Did you know you can dehydrate food right in your home kitchen? Here's how to preserve your backpacking food and lighten your load on the trail by removing excess water weight.
Moisture, which accounts for around 60 to 90 percent of a food's weight, provides an ideal environment for mold, yeast and bacteria. This can cause your trail food to spoil or become pungent. It can also put you at risk of digestive issues in environments that don't have toilets or modern plumbing.
By eliminating moisture, dehydration can help extend the shelf life of many food items. It can also make food lighter in your pack. The secret of effective dehydration is to dry food at temperatures that are high enough to eliminate water without overcooking the food.
You can eliminate moisture in a food dehydrator or conventional oven, as long as you use the right technique. Drying times depend on an array of factors, including the size of the food and humidity of the surrounding air in your kitchen. Although effective food dehydration is a skill learned through practice, there are some general guidelines for certain foods:
Fruits and vegetables: Dry in the oven at between 120° and 140°F until vegetables feel brittle and fruit is leathery. You can also blanch vegetables before dehydrating to help preserve flavor. Onions, mushrooms and tomatoes should be chopped and placed directly in the dehydrator without extra preparation.
Meats: Dry meats at or slightly above 145°F until they are dry and flaky. You can also jerk meat by dehydrating it until it cracks when bent. Always trim the fat from meat to reduce the risk of spoilage.
Once you've dehydrated your backpacking food, you will want to store it in airtight containers in a dark, dry, cool place until your trip. On the trail, you can rehydrate your food in a cookpot by pre-soaking it or letting it simmer for a while. Once you've revived your food with fresh water, add salt and spices to enhance flavor.
Although you can safely dehydrate an amazing variety of foods, there are certain foods you shouldn't try to dehydrate. Avoid any type of food with a high amount of fat, such as bacon, sausage, butter and avocados. The same applies to dairy products and cheese. The high-fat content in these foods gives bacteria plenty of opportunity to breed even without much water.
Moisture content plays a major impact on the shelf life of food. The less moisture content, the longer it will last. Under ideal circumstances, dehydrated food can lose up to 95 percent of moisture. Unfortunately, do-it-yourself home dehydration techniques usually only remove about 70 percent of moisture content.
On the other hand, because freeze-dried food loses 98-99 percent of its moisture content, it's much more suitable for long-term storage. While dehydrated and freeze-dried backpacking foods can both have extended shelf lives, freeze-dried food is superior when it comes to prolonged storage.
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