Dehydrating food is a fun and exciting preservation method gaining popularity these days. However, there’s one thing that people frequently think they need to dehydrate: a dehydrator.
So what will you do if you want to dehydrate food but want to avoid buying another kitchen appliance or expensive equipment? If you own an air fryer, you're in luck.
Although air fryers cook food quickly using high heat, did you know it will also let you dehydrate food slowly? In fact, most air fryers come with a dehydration setting. Let's look at what a food dehydrator does and how you can dehydrate food in your air fryer.
- What Is Dehydrated Food?
- The Similarities Between An Air Fryer And A Dehydrator
- The Differences Between An Air Fryer And A Dehydrator
- Can You Dehydrate Food In An Air Fryer?
- What To Look For In An Air Fryer For Dehydrating Food
- How To Dehydrate Food In An Air Fryer
- Tips For Dehydrating Food In An Air Fryer
- Does Turning Up The Temperature Dehydrate Food Quicker?
- What Foods Can You Dehydrate?
- How Long Does Dehydrated Food Stay Fresh?
- Is Dehydrated Food Better Than Freeze Dried Food?
- Can You Rehydrate Dehydrated Foods?
- Can You Dehydrate In An Air Fryer?
What Is Dehydrated Food?
Dehydrating has been used for centuries and is a common technique for preserving fruits, vegetables, and meat. If you've ever had beef jerky, you've had dehydrated food. Simply put, dehydrating is the process of withdrawing moisture from food by drying it over low temperatures for an extended period.
What makes dehydrating so effective, especially in food storage, is how efficient it is in preventing bacterial and mold growth due to the lack of moisture.
What Is a Food Dehydrator?
A food dehydrator is an appliance specifically designed to remove moisture from food. It can be small enough to sit on a countertop or as large as a room like a shed.
Its cooking time ranges from four to eight hours over low temperatures between 120℉ and 160℉. The lower temperatures remove all the moisture from the food without overcooking it.
The Similarities Between An Air Fryer And A Dehydrator
Here are just some of the similarities between air fryers and dehydrators.
- They both circulate hot air. Air fryers and dehydrators both circulate hot air around food by a fan that blows over a heating element and has ventilation in the back.
- They both promote healthy cooking. Both appliances cook without the need for cooking oil or any other fat.
- They are relatively easier to clean compared to other kitchen appliances. Since they don’t require fat for cooking, both appliances don’t have a drip pan at the bottom for easy cleanup.
The Differences Between An Air Fryer And A Dehydrator
There are two key differences between an air fryer and a dehydrator. These are the temperatures they cook at and the time they take to cook food.
Air fryers cook at high temperatures to seal the food's juices in and produce a crispy exterior. On the other hand, dehydrators cook food at low temperatures for hours, which completely dries and preserves the food.
Can You Dehydrate Food In An Air Fryer?
Yes, an air fryer is a great way to dehydrate food. You can dehydrate everything from fruits to vegetables and meat. This is possible due to convection heating.
Convection heating works by blowing warm air around food with a built-in fan behind the heating element. It is great for cooking food evenly and is essential when you’re dehydrating.
You can also dehydrate food in an oven, but the advantage of using an air fryer is that it gets the job done quicker thanks to its smaller cooking chamber and more concentrated airflow.
There are two factors that you need to account for when dehydrating food in an air fryer.
If your air fryer doesn't have a dehydrator setting, you may set the temperature between 120℉ and 160℉, depending on what you're dehydrating. Personally, I dehydrate food in an air fryer at 140℉ but keep in mind that this temperature is subjective.
The length of time it takes to dehydrate food properly with an air fryer will depend on what food you’re working with. That said, it usually ranges between four to eight hours.
For instance, I always dehydrate meat for four to six hours because this time frame allows enough time to draw out the water content, and the meat doesn't get too tough.
What To Look For In An Air Fryer For Dehydrating Food
There are several things to look for when choosing an air fryer, especially if you're going to use it for dehydrating food. Some of the main points to look for are:
- Dehydration Setting. Although you can dehydrate food in an air fryer without this setting, this is a convenient feature for its preset time and temperature settings.
- Size. Unless you are using a hanging rack, the size of the air fryer basket is important since you need your food laid down in a single layer when you’re dehydrating.
- Ventilation. Make sure that the air fryer has good ventilation. Since you will be drying out moisture, a good ventilation system is needed to expel it.
How To Dehydrate Food In An Air Fryer
It’s very easy to dehydrate food using an air fryer. Just follow the steps below.
- Get to know your air fryer.
The first thing you want to do is to check and see if your air fryer has a dehydrator setting. If so, check the manufacturer's guide for instructions for your particular model.
If your air fryer doesn't have a dehydrator setting, make sure you cook it at the lowest temperature and continue with the steps below.
Quick Side Note: Before moving on, I just want to give you a heads-up that the sooner you pull out the dehydrated food, the chewier it will be. If you’re dehydrating food for the first time, I recommend testing the food at the four- and six-hour marks to see which texture you prefer more.
For instance, some people like their bacon crispy, while others prefer them chewy. Keep this same principle in mind when dehydrating food.
- Prepare the food you want to dehydrate.
Prepare your food for dehydration by dicing them into ½ " or 1" chunks. You may also slice them into thin strips if you are making jerky. Next, rinse the food off, then dry it with a paper towel before placing it into the air fryer.
- Season the food.
There are plenty of delicious air fryer recipes to choose from. Some are savory, while others are sweet. Season accordingly, depending on what you're dehydrating. Some of the most common seasoning includes salt, sea salt, cinnamon, and sugar.
- Start the dehydration process.
Place the food on a wire rack or in the air fryer basket and cook to desired time and temperature. Remember that an air fryer needs air circulation to work properly so don't crowd the food. A grease separator can be used to keep the food from touching.
- Wait until it’s done.
Do not disturb the food for the first four hours. This method is a set-it-and-forget-it style of cooking. If you are dehydrating beyond four hours, I recommend visually checking it after and doing so every two hours.
Tips For Dehydrating Food In An Air Fryer
- Don't stack food. Stacking food will not only prevent proper airflow, but they also won't dry all the way through. If you're using the basket, place the food in a single layer.
- Buy a stainless steel hanging rack for your air fryer. This does a better job of dehydrating than a basket because you don't have to worry about airflow or the crowded food if it's suspended in the air.
- You can use recipes meant for dehydrators. If you don't have a dehydrator setting, set the air fryer to the same time and temperature the recipe calls for, if possible. If not, use the lowest temperature setting on the air fryer.
- Check the consistency to see if your food is dried all the way. If the food is chewy and sticky, it isn't all the way dried. Keep in mind that the finished product will be crunchy and dry. However, you can always pull your food out a little early you if you prefer a chewy texture.
- It’s all about temperature. Each ingredient has an optimum temperature. For instance, if you’re making beef jerky, it should have an internal temperature of 160°F. Chicken should have an internal temperature of 165°F when cooked all the way.
As for vegetables, it will be ideal to keep the temperatures between 125°F to 135°F. After all, hotter temperatures will produce an unwanted crust.
Does Turning Up The Temperature Dehydrate Food Quicker?
Turning up the heat will not dehydrate food any quicker. In fact, turning up the temperature will either overcook your food or burn it.
The dehydrating process is slow and is quite similar to smoking meats. It should not be rushed. The point of dehydrated food is for the low temperature and slow cooking time to draw out the moisture from the food and release it as vapor. This is simply not possible with faster cooking times.
The rapid heat produced when increasing the temperature too quickly will seal the outside of the food and trap the moisture within, which could then cause the food to prematurely spoil. The longer the food dehydrates, the more nutrients and flavors are retained.
What Foods Can You Dehydrate?
There are plenty of foods you can dehydrate in an air fryer, like meat, fruits, and vegetables. However, what I really like about dehydrating food is it offers me a lot of different ways to season.
For instance, I make beef jerky a lot. Sometimes I season the flank steak with either salt or pepper. On other days, I use teriyaki. There are even times when I spice it up with hot pepper flakes.
Here are just some of the things you can dehydrate:
- Beef jerky
- Venison jerky
- Apple chips
- Banana chips
- Apricot chips
- Sun-dried tomatoes
- Carrot chips
- Dried peppers
- Dried mushrooms
How Long Does Dehydrated Food Stay Fresh?
Outdoor enthusiasts, athletes, and survivalists love dehydrated food because they have a significantly longer shelf life than their original counterparts and do not require refrigeration. Not to mention that they’re portable and nutritious as well.
Case in point: dehydrated foods stored in vacuum-sealed bags or in airtight containers can stay fresh for up to a year. They won’t easily spoil, but if you plan on keeping them longer than that, it is best to freeze them until you need them. Vegetables can stay fresh for about six months without freezing, while fruits last between eight months to a year.
Is Dehydrated Food Better Than Freeze Dried Food?
Freeze dried food, like dehydrated food, works by extracting moisture from food. It can extract up to 90% of moisture leading to a much longer shelf life of up to 15 years. However, I personally still prefer dehydration over freeze-drying. Dehydrated food simply has better taste and texture. It is also cheaper to make.
Freeze drying equipment costs thousands of dollars, and the process takes 24 hours or longer. Dehydrated foods, comparatively speaking, cook faster and can easily be made with the equipment you already have.
The only caveat is that dehydrated food doesn't have nearly as long as the shelf life of freeze dried food.
Can You Rehydrate Dehydrated Foods?
Yes, you can rehydrate dehydrated foods that have been stored by soaking them in your preferred liquid, such as milk or water for 20 minutes. Milk is a great choice for dehydrated fruit since you already have milk and berries, all you need to do is add some cereal, and breakfast is served!
Can You Dehydrate In An Air Fryer?
The short answer is, yes, you can dehydrate food in an air fryer. Dehydrating food in an air fryer is a convenient way to dry food without the extra cost of buying new equipment. Plus, I bet that your kitchen counter has more than enough space to hold an air fryer.
You can dehydrate various fruits, meats, and vegetables with very little prep work.
Even if your air fryer doesn't have a dehydrator setting, you can still dry food on the lowest setting. This is a low and slow cooking method where you don't even have to check the food for four hours. Dried food has a long shelf life and can even be frozen, which makes this a great cooking method to prepare bulk food items.
Air frying requires high temperatures, which is what gives air fried food that crispy finish, but you can also set it to a lower temperature to accommodate dehydration.
The only downside to dehydrating in an air fryer is that it only holds small batches. A hanging rack can offset this by suspending the food, which frees up space and allows the air to circulate properly.
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