How to Dehydrate Fruit Without a Dehydrator? The complete guide
When it comes to healthy snacks, homemade dried fruit is often a popular choice, especially with the recent democratization of food dehydrators.
Indeed, dehydrated foods at home are without additives and have much more nutritional value than commercial ones, especially when it comes to dried fruits.
But is it worth investing in an Excalibur just for dried fruit?
Can we dehydrate fruit in the traditional oven at low temperature or in the open air, even outdoors?
There are other techniques apart from the food dehydrator to make homemade dried fruits.
They will vary depending on the fresh fruit used, especially drying time, which may be different for kiwis, nectarines, or even prunes.
Let’s try here to give an overview of the dehydration of dried fruits without a food dehydrator. In reality, some of these techniques were already practiced by our ancestors for better food preservation.
Because they did not have access to freezing, for example…
The principle of fruit dehydration
Let’s start by briefly recalling the principle.
Dehydrating fresh fruit removes the water contained in the fruit to avoid any risk of mold and to be able to keep it longer in the form of dried fruit, which may also become crispy.
The merits of dehydration are often praised for the nutritional value, better preservation of vitamins and nutrients in the fruits, flavors, and health. Unlike those on the market, homemade dried fruits will not contain chemical additives like preservatives or colorants.
Often, the dehydration technique requires a drying time of several hours at a low temperature.
If the dehydrators are machines optimized for this purpose, it is entirely possible to recreate the process without a dehydrator.
Traditional oven drying
The first technique, and indeed the easiest, is that of the conventional fan-assisted oven.
The main criteria here will be to have an oven capable of having a shallow temperature in the region of 40-50 degrees Celsius, which is generally the ideal drying temperature for dehydrating food.
You have to place your pieces of fruit cut into thin slices a few millimeters thick on a baking sheet or parchment paper and leave them to dry for several hours.
It is advisable to leave the oven door ajar to allow better air circulation and let humidity escape.
The drying time will depend on the fruits, their water content, their freshness, and the size of the pieces you cut. The drying time can range from 6 to 12 hours.
You can find several guides and tips on dehydrating times for different fruits online.
As a general rule, we recommend 6 hours for fruits with denser flesh that contain less water, such as apples, pears, or bananas, 8 to 10 hours for juicier berries or citrus fruits such as grapes or oranges, and up to 12 hours for fruits that contain a lot of water such as strawberries or peaches.
Once again, the drying and dehydration time will also depend on the heat and power of your oven, the thermostat, the quality of the fruits, and their shape: so remember to check the cooking regularly to obtain optimal drying and your fruits perfectly dry.
Dehydrating in a conventional oven is that you will have much more space than in a dehydrator to produce larger quantities.
The disadvantage will be the lack of heat stability, which will make the drying time longer and more challenging to control, and the uniformity of the drying of the fruits.
And from an energy consumption point of view, the traditional oven will consume much more electricity than a dehydrator.
An easy and more spacious solution but less ecological.
Drying in the open air
The most straightforward technique is when you have the right place and the right temperature in your home, but it can also require more patience.
Indeed, you will need a dry and dark place that still has good air circulation to ensure that all the humidity of the fruits is evacuated.
But above all, you will need a minimum source of heat.
It is often recommended to install your fruits to dry either behind a window that takes the day and the sun, above a stove, or in a dry attic and exposed to the sun.
Finely diced and pitted fruit can be placed on a simple plate, perhaps with a light cloth covering them to protect them from dust or other unwanted intruders.
This option will be necessary to turn the fruits and change their sides. It is also possible to hang the fruits to be dried on a line, which also has a certain aesthetic charm.
The advantage of this technique is the zero-energy aspect spent on drying the fruit.
We can mention the decorative side in a kitchen with a string of dried fruits. However, it is a technique that can take much longer than with an oven or a dehydrator, for example, up to 8 days for prunes.
Sun-drying: the solar dryer
It is a more traditional technique that will require the construction or the purchase of a solar dryer to dry the fruits directly outdoors in the sun.
Of course, when we talk about Quebec, this is a technique that will only be possible in summer, and you will have to pay attention to the humidity levels depending on the region.
There are several models of solar dryers, but the principle is often the same, a bit like a mini greenhouse concentrating the heat: the trays to be dehydrated are in a box, usually made of wood, closed and raised, to be isolated from the ground, light and also insects and animals.
The hot air from the sun is usually channeled through some inclined chimney with metal plates or other heating elements, where the hot air will enter from below at ground level, to rise and go into the container, the box in wood or plastic for greenhouse-style ones.
However, the chimney must let out a little air to ensure good circulation.
In some models, the container with the trays for putting the fruit will be integrated into the fireplace, and the whole will look like a kind of cupboard.
The whole thing will be to ensure that the air escapes enough not to exceed a specific temperature inside the dryer, ideally no more than 40 degrees Celsius.
This technique is valuable on the energy side since it uses only the sun’s heat and does not consume any other energy.
However, the disadvantage is the dependence on the weather and the sun and the irregularity of the constancy of the heat compared to an oven.
A solar dryer can be used for around 50 CAD by going up for more elaborate models, but if you are a handyman, you can find many tutorials on the Internet to build your own.
Dried fruits without a dehydrator: depending on your home
So yes, it is possible to dehydrate fruits and more at home without a dehydrator, especially with a traditional oven, which remains the most straightforward method, even if it consumes more energy and will require more work, the meaning that you will have to be at home for hours to watch the oven.
Techniques in the open air or outdoors are better from an ecological point of view and energy consumption.
However, they remain relatively more challenging to implement.
On the one hand, you have to have the space you need at home, whether to dry large slabs of fruit somewhere in the kitchen, a cupboard, or attic or have a garden or a balcony with a solar dryer.
And on the other hand, you have to have the ideal temperature conditions for air drying or sun drying.
And between the humidity and the long winters, it won’t always be easy to do that in Quebec!
But it is quite possible, thanks to the size of some solar dryers, to produce enough quantities of dried fruits or dried tomatoes during the summer to make reserves for the rest of the year and make profitable the use of a solar dryer for only a few months.