How To Dry And Store Vegetables
The process of drying vegetables is exhausting although technically there is very little to explain. The little pouches of dried vegetables to be added to the instant noodles and soups that are available in the grocery stores are in fact a result of a very simple (yet time consuming) process of dehydrating vegetables. Today’s fast food style of living generally connects drying of vegetables to grandmother’s days and is done mainly by those who have the time on hand or are kitchen lovers. However, understanding some simple facts on how to dry vegetables at home can create an awareness and interest about the simplicity of the process and the nutritional benefits attached to it.
WHAT IS VEGETABLE DRYING:
This term is self explanatory and simply means to dry the vegetables. Drying is done to remove the water content present in it so that spoilage or decay of food is prevented during the preservation process. Vegetable drying is one of the many ways of preserving food for long periods of time. Some other methods of preserving food are canning and freezing. Drying results are best when vegetables are tender, fresh and at their peak quality.
STEPS TO SUCCESSFUL DRYING:
Depending on the method of drying, the first option is usually blanching the vegetables. Dip the vegetable for a minute or two in hot, bubbling water, immerse in cold water for about 30 seconds and then drain. The vegetables should ultimately be par boiled, so to speak, and warm to touch, by the time these steps are completed. Care should be taken while blanching, so as not to overcook the vegetables. Blanching is done to stop enzyme action and bacterial growth that might otherwise affect the drying process or the quality of the dried food.
The next step is choosing the drying medium. There are many choices, some of which are a) Out-door Drying such as Sun Drying and Solar Drying, b) Indoor Drying such as the use of Ovens and Food Dehydrators and c) Air Drying. Factors that affect good vegetable dehydration are dry air to absorb moisture, proper air circulation and heat which is just right to dry the vegetables without cooking them. Usually with the air drying method, blanching is not done.
OUT DOOR DRYING:
This does not mean that you take your heater outside, but rather, natural heating is made use of, such as bright hot summer heat. Blanched vegetables are used.
a) Sun Drying: Place the blanched vegetables neatly on an anti-corrosive rack or on a tray with absorbent paper or muslin cloth. Cover with a light muslin cloth so that bird droppings, dust, and insects do not get to it. Place the tray over two spaced blocks of wood or any make-shift stand so that the tray is away from the floor and also allows proper circulation of air all round. This should be done in open areas where there is direct sunlight. The muslin cloth or absorbent paper have to be changed daily as they soak up a lot of moisture from the vegetables, especially the bottom sheet of muslin or paper
Sun drying is a fairly long process and is subject to the mood of the sun. It takes many days to be adequately dry and each evening it should be taken indoors so that the cold moist air of the night does not affect the drying process. Follow process till the vegetable becomes crisp and dry.
b) Solar Drying: Solar drying is based on the similar principle of solar heaters and solar cookers. This is easy to make and makes use of the sun’s heat along with the use of foil sheets. To make a solar dryer, what you would need are a ply wood box like an open cabinet, a black sheet of paper for the base and the inner back lining, hinges for stacking trays, foil sheets, a transparent plastic curtain and air vents at the bottom and top of the box to facilitate air circulation.
The contraption is such that the inside looks like a black oven with silver foil-covered trays with a plastic curtain for a door. This is placed in the heat and can be moved around to wherever the heat rays are focused during the day. The black sheets trap heat and radiate it to the foil which heats up. The inside of the box as a whole heats up and air flows from the bottom to the top as hot air rises.
Many kinds of solar dehydrators can be made based on the principles of trapping heat, proper air flow and protection from contamination.
* Outdoor vegetable drying need to be pasteurized before storing. This is a process of killing insects and insect eggs that might be on outdoor dried items. There are two methods. A) Seal in a dry plastic bag and store in the freezer for 48 hours, and B) heat it in an oven or dehydrator for 30 minutes. Whichever the method, ensure the dried vegetables are restored to room temperature before finally sealing and storing them.
Indoor drying makes use of home appliances for the purpose of drying vegetables such as the Oven and the Food dehydrator. For this, a constant temperature is maintained according to user guidelines and recipe instructions. Usually blanched vegetables are used.
Food Dehydrator: This is an electrical gadget for drying food, be it vegetables, fruits, poultry or seafood. This can be carried indoors or outdoors (garage or car shed) depending on the choice of vegetable and the strong smell that might result during the process. Dehydrators dry vegetables efficiently and quickly at a constant temperature of 140 Fahrenheit. It consists of a heating element and a fan to enable proper air flow.
Conventional Oven: This is similar to a dehydrator, but does not have a fan inside to help air flow. As a result, the drying process takes twice as long and is not advisable for those who use the oven frequently for other cooking purposes. This method as a rule is not cost effective, because of the amounts of energy it consumes during the rather long drying time.
There are, however, some vegetables that can be air dried. For this, the type of vegetable and the choice of place are very important. Chilies are easy to dry using this method and can be hung at convenient places. All that has to be done is needling a strand of twine, strong thread or single strand of fishing wire through the vegetables and tying loops at both ends. The loops can be hung on hooks at convenient drying areas.
NUTRITIONAL VALUE OF DRIED VEGETABLES:
Vitamin A : Fairly retained.
Vitamin C: Destroyed.
Fiber: Totally retained.
Calorie content: Does not change although in concentrated form.
Vitamin B groups: Partial loss during blanching.
Minerals: Partial loss.
Iron: Totally retained.
STORING DRIED VEGETABLES:
As in all preservation techniques, tight air sealed jars are to be used. Plastic packets may also be used as long as they are properly fastened and sealed. Labels should be affixed with item name along with manufacturing date. Expiry date is optional as long as you know the shelf life of such products. Before the items are packed they should be dry, brittle and crisp. Store jars and packets in a dark place away from sunlight.
HOW TO USE DRIED VEGETABLES:
Dried vegetables may be fried, dropped into stews and soups, and may even be ready to use when immersed in water before cooking. When immersed in water, they regain their original size and shape and can be cooked as any other fresh vegetable or added to main course meals such as fried rice, noodles or pizza.