WebstaurantStore / Food Service Resources / Buying Guides / Food Dehydrators Buying Guide

Food Dehydrators Buying Guide

Have you ever wanted to serve your own house-made veggie chips? Or maybe add healthy, locally-grown dried fruits or herbs to your recipes? Then your business could benefit from a commercial food dehydrator! Not sure what to look for? This guide is here to help you learn how to buy a food dryer that will do everything you need it to do.

Common Questions about Food Dehydrators

177CFD10

How do food dehydrators work?

Dehydrators remove the moisture from food without cooking it. This is accomplished by using a heating element that provides uniform, warm temperatures and a small fan that draws air in through the bottom or back of the unit and across the trays of food inside.

By simply removing the moisture, dehydrators help to maintain the high nutritional value of foods and the best flavors. This means that your recipes using dried foods can be healthier and more flavorful!

What can I process in a food dehydrator?

The opportunities are just about limitless. Depending on the type of food dehydrator you choose, you can dry fruits, vegetables, grains, meats, flowers, and nearly anything else you dream up. Dehydrators are great for making house specialties like granola, fruit leather, or dried fruit, but they can also be used for recipes that are otherwise difficult to make. For Indonesian tempeh, Japanese natto, fresh yogurt, and other foods that require constant low, warm temperatures for an extended period of time, a dehydrator is an easy-to-use, low-cost way to start expanding your menu into these areas.

When choosing between different types of dehydrators, be aware that round style dehydrators are only useful for drying solid items like fruits, herbs, meats, etc. They’re great for drying but don’t do well with pans of yogurt or liquid products like fruit leathers.

What are the benefits of using a food dehydrator?

  • Health Benefits: Drying foods helps to preserve the natural nutrients that they contain. Since dehydrators simply remove the moisture from food, they leave behind more of the healthy vitamins and enzymes. Plus, commercially prepared dried or canned foods often include salt or sulfur-based preservatives that can cause health issues for some consumers. Some also include monosodium glutamate (MSG) which many people are sensitive to, while others have added sugar that is not only unnecessary but also unhealthy. When using a dehydrator to make your own dried fruits, vegetables, herbs, meats, or other foods, you can choose which additives to include (or exclude) from your recipes.
  • Cost Savings: By drying and preserving excess foods for use in recipes or as healthy snacks to sell, you can use up products that might otherwise go to waste. Dried food has a longer shelf life than fresh foods, so you can buy in bulk and not worry about throwing away the excess. In addition, some dried foods or ingredients can be expensive to purchase pre-made. If your budget is tight, choosing to buy fresh foods and dry them yourself could help you save money in the long run.
  • Ease of Use: While some trial and error is necessary to find a recipe you like, since the drying process is so slow it is difficult to ruin a batch of food beyond repair. Many manufacturers offer in-depth resources that can help you properly prepare, dry, store, and utilize different types of foods, making it easy to get started.

Why can’t I use my oven to dehydrate foods?

Effective dehydrating takes precise temperatures over an extended period of time. While certain high-end combination ovens offer the temperature and humidity control required to dry foods, most convection ovens and standard ovens don’t offer the consistent temperatures that are needed for drying foods. Plus, while hot and cold spots are unavoidable in most ovens they’re less problematic in food dryers.

943280301W
Food dehydrators tend to be much more energy efficient than ovens. When you consider the difference between running a 1000W dehydrator for 12 hours versus a 5000W to 38,000W convection oven for the same time period, the dehydrator wins out on energy use alone.

Finally, most ovens have a low temperature limit between 150-200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is too hot for drying many foods. Using too high a temperature setting can end up cooking the food rather than simply removing the moisture. This results in the loss of more of the flavor and nutrients than would be lost by using a dehydrator.

Types of Dehydrators

Type
Example Description Application
Vertical
943750601W
Vertical dehydrators are so called because they draw air vertically through the bottom of the unit and up over the pans of food. Most vertical dehydrators are round and feature trays that stack one on top of the other rather than sliding into the unit on shelves or tray slides. The lid of a vertical dehydrator is typically on the top of the unit, so you can’t remove a tray from the bottom without removing the ones above it.

This type of dehydrator is great for batch preparation and works best with solid foods. While they can’t handle trays of yogurt or pans of other liquids like fruit leather, they’re great for low volume production of other dried foods.
  • Granola
  • Herbs
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Jerky
Horizontal
177CFD10
As opposed to vertical units, horizontal style dehydrators have fans that draw air in through the back of the units and across the trays. Most models have tray slides and doors on the side so that you can load and unload one tray without disturbing the trays around it. Horizontal dehydrators come in all sizes from small countertop units with only 4 shelves all the way up to large floor models with 24 shelves or more.

This type of dehydrator is ideal if you want to dry liquid or semi-liquid products. Models that fall under this group can handle different types of trays and pans so you can even make fruit leathers and yogurt in them.
  • Granola
  • Herbs
  • Fruit
  • Legumes
  • Vegetables
  • Yogurt
  • Fruit leather
  • Jerky

How to Choose a Dehydrator

943280501W

There are several things to keep in mind when you are looking for a dehydrator for your business. While you may not need a unit with all the bells and whistles, it's a good idea to be aware of all the options so you can make the most informed decision.

  • Stackable: If you need more capacity but don’t have the floor space for a large unit, consider choosing a countertop dehydrator that is stackable. By purchasing multiple units that can stack together, you’ll use the available vertical space to your advantage and not cut in to high traffic areas.
  • Wattage: This is the expression of the amount of power being released. The lower the wattage, the less energy an appliance uses but the longer it takes to heat up and do its job. Higher wattage units will heat up more quickly and are more powerful, but they may also be more expensive to purchase and more expensive to run. For more information about wattage and electrical terms, see our helpful guide to amps, volts, and watts.
  • Size and Space: Make sure that you pick a dehydrator that is going to fit in the space you have. Consider all of the dimensions of the unit – top to bottom, front to back, and side to side – to make sure it’s going to fit in the spot you’ve chosen.
  • Capacity: Since drying food takes a long time, you’ll want to make sure that the unit you choose can keep up with the demand of your operation. If you are only drying a few herbs for cooking, a small unit is sufficient for most businesses. If you want to start your own organic food shop with granola, yogurt, and dried produce, then you may need several large commercial units to handle the volume.
  • Materials: Many commercial dehydrators have a durable stainless steel construction to make sure they can take a beating in a restaurant environment. If you won’t be using your dehydrator frequently or if price is concern, models with a less expensive plastic body are available.
  • Timers: A lot of dehydrators come with a simple on/off switch which is great when you want to keep a close eye on the drying process. On the other hand, if you want to load the unit up and forget about it a model with a built-in timer is a great choice. Some units even have automatic shut-off features that make it easy to dry foods overnight so they’re ready to use the next day, without over-drying them.

Approximate Drying Times and Temperatures

Food should be cut no more than 1/4" thick and spread in a single layer on a tray for the most efficient drying. The table below lays out some foods that are commonly processed in a dehydrator along with some of the best ways to prepare them, the ideal temperatures for drying them, and a general idea of how long the process might take.

Keep in mind that the timelines listed are approximate and you may experience different results. There are several factors that can modify the drying times of various foods – ambient temperatures and humidity, level of moisture in the food, and how the food is prepared are some of the biggest.

Food
Common Preparation
Desired Texture
Approximate Time
Ideal Temperature
Apples Peeled, cored, and sliced in rings. Pliable 7-15 hours 135 degrees Fahrenheit
Bananas Peeled and sliced to 1/8" thick. Leathery or crisp 6-10 hours
Cranberries Pits and stems removed, sliced in half. Pliable 10-12 hours
Figs Blemishes removed, quartered. Pliable 22-30 hours
Grapes Stems and seeds removed. To reduce drying time by half, try blanching them first. Pliable 22-30 hours
Peaches Pitted, peeled if desired. Cut into even slices about 1/4" thick. Pliable 8-16 hours
Pineapple Peeled with fibrous parts removed. Cut into even 1/4" slices or into wedges if desired. Pliable 10-18 hours
Rhubarb Cut into pieces about 1" long. Leathery 6-10 hours
Jerky Varies, heat first to kill bacteria. Leathery 4-15 hours
Green Beans Cut into 1" pieces or sliced French style. Brittle 8-12 hours 125 degrees Fahrenheit
Carrots Cut into 1/8" dice or slices. Leathery 6-10 hours
Mushrooms Sliced into 3/8" pieces. Leathery 3-7 hours
Peas Shelled and partially steamed. Brittle 4-8 hours
Yams Steamed until tender, then peeled and cut into 1/4" slices. Brittle 7-11 hours
Zucchini Cut into slices about 1/4" thick, or 1/8" thick for chips. Brittle 7-11 hours

Food Dehydrating Tips

Drying Food

Plan Ahead

Different foods dry at different rates. A peach, for example, will dry much more slowly than shelled peas or herbs. For the most efficient drying times, try to coordinate so that similar foods can be dried at the same time.

Allow Enough Time

Dehydrating food takes time, no matter what type of product you’re working with. When you are starting out, make sure that you budget enough time to completely dehydrate the food before you need to package or use it. Food that isn’t completely dry will go bad much more quickly.

Avoid Over-Drying

Be sure to set the timer, if your unit has one, to prevent over-drying. If the unit you choose doesn't have a timer, be sure to keep a close eye on the drying process so your foods don't become overly hard.

Don't Overload

When you are getting ready to load up your dehydrator, the temptation may be to pack as much food into the unit as you can. Resist said temptation. If the trays themselves are overloaded and the food overlaps, it won't dry properly and you will end up with uneven drying. At the same time, even if the food is properly placed on the trays but the unit is just too full your food will take longer to dry.

Rehydrating

Most dried foods are extremely versatile! They can be served or used as they are, or you can rehydrate certain foods for use in soups, baked goods, and other recipes. To do this, just soak them in clean, filtered water until they reach the consistency you want.

Get Expert Advice

Looking for more tips and tricks for dehydrating, as well as for storing and using the products you’ve made? Check out this guide to drying foods. In addition, most dehydrator manufacturers offer guides to help you get started using their dehydrators.

Subscribe now for great deals and industry tips! Sign up for our mailing list to have weekly discounts and industry knowledge sent right to your inbox.

Food Service Resources

Tips, guides, & advice

Explore Resources
  • Visa
  • Discover
  • American Express
  • MasterCard
  • Paypal