your bag for lunch.

Salmon Jerky:  Slice wild-caught salmon ¼” thick, removing any bones as you encounter them.  I lay the slices on the trays of the Food Dehydrator, leaving only minimal space between the slices.  I don’t use any seasoning.  Dry for about 4 hours.  Salmon jerky is naturally much softer than beef jerky because of the fat content.  Since this jerky is not cured, it has to be stored in the fridge or freezer but is still okay to keep at room temperature for a couple of days if you want to stash some in your bag for lunch.

Kale Chips:  Tear kale into pieces (the dehydrator can actually handle larger pieces than doing this in the oven and it also doesn’t matter so much if they are damp after washing).  Very lightly sprinkle with olive oil and rub into the leaves to evenly coat (I would guess I use about 1 Tbsp oil per 8-10 cups of leaves).  Sprinkle with salt, to taste.  Pile on the trays (I usually do alot at once and stuff them in there).  Dry for about 2 hours, depending on how densely packed they are.

Fruit Leather:  Puree some fruit.  It can be raw or cooked or both.  It can be peeled or unpeeled.  I used pure strawberries for one flavor and a mix of strawberry, apple and peach for the other flavor.  You could sweeten with some added honey, but I didn’t.  Pour onto the Fruit Roll Sheet(as much as you can get on without overfilling).  Dehydrate for 6-8 hours, until leathery (it might be just starting to get crunchy on the ends).  Peel off fruit roll sheet and cut into slices.  Store with wax paper between the slices so they don’t all glob together.  If you use raw fruit, you will need to keep this in the fridge too.  If you use cooked fruit, it should be okay at room temperature.

Coconut Flour:  Spread the pulp from making homemade coconut milk on a Fruit Roll Sheet, breaking apart any big clumps.  Dry for about 4-6 hours, depending on how deeply your pulp is spread (you want it to be completely dry, I had one batch I dried for 15 hours because the pulp was piled quite high).  Process in a Food Processor or Blender for about 3 minutes to grind into a fine powder for baking.  The yield is about 1 cup of coconut flour per 3 cups shredded coconut used to make homemade coconut milk.

Sweet Potato flour:  This flour is not like the sweet potato flour/starch that you can buy.  It still has all the nutrients and fiber, rather than being a processed starch.  And I’m starting to play with this alot in some recipes (and even more so with Pumpkin Flour and Carrot Flour, which are made in the same way, since these are SBIO-friendly).  To make it, boil whole sweet potatoes for 30-40 minutes, until they fall off a knife when speared.  Drain and let cool.  Peel off the skin (it should come off very easily) and place in a bowl.  Mash with a potato masher or immersion hand blender.  Spread on Fruit Roll Sheet and dry for 24-30 hour until it breaks into rock hard little pieces (I peel it off the Fruit Roll Sheet once it’s fruit leather consistency, around the 12 hour mark, and place it on the tray, which helps it dry faster).  Process in a Food Processorr or Blender for about 1 minute to grind into a fine powder for baking.  The yield is about 1 cup of sweet potato flour per 6 cups mashed sweet potato (depending on the moisture content of your sweet potatoes).

Don’t forget to try my Pumpkin Spice Dehydrator Cookies! And as I continue to play with this awesome kitchen tool, I’m sure I’ll be posting more and more recipes that take advantage of it!


This article inspired me to buy the dehydrator. It arrived yesterday. Now I will have to try it out. Thanks for all the great ideas of what to do with it 🙂

This sounds great! Does dehydration affect the nutrient content of the food? My limited knowledge of nutrition tells me that the more you cook vegetables & fruit, the more nutrients are lost. Does the same theory apply to dehydration? Also, with fruit particularly, does dehydration result in a higher sugar content as water is removed? Thanks 🙂

Cooking food does destroy some nutrients but makes many others more available to the human body (easier to digest, easier to absorb, easier to use). Drying would do the same. With fruit, the sugars would be concentrated just like in regular dry fruit, but there isn’t more (the same amount of sugar that was in the grape is not in the raisin, but the raisin is smaller so you you might eat more of them and that is how you would eat more sugar).

I am anxious to see if you come up with any coconut/tree nut free baked good recipes with your sweet potato flour. I have such a problem with my husband and Paleo. He is allergic to eggs, coconut, all tree nuts, & a lot of seeds, including sunflower. I haven’t figured out a way to make him any Paleo baked goods. I know how to bake without eggs if there are 2 or less in a recipe (traditional) but no luck with grain free flours. I have been using King Author Gluten Free All-Purpose flour (white rice and whole-grain brown rice flours, tapioca starch, and potato starch) on occasion. Any ideas?

I actually have a nut-free, coconut-free, egg-free cookie recipe using sweet potato flour in the works (first attempt was not good, but I have some ideas). im also playing more with tapioca, arrowroot and mashed root vegetables. It is tough without eggs though and I don’t have a good solution for that.

That’s exciting! Thanks! I experimented today & came up with this recipe that was a hit, still need to sub out the GF flour mix though. I have some hope with only 7/8 of a cup! Let me know if you have any ideas for the flour.

Holly’s Gluten Free Chocolate chocolate chip cookies (for coconut/nut/egg allergic)

7/8 cup King Arthur GF flour mix (for my coconut/nut allergic husband)-not Paleo
1/8 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 egg or substitute (I used flax mix- 1 tablespoon flax seed meal to 3 tablespoons of water heated 5 min & cooled.)
1 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter, shortening, maple syrup, vanilla, & flax mix. Sift in GF flour & rest of dry ingredients. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill dough. Use small dough scoop on greased cookie sheet. Bake 350 10 min. Cool on cookie sheet for 2 min, then transfer to cooling racks.

Whoa, awesomely useful post. Just ordered this (the price via your link is now only $30, bargain uh?). I am so excited to try your suggestions; unadulterated jerky here I come!

I wonder if anyone has ever tried sardine jerky :p

Excalibur dehydrators are really good http://www.excaliburdehydrator.com/… more expensive though. Ability to dry so much more and the drying set up is better. If you all have NOT considered use of a food savor and large mouth and regular mouth mason jar attachment to store dehydrated foods, I highly recommend it. Lids can be reused time and again as long as you are careful not to bend the lids when opening. I used a bottle opener to gently pry my jars open. For longer term storage include an oxygen absorber. I use my food savor and jars for many other things too…. storing whatever foods would be best stored in sealed jar. I have coconut and almond flours stored in fridge in jars that I’ve vac sealed. I vac seal salads so that they will last longer and often just grab a jar to bring to work for lunch. I hang dry and then vac seal in small jars my own herbs/spices. And for a few bucks I also bought a pump n seal http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0VbnJfs6YUE and I use that with empty product jars that have soft seals on inside. It’s been working great and an excellent idea for taking camping and such when electricity isn’t possible. Plus… recycling jars and having to buy fewer mason jars. Can use on food products often stored in fridge that come in jars and it extends shelf life there too. I have used oxygen absorbers with this method too for longer term storage. What I have NOT done yet with dehydrator is to dehydrate meals. I am researching that so I can prepare paleo meals, dehydrate, and store with O2 absorber in bags from vac sealer or in mason jars. Great idea for rush nights and camping (though I’d more likely use bags than glass jars when camping). 🙂

I want to dehydrate bing cherries for my son who’ll be in Kandahar for 15 mos.I’d like to try other things,too.I have an ancient Kitchen Basics-only an on/off switch. PLEASE tell me how to prep the cherries and how long to do them,etc.I have no idea what the temp is .

I’ve made dried cherries in my Excalibur dehydrator, and their recipe book advises: Remove stems and pits, cut in half and place skin-side down in dehydrator at 135 degrees (57 Celcius) for 13-21 hours. Says they will be leathery and sticky (like raisins) when done. By the way, dried pineapple is great, too!

I’m looking forward to a tasty brownie recipe made with sweet potato flour. That sounds doable, though it might take a fair amount of experimentation. Thanks for this tip!

I have the same dehydrator, which I purchased after reading ELaD! We make Apple Tidbits a lot, and I use it to dry tomatoes and herbs from our garden. Must make jerky soon!

Does anyone have hints about dehydrating strawberries and peaches(nectarines)? I don’t want fruit roll ups. Do you sweeten the strawberries first (either by sprinkling with sugar 1st or putting them in a simple syrup).Do you place them on trays halved,seed side up or sliced ? If I use nectarines ,must they be peeled ? This is the mom of the deployed son again.I want him to have a taste of home. Appreciate any help.

I would slice them to about 1/4″ thick and then dehydrate them as-is. You can peel them if you like, or you may find that the peels flake off during dehydration. – Christina, Sarah’s assistant

I’ve been making a ton of ground beef freezer jerky! It’s a lot easier to chew, and my 2yo loves it – it’s become our go-to snack. Coconut aminos are a great flavoring, if you’re using soy. Fennel powder is wonderful too, as is sage/rosemary/thyme/etc. Thanks for the post!

What do you do with the sweet potato flour?
Also, have you ever tried doing the fruit leather on parchment – wondering how that works. I can’t find the sheets to fit my old dehydrator.

marinate thinly sliced chicken in paleo taco seasoning and dehydrate for 18-20 hours until done, yummy jerky!

Just wondering what everyone does with the long drying time for your dehydrators ? I have one but the long drying times mean I don’t often use it. Do you leave yours on overnight ? Mine is a bit noisy and I’m not sure about the safety of leaving it on all night. Or do you switch it off and start again the next day ? TIA

How do these flours compare (mostly concerned about coconut) to the their store-bought counterparts? Will the measurements/results be roughly the same?

My family just got us a Nesco because we have been wanting a dehydrator for a long time, but I was eyeing the arm & a leg ones because I wanted a metal one (or as little plastic as possible) since I have eliminated most of the plastic from our kitchen/house. Doesn’t the plastic and heat (even though it is relatively low) concern you? I worry that we are going to be making healthy food but infusing it with BPA and other harmful chemicals.

Nonetheless I am going to try it since we have it and can’t afford the metal ones right now, but it makes me uneasy. What are your thoughts on it?

Do you have any full dehydrated recipes yet? I am not paleo, but I do try to eat more raw and nutritional foods. I am starting the process of making my own dehydrated meals to use for camping and storing (perhaps for difficult economic times ahead). I am also a Type 1 diabetic, and if I would have to rely on these meals for regular sustenance with a possible low amount of insulin, I want to make these low in carbs and high in protein and fiber. I really haven’t found many ideas along this line elsewhere yet…

Do you have any idea if it’s safe to eat cassava that has only been dehydrated, or does it have to be cooked before it’s dehydrated? I was thinking about experimenting with making flours and chips, but I want to make sure I neutralize the natural cyanide.

I have just been told I am pre diabetic, I want to try everything, to help reverse this disease and loose weight. I want a dehydrator but I have to watch my sugar allowance, what to do?

[…] Investing in a dehydrator that comes with an adjustable thermostat is important; ideally look for one that allows you to adjust the temperature inside the unit between 95 and 160 degrees Fahrenheit. If you are new to dehydrating using such equipment might seem unnecessary initially but makes a huge difference to the results you achieve. You’ll find as you move on from dehydrating slices of apple that things work a lot better when you fine tune things. For example, when drying out herbs the temperature inside to be quite low in order to keep all that flavour in. Whereas, if you want to make your own biltong or jerky then you’ll need to turn the temperature up. […]

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