What is a Dehydrator & How Can They Be Used? A Commercial Buying Guide
Whether you’re looking to dehydrate fruit to garnish your cocktails with or make your own beef jerky, a dehydrator is sure to be a welcome addition to your commercial kitchen. These catering appliances are versatile and ideal for a range of sweet and savoury dishes. But what exactly is a dehydrator, and how can a food dehydrator benefit your kitchen? In this buying guide we’ll cover everything you need to know about the appliances, from how dehydrators work to food dehydrator uses.
- What is a dehydrator and how does it work?
- How long does a dehydrator take?
- How much is a commercial dehydrator?
- How much electricity does a food dehydrator use and how much does it cost to run?
- How to use a dehydrator
Food dehydrators: The basics
If you’re interested in buying a commercial dehydrator for your business, it’s important to know the basics before making your investment. Here we’ll cover all the essential information you need to and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about food dehydrators.
What is a dehydrator and how does it work?
A food dehydrator does exactly as the name suggests — it dehydrates food. However, a few other things occur in the food dehydration process which are worth noting. First and foremost, by removing the moisture from the food a dehydrator also aids in preservation so it can expand the shelf life of your dehydrated ingredients, making perishables last longer. Removing the moisture also makes ingredients lighter, which is what makes dehydrated foods a popular snack amongst outdoor adventurers.
The dehydrator works by circulating air at temperatures ranging from around 40°C to 75°C for long periods of time. This heat range is high enough to remove the moisture from your food while low enough to minimise the nutrients and minerals lost. Dehydrators are equipped with fans and vents, which is what removes the moisture from the appliance to fully dehydrate your ingredients. Some dehydrators also come with glass doors so you can keep an eye on how your food is doing.
How long does a dehydrator take?
As already mentioned, food dehydrators work by circulating air for long periods of time. However, it largely depends on the type and size of food you are planning to dehydrate. Most foods will take anything between four and twelve hours to dehydrate fully, although many dehydrators can be used for 24 hours or more at a time.
The good news is that foods cannot be over-dehydrated, so you don’t need to worry if you leave things in a little longer than you expected to. However, you can deplete some foods of nutrients if you dry them at too high a setting. Just like the length of time needed to dehydrate your food, the temperature you set your dehydrator at depends on the type of food you’re preserving. Foods high in water content, like fruits, can be dehydrated at higher temperatures of around 57 to 58°C without over crisping, while more delicate and less water-rich ingredients, such as herbs and some vegetables, are better suited to temperatures of around 40°C.
How much is a commercial dehydrator?
Household dehydrators are available for as little as £50. However, these are much smaller and lower power than a commercial dehydrator, so aren’t the best option for hospitality businesses looking to dehydrate produce in large batches. When it comes to large professional dehydrators with nine square foot capacity or over, these can range in price from around £400 to £6,000 or £7,000.
How much electricity does a food dehydrator use and how much does it cost to run?
The electricity used by your dehydrator depends largely on two things: the maximum power of your appliance (in watts), and how long you are using it for. Generally, a smaller commercial unit will use half to one kilowatt an hour, while a larger dehydrator will use one to two kilowatts an hour. To figure out a more precise measurement, take the maximum wattage of your appliance and multiply this by the number of hours you plan to use your dehydrator. For example, using a small 500 watt (0.5 kilowatts) dehydrator for six hours would use three kilowatts. You can then use your electricity bill to find out how much you are being charged per kilowatt to calculate how much your appliance costs to run.
How to use a dehydrator
The good news is that using a dehydrator is incredibly simple, so you shouldn’t struggle getting to grips with the new appliance. You should start by turning the dehydrator on, putting it at your desired temperature, and giving it a bit of time to warm up just like you would do with an oven. While it is warming up, make sure your food is clean and has been thoroughly dried. If you need to cut your food up, you should ensure you do so uniformly so that all the pieces are dehydrated at the same rate. The thinner you cut your food, the less time it will take to dehydrate. Then place the food on your tray or sheet, with at least half an inch space between each piece, and dehydrate for as long as required.
Check back in regularly to see how the food is coming along. A good way to tell whether food is finished dehydrating is to take a few pieces out and put them straight into a glass. If the glass fogs up, that means there is still moisture in the food so it still needs a little while longer.
Why dehydrate food?
Knowing the basics like how food dehydrators work and how to operate them is important before making your investment. But why should you consider buying one in the first place? Here we’ll take you through the many benefits of buying a dehydrator and look at how it compares to freeze drying.
The benefits of investing in a food dehydrator
There are a plenty of benefits to investing in a food dehydrator for your hospitality business. Below we’ve rounded up some of the best advantages of dehydrators so you can get a good idea of whether one is right for your business.
· Extends the shelf life of food: As dehydrating preserves ingredients, you can use your dehydrator to extend the shelf life of foods which may be nearing their expiry, like fresh pasta or fruit. Not only does this prevent food wastage, but it reduces the cost of replacing wasted ingredients.
· Create healthy snacks: Dehydrated foods retain much of their nutritional content, especially in comparison to other food preparation methods. This is ideal if you’re looking to create healthy snacks at your business, such as fruit leather.
· Easy to use: It doesn’t take long to get to grips with a dehydrator, so your chefs can get stuck in straight away. At Mitchell & Cooper, we offer dehydrators with timers so your chefs don’t have to worry if they forget when the food is ready in the middle of an evening rush.
· Allows your chefs to experiment: Providing your chefs with another method of food preparation allows them to experiment even more in the kitchen. Who knows, they may even end up creating a new customer favourite with your commercial dehydrator!
· You can rehydrate your food: Dehydrated food can be delicious in its own right and has a unique and pleasant texture. But if you’re looking to preserve ingredients and rehydrate them in the future, that’s also possible with a dehydrator.
Freeze dryer vs dehydrator
An alternative method of drying food is to use a freeze dryer. While dehydrators use a low heat to slowly dry food, freeze dryers are a little more complex, but the process can ultimately be narrowed down to three phases. The first is the freezing phase, which of course works to bring the temperature of the product down. The next step is known as the sublimation phase, in which the pressure is lowered and heat is added to sublimate the water (essentially turn it into vapor). This removes around 90% - 95% of the water from the food. The final step is adsorption, also known as the secondary drying phase. In this phase, the temperature is raised again and the remaining water is removed.
As well as being a very different process, the end result is also different when it comes to freeze drying vs dehydrating. Freeze dried food becomes light and airy and has a crunchy texture, while dehydrated food is a little heavier (but still very light), and the texture can be more chewy, especially in the case of some dehydrated fruits and beef jerky.
In terms of which appliance is better, this depends largely on what texture you’re looking for. However, dehydrators are generally a more popular choice. While freeze dried food does tend to stay preserved for longer, dehydrators are much less pricey, use less electricity, and take up less space in your commercial kitchen.
What is a dehydrator used for?
One of the benefits of investing in a food dehydrator is how versatile they can be. While most-commonly associated with dehydrating fruit and making jerky, there are so many other opportunities when you have one of these appliances. Check out this list below to discover just a selection of food dehydrator uses for your chefs to try out:
· Granola: If you have a breakfast or brunch menu, a homemade granola is sure to impress your guests.
· Edible flowers: From garnishing cocktails at your bar to decorating baked goods at your bakery, there are numerous uses to dehydrated edible flowers.
· Onions: Onion powder is a staple in most professional kitchens, so why not try dehydrating onions to make your own?
· Garlic: Similar to onion, you can dehydrate garlic to create garlic powder. Just make sure to avoid dehydrating garlic and onion at the same time as their strong flavours can overpower one another.
· Sourdough starter: By dehydrating a sourdough starter and storing it in an air-tight container, you can make the starter become dormant and extend the life by years.
· Butter: You can create butter powder by simply dehydrating butter and putting it in a food processor. This butter powder can be used in numerous dishes, from baked goods to sauces and gravies.
· Cheese: You can make your own cheese powder for cheese-based recipes by using a dehydrator.
· Eggs: If you have eggs nearing their expiry, these can be dehydrated and used in baked goods at a later date. Simply break the eggs and whisk them well, scramble them over a low heat, and put the scrambled eggs in the dehydrator at around 60°C for ten hours. Once dehydrated, pop them in the food processor to create egg powder.
· Lemon peel: Make most of the whole fruit and dehydrate lemon peel after the citrus has been juiced. You can turn your dried lemon peel into a powder to use it in seasoning mixes, baked goods, and hot drinks.
Looking for more inspiration for using your new investment? Read our blog post on 10 alternative uses for dehydrators for even more ideas.
Which food dehydrator is best for me?
With so many different commercial dehydrators on the market, it can be difficult to narrow down your search to find the perfect one for your professional kitchen. A good place to start is by finding an appliance from a trusted brand, to ensure that you’re making a safe investment in a product that will last for years to come. Here at Mitchell & Cooper you’ll find products from one of the most popular and trusted dehydrator brands on the market: Excalibur. Founded in 1973, this brand has decades of experience in producing dehydrating solutions and are trusted by hospitality businesses and household consumers alike, so you can rest assured you’re in great hands with them. We also have a dehydrator in stock from HotmixPRO, an established and renowned commercial kitchen appliance manufacturer.
Another important factor to take into account is size. As a commercial business, you may not want the smallest dehydrator on the market, but be mindful of the amount of counter space your chefs need to work comfortably. The good news is that there are a number of products on the market that are relatively compact while still providing ample room for large batches. Take the Excalibur 9 Tray Dehydrator for example — this is a relatively compact option which can be stored on your commercial kitchen countertop, but it comes with an impressive 15 square feet of drying space.
Just like any other kitchen appliance, cleaning and caring for your dehydrator is vital for the performance and longevity of the product. So, choosing an easy to clean and maintain product is vital. Here at Mitchell & Cooper you’ll find the Excalibur 10 Tray Digital Dehydrator and the HotmixPRO Dry, both of which are comprised primarily of stainless steel which is easy to keep clean with just warm water and dish soap.
There are number of other factors you may want to take into account before making your purchase too. These include:
· Timers: In a hectic professional kitchen, a dehydrator with a timer can be incredibly useful as chefs don’t have to worry if they forget to switch off the machine. This will also help you save on electricity costs.
· Glass doors: Glass doors are an advantage for keeping an eye on how your food is coming along in the dehydrator.
· Temperature range: If you’re looking to get as much out of your investment as possible, opt for a dehydrator with a larger temperature range to give your chefs even more opportunities to experiment.
· Ease of use: While all dehydrators are pretty simple to use, some are more so than others. If you have chefs who have no experience in using a dehydrator, opt for an especially intuitive appliance with a detailed manual.
· Warranty: You should always make sure you have a generous warranty period when you buy your dehydrator on the off chance that something goes wrong. Mitchell & Cooper offer year-long warranties on all of our dehydrators for peace of mind.
Caring for your food dehydrator
Once you’ve decided on the right food dehydrator for you and you’ve made your process, your final step is ensuring the lifespan and performance of your product by learning how to care for the appliance. Before first using the dehydrator, you should take the time to read the instruction manual thoroughly, familiarising yourself with the specific care and maintenance advice from the manufacturer. Each dehydrator model is different, so many have different care guidelines. By having a thorough understanding of these you can prevent mishaps and misuse, and you will be able to troubleshoot if an error occurs.
Cleaning your food dehydrator after each use is another essential care and maintenance task, and it is crucial for the hygiene of your commercial kitchen. To clean your dehydrator effectively, simply follow the step-by-step process below:
1. Unplug the dehydrator and let it cool down completely before starting the cleaning process.
3. Wash the trays, mesh sheets, and other removable parts with warm, soapy water. Use a non-abrasive sponge or cloth to avoid scratching the surfaces.
4. Rinse the parts thoroughly with clean water, ensuring no soap residue remains.
5. Clean the inside of the dehydrator with warm water and a mild dish soap, paying special attention to any food residue or stains.
6. Allow all the components to air dry completely before reassembling or storing them. While doing so, you can clean the exterior of the dehydrator with a damp cloth.
The heating element is a vital component of your food dehydrator, so make sure to treat it with care to avoid any damage. Never immerse the heating element in water or any liquid. Instead, wipe it gently with a soft, damp cloth if necessary. It’s also a good idea to regularly inspect the heating element for any signs of wear or damage.
When not in use, you should store your food dehydrator in a clean, dry place to ensure it is protected from excessive moisture, dust, and direct sunlight. Store the trays, sheets, and other accessories in a safe location nearby to avoid them becoming damaged and/or misplaced. It’s a good idea to keep the box your dehydrator came in for storage, or you can buy a dust cover for the product.
Just like with any other commercial kitchen appliance, you should perform routine maintenance checks to ensure your food dehydrator continues to function optimally, and most importantly, safely. These tasks include inspecting the power cord for any fraying or damage, checking the thermostat is still accurate, and examining the fan for debris or obstruction.
A food dehydrator can be a fantastic addition to a wide range of commercial kitchens, from bakeries to restaurants. Hopefully this guide has helped you see the full potential of this appliance, and given you an idea of what to look out for when buying one for your hospitality business.
We have a selection of premium-quality food dehydrators to explore here at Mitchell & Cooper. We also stock even more kitchen appliances for professional kitchens, including stand mixers, thermal blenders, and gelato machines, as well as cookware, kitchenware, and storage solutions. Explore our full range of products today.