TIPS ON DRYING FRUIT (dried pineapple rings shown)
Since the beginning of time, we humans have been looking for ways to preserve our food. Back when we were running around naked on the wild plains, we were gatherers of all of our fruit, veggies and seeds. Since typical growing seasons are not year round in many places, those whom lived with limited growing seasons had to figure out ways to preserve the season’s bounty. The oldest preservation method is drying or dehydrating. This process removes the water from the item and allows it to be stored for long periods of time without spoiling. Well lucky for us, now days, we have access to fresh produce year round and gadgets that will dry items in a matter of hours not days. Drying fruit is a pretty easy process. The only challenge is to know the proper preparation of the particular fruit before you start to dehydrate it. The three elements to remember about drying fruit is: ripeness, natural additives and the cut-these are all equally as important.
The first step is to pick ripe organic fruit. Imagine eating an unripe pineapple or strawberry–they lack color, flavor and sweetness. This lack of these elements will also be present in your dried fruit because you are only taking out the water content when you dehydrate. A rule of thumb is that ripe fruit is firm, vibrant and deep in color, no blemishes/soft spots/mold, and most will smell sweet and slightly floral. Nature has her way of telling everyone when fruit is ripe by these signs, this is for the highest sugar and nutrient content present within the fruit.
The next element of drying fruit is the natural additives that you choose. Soft fruit like bananas, apples and peaches will brown and turn flavor on you very quickly. A natural prevention of this is to use some sort of acid on them. Natural acids include (always use fresh organic) lemon juice, orange juice, lime juice and raw organic apple cider vinegar. They all have different levels of acid in them and flavor- so be careful how you choose them. Here is a basic guide on what fruit to what finished flavor and what acid to use AFTER you cut the fruit… [fruit (finished flavor) = acid to dip in]. If the fruit you are drying is not listed then use this guide to find a fruit that resembles your fruits browning point. To find a fruits browning point, cut a piece of the room temperature fruit and allow it to set out at room temperature. Now time how long it takes to start to brown. Apples brown with in 15 minutes, banana about 20 and so on.
- apple (sweet)– dip in Meyer lemon juice
- apple (strong)– dip in lemon juice
- apple (savory)–dip in cider vinegar
- apple (pungent strong but sweet)– dip in 1/2 lime juice, 1/2 Meyer lemon juice mix
- apricots (sweet)–dip in Meyer lemon juice
- apricots (savory)–dip in cider vinegar
- banana (sweet)– dip in Meyer lemon juice
- banana (savory)– dip in cider vinegar
- peaches (sweet)–dip in 1/2 orange juice, 1/2 Meyer lemon juice mix
- peaches (semi-sweet)–dip in Meyer lemon juice
- peaches (savory)–dip in cider vinegar
- pears (sweet)–dip in 1/2 orange juice, 1/2 Meyer lemon juice mix
- pears (savory)– dip in cider vinegar
- strawberries (sweet)–dip in Meyer lemon juice
Most other fruit like pineapple, cranberries, grapes and oranges have enough acid in them so they do not need to be pre-treated with natural additives.
The last important element is the size of the cut of fruit that you use. Eventually no matter how thick it is, it will dry but the results might not be too favorable. I think the thickness is actually most important, not the length or width of the piece. I like to keep my fruit no thicker than 1/4 to 1/2 thick, depending on the recipe. This allows the finished dried fruit to be stable enough that it doesn’t crumble yet it dries thoroughly.
The last step in this process is actually drying it. Now that you have your fruit prepared, how are you going to dry it? I have heard many people debate on the proper way to dry fruit but it really comes down to low heat (between 95 and 105 degrees), proper air flow and time. The low heat allows the water in the fruit to slowly evaporate without destroying the fiber, vitamins and enzymes present in the fruit. It also prevents it from caramelizing the sugars. I use both a dehydrator (max heat is 95 degrees) and my oven (set at 100 degrees), these both adhere to RAW food guidelines. Proper air flow allows the water to evaporate evenly and preventing dry spots on the finished fruit. My dehydrator has slotted trays that I can use for fruit that is solid and a solid tray for fruit leather. I use small mesh wire racks in my oven for solid fruit and cookie sheets for fruit leather. Timing is key to any recipe, drying fruit is no exception. I like to always keep in mind what my finished product is being used for and how I am going to store it after it is done. If I am making up a batch of dried fruit for raw granola or trail mix, I want the fruit on the chewy side. When I am making chips or crisps I want them completely dried. If I am storing in a airtight container at room temperature, I dry my items a little longer. If I am storing in the refrigerator, a little chewier is OK. Of coarse in the freezer can be either dry or chewy, I just make sure I freeze it properly. To freeze your dried fruit, place in a single layer not touching each other on a small cookie sheet, freeze for 3 hours then place the frozen fruit in a sealed freezer container back in the freezer.
Dried fruit can add texture and color to many dishes. Dried fruit is also a great snack or a quick pick me up in the afternoons or dessert. It is definitely a healthy choice for all, kids love it too. Now that you have TIPS ON DRYING FRUIT, go to the farmers market or your local store and find some fresh ripe fruit to dry today.