Dehydration is the oldest form of food preservation

In Michigan, an electrical food dehydrator is needed to dehydrate foods.

October 9, 2018 - Author: Christine Venema, Michigan State University Extension

Two different dehydrators, one with a fan in the back of the appliance and another with fan on the bottom.
Food dehydrators differ in the location of their fans. The black box dehydrator has a fan on the back of the appliance while the white round dehydrator has a fan on the bottom. | Photos by Christine Venema, Michigan State University Extension

Drying is the oldest form of food preservation, going back to when man first realized that by leaving seeds in the sun to dry made them lighter and easier to carry from place to place. However, in Michigan, sun drying is not practical because Michigan does not have humidity under 10 percent, so in Michigan, it is necessary to rely on a mechanical means to dry foods.

A food dehydrator is a small electrical device for drying foods indoors. Generally, there is an electrical element for heat and a fan and vents to circulate the air for faster drying. Common places to find a food dehydrator are discount department stores, mail-order catalogs, the small appliance section of a department store, natural food stores and seed and garden supply catalogs. The cost will vary depending upon the features available. Michigan State University Extension recommends comparison shopping because the price has nothing to do with the quality of the product.

There are two basic styles of food dehydrators. One style has horizontal air flow, while the other has vertical air flow. For the horizontal air flow units, the heating unit and fan are located on the side. The major advantages of this style are that it reduces the mixing of food flavors, allows different foods to be dried at the same time, all the trays get equal heat penetration and juices or liquids do not drip down onto the heating element causing undesirable flavors. The vertical air flow food dehydrator has the heating element and fan on the bottom. If different foods are dried at the same time, this style allows the flavors to mix, potentially allowing an undesirable flavor to develop and liquids can drip down onto the heating element. Some models have additional trays making them expandable, but often the additional trays are an added cost. Twelve square feet of drying space will dry about a half-bushel of produce. The major disadvantage of a food dehydrator is that limited capacity to dry produce.

venema2There are a few features to look for in a food dehydrator include a double wall construction of metal or very high grade of plastic. Wood construction is not recommended due to being a fire hazard.

An enclosed heating element is a must for food dehydrators. Other features are counter top design, a thermostat that will measure 85 degrees Fahrenheit to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, a fan or blower, a temperature regulating dial and a timer for when the drying is complete to shut the dehydrator off and prevent scorching of the product. Generally, there are four to 10 open mesh trays made of a sturdy plastic designed for easy cleaning. Look for the UL seal of approval and a one-year guarantee.

So when you run out of canning jars and freezer space, consider drying foods to save on space and weight.


Andress, Elizabeth, So Easy to Preserve, 2014, Cooperative Extension/The University of Georgia/Athens, Bulletin 989.

Tags: food preservation, msu extension, safe food & water

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