Phoenix Bird


The following article is one I saved quite some time ago. I've taken the liberty of doing some minor editing (grammar/spelling). -Warrior Woman

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Agriculture
Cooperative Extension Service Circular 1227


Food Drying Basics

Equipment and Methods for Drying

Drying Fruits

Drying Vegetables

Drying Herbs

Drying Meats

Storing and Using Dried Foods

Selected References

Food Drying Basics

Drying is the oldest method of preserving food. The early American settlers dried foods such as corn, apple slices, currants, grapes, and meat. Compared with other methods, drying is quite simple. In fact, you may already have most of the equipment on hand. Dried foods keep well because the moisture content is so low that spoilage organisms cannot grow.

Drying will never replace canning and freezing because these methods do a better job of retaining the taste, appearance, and nutritive value of fresh food. But drying is an excellent way to preserve foods that can add variety to meals and provide delicious, nutritious snacks. One of the biggest advantages of dried foods is that they take much less storage space than canned or frozen foods.

Recommended methods for canning and freezing have been determined by research and widespread experience. Home drying, however, does not have firmly established procedures. Food can be dried several ways, for example, by the sun if the air is hot and dry enough, or in an oven or dryer if the climate is humid.

With the renewed interest in gardening and natural foods and because of the high cost of commercially dried products, drying foods at home is becoming popular again. Drying is not difficult, but it does take time and a lot of attention. Although there are different drying methods, the guidelines remain the same.

Although solar drying is a popular and very inexpensive method, Illinois does not have a suitable climate for it. Dependable solar dehydration of foods requires 3 to 5 consecutive days when the temperature is 95 F. and the humidity is very low. The average relative humidity in central Illinois on days with 95 F. temperatures is usually 86 percent. Solar drying is thus not feasible.

Drying food in the oven of a kitchen range, on the other hand, can be very expensive. In an electric oven, drying food has been found to be nine to twelve times as costly as canning it. Food dehydrators are less expensive to operate but are only useful for a few months of the year. A convection oven can be the most economical investment if the proper model is chosen. A convection oven that has a controllable temperature starting at 120 F. and a continuous operation feature rather than a timer-controlled one will function quite well as a dehydrator during the gardening months. For the rest of the year it can be used as a tabletop oven.



Dried fruits are a good source of energy because they contain concentrated fruit sugars. Fruits also contain a rather large amount of vitamins and minerals. The drying process, however, destroys some of the vitamins, especially A and C. Exposing fruit to sulfur before drying helps retain vitamins A and C. Sulfur destroys thiamin, one of the B vitamins, but fruit is not an important source of thiamin anyway. Many dried fruits are rich in riboflavin and iron.

Vegetables are a good source of minerals and the B vitamins thiamin, riboflavin, and niacin. Both fruits and vegetables provide useful amounts of the fiber (bulk) we need. Save the water used for soaking or cooking dried foods because this nutrient-rich water can be used in recipes to make soups, sauces, and gravy.


Many kinds of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, meat, and fish can be dried. If you have never tried drying food before, though, it's a good idea to experiment first by drying a small quantity in the oven. This way you can see if you like the taste and texture of dried food. At the same time, you can become familiar with the drying process.

Fruits are easier to dry than vegetables because moisture evaporates wore easily, and not as much moisture must be removed for the product to keep. Ripe apples, berries, cherries, peaches, apricots, and pears are practical to dry.

Vegetables that are also practical to dry include peas, corn, peppers, zucchini, okra, onions, and green beans. Produce from the supermarket is usually more expensive and not as fresh as it should be for drying. It is a waste of time and energy to dry vegetables such as carrots that can be kept for several months in a cool, dry basement or cellar.

Fresh herbs of all types are suitable for drying. The parts of the plant to dry vary, but leaves, seeds, or blossoms usually give the best results.

Lean meats such as beef, lamb, and venison can be dried for jerky. Fish also is excellent when dried. Certain foods are not suitable for drying because of their high moisture content. Lettuce, melons, and cucumbers are a few foods that do not dry well.


Don't be surprised to find a variety of suggestions for drying methods, temperatures, and lengths of time. The drying process is simply not as precise as canning and freezing because it involves so many different factors. You may need to use a trial-and-error approach to find what suits you best. Whatever method you use, be sure to remove enough moisture from the final product so that spoilage organisms cannot grow.

When you dry foods, remember the following:

Equipment and Methods for Drying


One of the advantages of drying foods rather than canning or freezing them is that you can get by with almost no special equipment. A kitchen oven, drying trays or racks, and storage containers are the only basic equipment needed. If you want to dry large quantities of food, you may decide to buy or make a food dryer, but it is not essential. For sun drying you need only racks and storage containers.

Although the following equipment is not absolutely necessary, it will help you make a more uniformly good product:


Drying Fruits


For dried fruit that is naturally sweet and flavorful, be sure to start with good-quality fruit. Select fruit that is fresh, fully ripe, and sound -the same quality you would choose for table use.

Sort and wash the fruit thoroughly. Discard any bruised or overripe pieces. Decay on one piece may give a bad flavor to the whole batch. Sanitation during the handling and drying process is very important.


Almost all kinds of fruit need some treatment before drying. Apples are peeled, cored, and sliced. Fruits with pits, such as peaches and apricots, are usually halved and pitted. Most fruits do not need to be peeled before drying. But the skins of some fruits such as cherries are tough and waxy, so you will have to "crack" the skins first. Fruit should be cut into uniform pieces or slices so that it will dry more evenly. Remember that thin pieces dry faster than thick ones.


You are now ready to begin drying. Arrange pretreated fruit in a single layer on the drying trays. Then place the trays in the oven or dryer. Be sure to stack the trays at least 1/2 inch apart. If you are drying juicy fruits such as apricots, cut them in half and remove the pits. Then set the pieces on the racks with the cut side up. This way the flavorful juices will not drain out and be lost.

If you are drying food in the oven, remember to leave the door open slightly. If you have an electric fan, place it in front of the oven to speed up the drying. A dryer comes equipped with a fan to provide ventilation, so you won't need to leave the door ajar.

The length of time needed for drying will depend on the size and number of pieces dried at one time. Drying fruit can take anywhere from 6 hours for very thin or small pieces such as apple slices or grapes to 10 hours for larger juicy fruits such as peach or apricot halves. Temperature and humidity will also affect the drying time. When the pieces are dry, they should be leathery. Cut a piece of fruit to be sure; there should be no moisture inside the fruit.


You might want to try making fruit "leathers," which are a tasty variation of dried fruits. They are made by pureeing almost any type of fruit, then spreading the puree on a cookie sheet or similar tray to dry. Cover the cookie sheet with plastic wrap and pour the thick puree onto the sheet. Spread it out to form a layer only 1/4-inch deep. The fruit puree can be sweetened with honey or corn syrup, and spices, nuts, or coconut flakes can be sprinkled on top. Start with very little because the drying process will concentrate the flavors. Dry the puree until it is leather-like and pliable but has no sticky spots. Fruit leathers make delicious snacks, treats, or gifts. They can be eaten as is, or they can be reconstituted and used in many dishes. They will keep longest in the refrigerator or freezer.


Dried fruit may be eaten as is. It is great for children's lunches, after-school snacks, or parties. Dried fruit can also be used in cookie or granola recipes or with breakfast cereal.

To use dried fruit in prepared dishes, reconstitute it first by soaking it in cool water for about 2 hours, or until plump. Or pour boiling water over the fruit, just enough to cover, and simmer about 15 minutes, or until tender. Add more water if necessary. Do not overcook because the fruit will get mushy and lose flavor. After the fruit has been reconstituted, it can be used in any recipe that calls for fresh, canned, or frozen fruit.

Drying Vegetables


You may be surprised to learn that a great many vegetables can be dried successfully at home. Be sure start with fresh, mature produce. Harvest or buy on the amount you can dry at one time - 4 to 6 pounds you plan to use your oven. Wash all dirt off the vegetables and cut out any bad spots.

Cut the vegetables into pieces of a suitable size. Keep in mind that thin pieces will dry faster than thick one. For example, French-cut green beans take less time dry than crosscut beans.


Almost all vegetables need to be blanched (scalded in boiling water a short time before drying. Blanching stops the enzyme action, which drying cannot stop. If vegetables are not blanched, enzymes will destroy the color and flavor during drying and storage. A few vegetables such as mushrooms, okra, and onions do n need to be blanched before drying.

Blanching also protects certain nutrients and can reduce the drying time somewhat. Some nutrient however, are lost during blanching in boiling water b cause they dissolve into the water. Steam blanching takes more time, but fewer water-soluble nutrients a lost. To minimize the loss of nutrients, blanch only f the required length of time. But don't under-blanch; the enzymes will not be inactivated, and the quality of the dried vegetables will be inferior.

Blanch the cut pieces of vegetables in a large amount of water. Follow the blanching times for freezing vegetable. Chill in ice water or in cold running water the same length of time recommended for blanching. Drain well and blot the pieces dry on paper toweling to remove excess moisture. Save the water. It will add flavor and valuable nutrients to your soups, stews, and gravies.


Spread the prepared vegetables in thin layers on the drying trays. Then stack the trays in the oven or dryer. Make sure to leave at least 1 1/2 inches between the trays so that the air can circulate freely around them. If the trays are too close together, drying will take longer.

If you are using an oven, keep the door open slightly and use an electric fan. A food dryer is equipped with a fan for ventilation, so close the door. Keep the oven temperature at 1400 F. (600 C.). Stir the pieces of vegetables about every half hour so that all surfaces are exposed to the air. Also, shift the trays around on the racks periodically because the temperature inside the oven varies somewhat from top to bottom and from front to back.

Vegetables take from 4 to 12 hours to dry. The length of time depends on the kind and amount of food being dried, the method you use (oven or food dryer), and the drying temperature. When sufficiently dry, the vegetables will be hard and brittle. You can test them by hitting a piece with a hammer; the piece should shatter.



You don't need to soak dried vegetables before cooking them, but soaking will shorten the cooking time. Reconstitute by soaking I cup of dried vegetables in 2 cups of water for about 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Vegetables will return to almost their original size and shape. Reconstituted vegetables are tasty additions to stews, casseroles, and soups. The water you use for soaking and cooking contains valuable nutrients, so use it in sauces and gravies.

Vegetable mixes for seasoning salads should not be soaked. Simply combine the dried vegetables with the other salad ingredients and add your favorite dressing.

Drying Herbs

Folklore often depicts the magical powers of herbs. But good cooks the world over have discovered another kind of power in the subtle flavors and aromas of herbs. If you grow and dry your own herbs, you will always have a fresh, inexpensive supply close at hand for making delicious foods.

Herbs do not add calories or nutritional value to foods, but they do add flavor. So if you want to cut down on calories, you can use herbs and spices to give zest to familiar, low-calorie foods. For someone on a salt-free diet, herbs can enhance the flavor of otherwise tasteless foods. A pinch of rosemary, for example, dropped into the water that potatoes or rice are boiled in will give a delightful taste to these vegetables.


You can grow and dry a wide variety of herbs. Some that are especially popular are thyme, tarragon, rosemary, mint, sage, sweet basil, bay leaf, parsley, marjoram, savory, oregano, chervil, chives, and dill. The foliage of these plants is attractive, and they give off a soft, pleasant fragrance. If you plant your herb garden near the kitchen, you can enjoy the plants and harvest the leaves easily as they reach the peak of quality. Young, tender leaves are more flavorful and aromatic than older leaves.


Cut the stalks when the leaves are mature or the plants have just started to bloom. Use only the tender, leafy tops and flower clusters. Discard the leaves below 6 inches from the top of the stalk. They are not as pungent as the top leaves. Remove any dead or discolored leaves. Rinse with cold water to wash off dust and dirt. Blot off excess moisture with paper toweling. When drying dill, harvest the plant as soon as the seeds are ripe.



When the leaves are dry, shake them from the stems and discard the stems. Crush the leaves if desired. But keep in mind that whole herbs retain their flavor longer than crushed or ground herbs. Store dried herbs in small airtight containers away from the light. Containers such as metal cans or tinted glass that exclude light are best.

If stored in a cool, dry, dark place, whole dried herbs retain their flavor and aroma up to one year. A warm storage area may hasten the loss of flavor. A damp environment encourages caking, color change, and infestation. Close the containers tightly after each use so that the volatile oils are not lost.

Do not use old herbs. If you aren't sure an herb is fresh, rub a bit of it between your palms and breathe in the aroma. If there is little or no aroma, replace the herb with a fresh supply.


To release the full flavor, cut or chop the dried leaves into fine bits before adding to food. Or crush the leaves by rubbing them between your palms or by grinding them with a mortar and pestle. For the best results, add herbs to the liquid in the recipe.

Keep seasoning blends subtle. When combining herbs, use one having a pronounced flavor with two to four others having a less pronounced flavor. All of the herbs in the following famous combinations can be grown and dried at home:

Sweet Basil Bay Leaf Sage
Use in tomato and egg dishes, stews, vegetables, meats, soups, and salads. Add a touch to hamburgers, noodles, and salad dressings. Drop a few leaves into stewing chicken, fish chowder, tomato soup, and corn chowder. Remove the leaves before serving. Essential in poultry seasoning. Use with onion for stuffing pork, duck, and goose. Rub powdered leaves on pork loin and ham.
Marjoram Chives Parsley
Add a pinch to poultry, meats, egg dishes, poultry stuffings, soups, potato salad, creamed potatoes, and green beans. Use as a substitute for onion. Sprinkle as a garnish over vegetables, baked potatoes, meats, and soups. Attractive as a garnish with soups, vegetable salads, meats, and poultry. Good as a seasoning with almost any vegetable or meat dish.
Oregano Rosemary Thyme
Delicious in pizzas or other Italian dishes, chili, meat loaf, veal dressings, and bean, tomato, or lentil soups. Gives a flair to sour cream served over sliced tomatoes. Blend with parsley and butter, and spread on chicken breasts and thighs when roasting. Add sparingly to creamed soups, poultry, stews, and sauces. Usually blended with other herbs. Leaves can be used with meat, poultry stuffing, gravies, soups, egg and cheese dishes, vegetables, and seafood.

Drying Meats

Drying, smoking, and salting were the only methods of preserving meat for thousands of years. Early American settlers dried much of their meat because they could not carry a fresh supply when traveling across the country. Today, dried meat, more commonly known as jerky, is usually prepared in an oven instead of being dried in the sun as it was years ago.

Jerky is a popular snack. It is sold almost anywhere that carries snack foods - from grocery stores to gas stations. It is a favorite with campers, hikers, and hunters because it is compact, lightweight, and keeps a long time.

Drying meat is considered "playing with food" by some people because, thanks to today's modern food industry, fresh meat is almost always available. But jerky has value as a convenient backpacking food and as a nutritious snack food. Besides, jerky is fun to make at home, and it costs only about half as much as an equal weight of commercially made jerky.


Any lean meat can be dried. Beef and venison are especially good; fish and poultry dry well, too. Be sure to use fresh, lean meat and cut off all fat and connective tissue. Fat becomes rancid easily and will spoil the dried meat.

Partly freezing the meat before cutting makes it easy to slice. Slice with the grain into long, thin, even strips. Slicing with the grain instead of crosswise makes the jerky chewy and less brittle. The strips should be about 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick, 1 to1-l/2 inches wide, and 4 to 12 inches long. Thin slices of meat will dry faster than thick ones. Any wild game meat should be frozen for at least 30 days to lower the chances of trichinosis infection by killing parasite larvae.

Meat may be dried as is, or it may be seasoned to suit your own taste. Salt and pepper are the basic ingredients. In the drying method, however, salt is used only as a seasoning, not as a preservative. It is crucial, therefore, that the oven temperature be maintained above 140 F. to prevent spoilage during the drying process. Keep in mind that too much seasoning will overpower the meat flavor.

Place seasoned meat in a crockery, plastic, glass, or stainless steel bowl or pan, and cover. Marinate the meat overnight or for about 12 hours in the refrigerator at 40° F (4° C).

The marinade recipe that follows makes a delicious jerky:

Marinade Recipe
5 lbs. lean meat 2 tsp. hickory smoke-flavored salt (optional)
1/2 tsp. each pepper, garlic powder,
ground ginger
2 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
The flavor of jerky can be varied by marinating the strips in mixtures such as teriyaki sauce, sweet and sour sauce, hot chili sauce, or your own favorite marinade. Or you may simply coat the meat with the marinade. The marinade should not contain oil because oil will become rancid and spoil the meat. For full flavor allow enough time for the seasoning to be absorbed into the meat (about 12 hours).

Mix marinade ingredients in a bowl. Add strips of meat and stir to coat all surfaces. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Remove strips, blot off excess moisture.



Don't let the meat get too hard and dry for your taste. If the jerky is not dry enough, though, it will spoil. The finished product is dark brown or almost black and feels hard and dry. Test a piece by bending it. It should break like a green twig -not snap clean like a dry stick. Be sure to let the jerky cool before testing, because when it is warm, it will still be pliable no matter how dry it is. The final product will be about a fourth of the original weight.


As soon as the meat is sufficiently dried, remove the racks from the oven or dryer and pat off any beads of melted fat that may have formed. Let the jerky cool first, then take it off the racks. Store in clean, airtight plastic, glass, crockery, or metal containers with tight-fitting lids. Pack tightly to remove as much air as possible, but do not crush. Store in a cool, dry place such as the pantry, basement, or kitchen cupboards.

Although jerky will last almost indefinitely, it starts to lose its flavor-after a few months.

Storing and Using Dried Foods



After the food has been thoroughly dried, cooled, conditioned, and pasteurized, you can be sure of its quality and safety if you store it properly. Place dried food in moisture- and vapor-proof containers with tight-fitting lids. Glass jars, coffee cans, and plastic freezer bags or cartons may be used. Containers that keep out light are best.

If you use a coffee can, place sulfured fruit in a plastic bag first to prevent contact of the fruit with the metal. The sulfur can react with the metal and give an off-flavor to the fruit.

It is best to package food in small quantities. Use pint-sized containers or small plastic bags. The bags should then be put into a large can or jar. If food is stored in large quantities, the unused portion may become contaminated each time you open the container. Be sure to pack the food tightly. Force out as much air as possible from the package before closing it. But take care not to crush the food.

All dried food deteriorates over a period of time, but storing it in a cool, dry, dark place will help to preserve the color and flavor. Kitchen cupboards or a pantry are good places if they don't get too hot. A dry basement or a closet on the north side of the house is also suitable. You may store dried food in the refrigerator or freezer if you have the space. Once a package of dried food is opened, it should be resealed tightly and if possible stored in the refrigerator to prevent contamination and mold growth. Properly dried and stored, vegetables and jerky will keep about 6 months, fruits and herbs about a year.

As a safety measure, examine stored food occasionally. If you find signs of a little moisture but no spoilage, pasteurize the food. If the food appears quite moist, repeat the drying process until thoroughly dry. Remember to cool the pieces before repackaging.

If you see any mold growth on the food, throw away the entire batch. It's not safe!


Selected References

The books listed below have been of use in preparing this publication and are recommended for further reading. They have been divided into two categories, depending on the accuracy of their instructions and advice.



This circular was prepared by Judy Troftgruben, Extension Specialist, Foods and Nutrition (1977), and revised by Mary Keith, Assistant Professor, Foods and Nutrition, and Extension Specialist, Foods, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. April, 1984

Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension Work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. WILLIAM R. OSCHWALD, Director, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

The Illinois Cooperative Extension Service provides equal opportunities in programs and employment.