Want to invest in a specialist machine for drying out fruit, veg and herbs? Heavy-duty dehydrators are easy and efficient to use, but which model is right for your kitchen?
Dehydrators are a real investment purchase. Large in size, they require plenty of space for storage, plus as a hefty piece of sophisticated electronic kit, they often carry a hefty price tag to match. But they’re not just for banana chips and dried mushrooms – dehydrators can be used to make jerky, fruit leather and vegetable chips. As they lock in nutritional benefits, they’re an invaluable piece of kit for people following a raw food diet, plus if you’re a slave to the snack, they offer the opportunity to make healthier versions of crisps and sweets.
How do dehydrators work?
Electronic dehydrators preserve fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and meat by removing their moisture content. They work by circulating warm air around stacked trays made from slatted plastic or metal gauze, allowing water to evaporate evenly and simultaneously. As no cooking is required, all flavour and nutrition is locked in – in some cases the flavour is intensified – and the end result has a much longer shelf life than the fresh ingredient.
What can I use them for?
You can place most fruit and vegetables in a dehydrator, although you may get optimum results by soaking fruit or blanching vegetables for a few minutes before laying them out in slices in an even spread. You can also dry herbs and create fruit leather by laying pureed fruit onto the tray before peeling it off and cutting it into strips. If you’re really ambitious you could try making your own meat jerky by dehydrating strips of beef flavoured with a dash of soy or Worcestershire sauce.
How do I use them?
The first stage of using a dehydrator is to prep your ingredients. Fruit and veg needs to be chopped thinly and evenly, so that all the slices dry at the same rate. Flash blanch vegetables for a couple of minutes, and try soaking fruit in juice for a minute or two. Then, lay out the ingredients in a single layer with no overlapping, before setting your temperature and timer. Once fully dried out, leave them in the dehydrator until fully cool, then store the chips somewhere airtight ready to snack upon or, if you’re using mushrooms for instance, rehydrate with boiling water for cooking.
All dehydrators will come with an instruction manual with specific timings for individual ingredients, but be aware that it can take up to 38 hours to dehydrate certain water-dense ingredients like peppers, apricots and grapes. Depending on the make and model of your dehydrator, temperature setting and atmospheric conditions, strawberries take between eight and 26 hours, bananas eight to 38 hours and mushrooms six to 14 hours, going off recommendations made for a 250W, five-layer dehydrator. Make sure you check the instructions for your particular model as the wattage, shape and temperature can wildly vary.
Our three favourite dehydrators
Andrew James rectangular digital food dehydrator
This dehydrator has plenty of features for such a thrifty model, including a useful timer. Its rectangular shape means it stores neatly, plus the stackable trays dry ingredients evenly. You’ll be hard pressed to find a model as affordable, so this is a great option if you’re new to the world of dehydrating and don’t want to take the plunge and spend over £50.
£39.99 from Andrew James
Stockli dehydrator with stainless steel trays
Stockli’s stackable layers are made from stainless steel mesh, meaning dried ingredients are easy to remove (although, generally speaking, the jury’s out on whether plastic or metal is the better material for the trays as, if you time your session correctly, the ingredients should be easily removable regardless). The machine is easy to use and it’s simple to clean, plus it’s nice and compact, so has a smaller worktop footprint.
£114.95 from UK Juicers
Excalibur four tray dehydrator
This energy-efficient machine uses a drawer function rather than a stack, making it easier to check on the progress of the dehydration process. It’s a good choice for smaller kitchens, as it’s nice and compact. Regular hydrators or those with big families to provide with snacks may want to upgrade – you can buy this model with a bumper-sized stack of nine drawers.
£149.00 from UK Juicers
This review was last updated in April 2016. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Do you own a dehydrator? We'd like to hear your choice of model and what you use it for. If you're a fan of health gadgets, read our spiralizer rundown and visit our reviews section for more equipment expertise.