Have you ever wondered why people spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars on food dehydrators when their trusty oven can do the same job? OK, so maybe not all food dehydrators cost as much as a small car but check this one out.
Granted, it does everything except your laundry, but why spend that much money when drying food in your own oven is almost as effective?
With food prices skyrocketing around the world, it makes sense to want to increase the shelf life of what you already have.
Removing the moisture will not only give you great tasting food, but can also prevent the growth of microorganisms and slow the decay. All great reasons to explore the ever-growing popularity of home food dehydration.
But won’t an oven cook my food?
Dehydrating food in an oven takes a little more care and effort compared to a standard food dehydrator, but once you’ve mastered the basics, there’ll be no stopping you.
The important thing to remember with an oven is that it’s very easy to overheat the food and begin the cooking process. Ovens are designed to deliver extreme heat in a confined space.
But one aspect of an oven that’s comparable to a dehydrator is delivering consistent heat.
It’s a set-and-forget appliance that can deliver specific temperatures for many, many hours. It’s still important to monitor the progress of your food, as ovens can heat-spike.
Reason #1: Save your money
But have a look in your kitchen and see what is sitting under that stove-top. Or on the wall beneath your microwave. That wonderful appliance you used to cook last night’s roast in, is almost the same thing.
The definition for a food dehydrator, according to wiki.org is “A food dehydrator uses a heat source and airflow to reduce the content of moisture in food.”
Doesn’t that sound like it’s drying the food out?
Because here we have wiki’s definition of an oven. “An oven is a thermally insulated chamber used for the heating, baking, and drying of a substance.”
“Drying of a substance” sounds very similar to the single purpose of a food dehydrator which, looking at some of the prices on Amazon, can cost much more than an oven.
If an oven is already designed with the capability to dehydrate food, there seems very little reason to spend money on yet another appliance.
Reason #2: Convenience and saving space
Already owning an oven is one of the many benefits of food dehydrating. But my favorite part is that it’s already set and ready to go the minute I want to start using it.
There’s no need to unpack it, fiddle about with all the different bits and pieces needed and then when finished, repeat the process again. Although I am partial to new things, especially the moment I get to unpack them.
Would you keep your new dehydrator out? It might make it more convenient, but honestly, who has the bench space?
Some food dehydrators can take up a lot of kitchen real estate and I know that added to the other plethora of appliances I keep, there’s very little room for more.
Unless you’re dehydrating food on a daily basis, there is no reason to keep it out on the bench.
Your oven is unpacked, installed, switched on and ready to go. The only thing it needs is you, a few trays of delicious food and a little bit of patience.
An oven is designed to generate incredible heat and dehydrating food doesn’t need a lot. Although this may sound like a difficult task to complete with a virtual blast furnace at the ready, trial and error is the key to success.
Reason #3: Dehydrating to familiar sounds
Depending on which type of oven you own, the chances are that you have used it enough times to be familiar with it.
By familiar, I mean how it works, how it smells, how the food cooks in it and also how it sounds. Yes, even sounds.
If you have a standard gas oven, the quiet swish of the flame will be familiar to you. If a convection oven is what bakes your delicious banana bread, then the faint hum of the fan is how you patiently await your baked treasures.
Every type of oven will have a sound that you’re already familiar with and could fall asleep to. Ovens aren’t that noisy, most of their insulation absorbing their sounds.
Dehydrators and Noise
Food dehydrators are known for their noise levels, depending on your specific model choice.
Noise is relevant to size, the larger ones known to generate significantly more fan noise than smaller models. Although they are comparable to that of a convection oven, it all comes down to what you’re used to.
The question you need to ask yourself is; are you prepared to listen to the whirring sounds of an airplane propeller trying to take off if you purchase a more significant model? Food doesn’t dehydrate in a matter of minutes but hours.
The drying times of specific foods, such as figs or grapes, can require between 22 and 30 hours to dehydrate. Apples take between 7 and 15 hours while carrots take from 6 to 10 hours.
There’s no quick fix for dehydrating food, the process requiring time and patience, regardless of the method you choose.
But with the familiarity of your oven, the process may not be as intrusive.
Reason #4: When the familiar wins the day
Apart from the buttons to control your oven timer, lights, and extra functions, most ovens have 2 dials that operate it.
There’s little instruction needed for them, the first setting the required temperature, the other choosing the heating method.
You’ve used your oven so many times that turning the two dials has become second nature, each used with very little thought.
A new food dehydrator may arrive with an instruction book as thick as “War and Peace” and require an engineering degree from Harvard to program it.
For some, the learning curve can be quite dramatic, leaving you screaming for mercy as you frantically press buttons.
They do have some pretty fancy functions compared to the more affordable models which might sway you to a new one.
The simple fact is that compared to any new dehydrator you purchase, the oven you already use will be far simpler to work out.
Yes, it may take a few tries to get things just right, but isn’t that the same with anything?
Drying Food in Oven: Things You Need to Get Right
Every piece of fruit, vegetable, meat, and herb requires different amounts of time to dehydrate.
Most websites, books, and apps suggest times for each, but those are only guessing at best. The 3 things that determine just how long something will take to dehydrate are-
- The thickness of the slice
- Size of the piece being dehydrated
- Water content
While most food dehydrators have adjustable settings, it’s the size and water content of the food that determine the end result.
Remember eating that last apple? Was it juicy? Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. But fruit varies in water content from one season to the next.
So, time used for this batch may differ from the next. While most dehydrators have adjustable settings, they are no better than your oven for perfecting food dehydration.
There are several hints and tips at the end of this article for you to consider when using your oven. As with anything else, they may not be right for your specific needs or circumstances.
Your own type of oven, power, size, and age may alter some of the numbers. Trial and error are the answer; seeing what works for you and what doesn’t.
Reason #5: Comparing Apples with Oranges
Stephen R. Covey once said that “The key is in not spending time, but in investing it”. I doubt he was thinking of dehydrating food at that very moment, but if he was, he may have been staring at his oven while thinking it.
Food dehydrators are amazing appliances, there’s no denying it. But so is your oven.
You’ll find each with pros and cons. Therefore, it’s left to you to decide which is more suitable for your needs.
Whilst modern food dehydrators have come a long way since their introduction, the art of dehydrating food has been around for thousands of years.
With air-drying and solar drying also viable options, it comes down to what results you are looking for.
Comparing a device built for a single purpose to something designed for many purposes may not give you a clear-cut answer.
An oven can be used for so much more than dehydrating food. Its effectiveness limited by its user’s courage to take a chance.
While a food dehydrator will give you exactly what you pay for, isn’t it a little more exciting to try and experiment a little for yourself?
5 Top Hints and Tips for Perfectly Drying Food in Oven
Tip #1: Understand the oven your using
Is it gas, electric or fan-forced? Each will have a different heat output so don’t be afraid to change things up.
If your oven temperature is too hot, try opening the door just a little. Please, never leave children unattended when trying this though.
Tip #2: Never overfill your oven
Good dehydration requires even airflow. If there are too many racks in your oven, the air won’t be able to circulate enough, and the food may sit in varying heat within your oven.
Tip #3: Slice food evenly
If you try and dehydrate a tray of apple slices and each slice is thicker than the other, you’ll end up with some underdone and some overdone.
If your knife skills are as bad as mine, use a mandolin.
Tip #4: Monitor
Accurately monitor the temperature of your oven with a dedicated thermometer. These can be purchased for a few dollars and work incredibly well.
Tip #5: If you fail, try again
Remember that first cake you tried to bake that was all fluffy on the outside and doughy on the inside?
No wait, that was my first cake. I didn’t let that first failure deter me. I threw it away and started again.
If you fail your first, second or even third batch, eventually you’ll find that perfect sweet spot. The heat and time and monitoring to create perfect snacks.
Drying Food in Oven: What Are You Going to Do?
Drying food in the oven is a great way of utilizing an appliance that you already have. If you are new to food dehydration, using your oven is probably the best way to start.
However, if you are finding that drying food in the oven is too cumbersome, a food dehydrator might be the right equipment for you.
You can find out more about food dehydration in this article: 5 Tips to Food Dehydration for Preservation