Different types and blends of produce require different dehydrating techniques. Times also vary depending on the produce. What doesn’t change is the need to ensure food is completely dry before packaging: Herbs should crackle and crumble, vegetables should be brittle and shatter, and fruits and fruit leathers should be leathery and pliable but not moist and sticky when squeezed.
The recipes on this site refer to this page for the best way to prepare a particular fruit or vegetable for long-term dried storage. In all cases, pack the results into labeled zip-close bags, pressing as much air from the bag as possible before sealing and storing in a cool, dark, dry place.
One of the easiest ways to dehydrate something is to hang it in a warm, dry place. Herbs with woody stems and chili peppers are among the easiest foods to hang-dry.
- Harvest the produce you want to dry, ideally after morning dew has evaporated but before the wilting heat of the day.
- For herbs, tie together a half-dozen stems with string, leaving a bit of a tail on each end. For chili peppers, pierce the stem ends with a needle and strong thread and string them into necklaces.
- Pin the strings to a clothesline or otherwise hang them in a warm, dry place out of the sun. Late-season chili peppers can be hung above a woodstove.
- Check daily to ensure the process is working. It may take a week or more for herbs to crumble easily and chili pepper skins to shrivel and crackle, indicating they are completely dry.
If you’re collecting seeds, for either cooking or replanting, hang the bundle inside a paper bag so that you can capture the seeds as they pop free of their husks.
Sun (or Shade) Screen
Some leaves and flowerheads are easiest to separate from their stems while fresh and dried on mesh screens in the shade. Fruits are high in acid and sugar, so they can also be safely dried on screens; put fruits in the sun at temperatures of at least 86°F.
- Ensure your chosen screens are clean and, if metal, covered with cheesecloth.
- Lay the food on the screen in a single layer, avoiding overlaps to ensure even drying.
- Choose a dry, warm place in the shade or sun, depending on the food. Set the screen on bricks or other supports that raise it a few inches. If stacking screens, ensure 5–6 inches of space between trays for even air circulation.
- Check daily, turning and shifting the food as needed to ensure even drying. If temperatures cool at night, move the screens to a cool, dry place indoors. It may take a week or more for leaves to crumble easily or fruit to become leathery but pliable, indicating full dryness.
When you get serious about drying foods, you’ll want a dehydrator. Modern dehydrators are affordable, easy to use and clean, and come with temperature settings that let you dry everything from herbs to fish stew without worrying about spoilage before the food becomes completely dry.
- Spread your food in a single layer on the clean, vented dehydrator trays, if it’s in pieces, or on plastic sheets that fit those trays, if it’s pureed.
- Plug in the dehydrator and set its temperature to the ideal setting for the produce you are drying. Herbs generally want the lowest setting, but liquid items like fruit leathers do best near the warmest possible temperature. Let the food dry for the specified number of hours.
- Check the food at the recommended finish time. If it appears dry, unplug the dehydrator, let the food cool to room temperature, and then remove a small portion to check for complete dryness. Restart the dehydrator if the food needs to dry longer, checking it hourly until done.
Check your dehydrator for the ideal number of trays; most recommend at least 2 racks at a time, and some can dry 6–10 racks in one go.
Some foods dry decently in the oven, but the process could take an energy-burning 12 hours. Food on solid trays must be checked and turned often to ensure even drying. And hitting the right temperature can be challenging: many ovens don’t have a low enough setting. But if you don’t have a dehydrator, oven drying can work well for some foods, like granola. Check out the University of Georgia’s drying factsheets for more information on oven drying.