A dehydrator is sort of like an oven that is used for raw baking. Unlike a regular oven, which bakes at high temperatures, a dehydrator keeps the foods at low temperatures in order to preserve the living enzymes. It draws the moisture out and pulls the food together in order to firm it up. It works great for making raw cookies, pies, granola bars, chips and many other raw food treats.
The benefit of dehydrated treats is that they can help you to avoid harmful food additives that are generally put into commercially packaged treats. They are also great for helping you to curb food cravings as you can make both sweet and salty treats to satisfy the various cravings.
There are different styles, but generally a dehydrator will come with multiple trays on which you can spread the food out on. Depending on the size, brand, and other features, it can be quite expensive; however, it is a one-time investment.
For me, dehydrated foods are not a huge part of my diet. As a result, I didn’t want to invest in a dehydrator. There are times, however, when it is necessary to dehydrate certain foods, such as the pulp left over from making nut milk, and therefore, I ended up with an alternative way to dehydrate foods without a dehydrator. I am sure that my method is not as convenient as having a real dehydrator, but it does the job in small quantities, which is perfect for me.
How Do I Dehydrate Foods Without a Dehydrator?
You could probably use a regular oven for this, but mine broke shortly after I discovered the raw food diet. Therefore, I experimented with my small toaster oven until I got it right. It only took a few tries until I figured out the right settings and temperature, when to turn the food, and how long to dehydrate the foods for.
The process would most likely work in any toaster oven, but the one that I have is the Black and Decker Toast R Oven. This oven heats up very fast and will set the food on fire if you are not careful at setting the correct temperature. For dehydrating foods, however, I have not had a problem with overheating. It seems safe to leave it on overnight or during the day when I run errands. That is not to say that all ovens are the same and therefore, you should always use your own judgments.
The Black and Decker Toast R Oven is a small oven, but you can place 2 trays in it at the same time. It comes with a small tray that you can slide in along a slot underneath the rack, which then leaves room for another tray to sit on top of the rack.
The oven comes with 3 controls, two of which help control the temperature, and the third is the timer. For dehydrating, I set the timer control to the “Stay On” position; the mode control to the “bake” or “toast” position; and the temperature control is generally set as low as possible, which is around 105-110 degrees F. The best way to obtain this low temperature is to turn the knob slowly until you hear it click. Since the oven is not digital, an oven thermometer can help you to see what temperature it is at.
Generally, for most foods you want to set the temperature between 120-150 degrees F for the first few hours. This simply gets the dehydrating process going a little quicker and can help to prevent the formation of bad bacteria. You will know that bad bacteria has formed when it smells moldy. Leaving the door open a crack helps to prevent mold from forming.
In cases when you want to preserve the enzymes you would not turn it up that high, but rather, spread the food out very thin in order to speed up the dehydrating process.
The food is generally placed or spread out onto a parchment paper. Then after about four hours or so of dehydrating the top is fairly dry so that you can flip it over. After you turn the food you can remove the parchment paper.
With a dehydrator, you can put the food onto a mesh tray, which then allows for even dehydration on both sides. With the toaster oven, on the other hand, you don’t have such a mesh tray and thus, you generally have to leave the food on the metal tray. This means that in order for it to dehydrate evenly you will have to continue to turn it every so often.
Another downfall of using the oven is that you will notice that once the food begins to dehydrate, the temperature gradually rises inside the oven. Therefore, you will need to keep an eye on it and gradually turn the temperature control down, or leave the door open a crack.
Why Use a Toaster Oven?
A toaster oven is a common appliance that most people have. It is not the same as a dehydrator, but it allows you to experiment with dehydrated foods, which then can help you decide whether you want to invest in the real thing or not.
If you are not a huge fan of dehydrated foods (like me), then there really is no sense in investing in a dehydrator as long as the toaster oven continues to work. On the other hand, if you enjoy dehydrated foods on a regular basis, then it would be ideal to invest in a multiple tray dehydrator.
I primarily use my oven to make almond bread and crackers from the left over pulp after making nut milk. I also use it once in a while to dehydrate the pulp from making juice. If sweet treats, such as cookies and granola bars, were a favorite in my diet, then I would definitely invest in the real thing.