Many people use dehydrators for food preservation. One great benefit that I see with dehydrators is that they can dry my food while I go work on something else. Chopped or sliced produce or jerky recipes can be put into the appliance and left alone until finished. Freezing food as a preservation method is similar, because once the food is cut up, it just needs to be placed in the freezer with no additional steps. The downside of freezing as a preservation method however, is the cost of the freezer, the cost of running it, and the space it takes up. Dehydrated food takes very little space and does not require refrigeration. On the opposite side of food preservation is canning. Canning is much more labor intensive because you must be engaged every second from cutting and slicing until the jars are removed from the canner. Jars also require a certain amount of storage space.
Current marketplaces carry dehydrators with a very wide price range and many different features, including drying space, adjustable thermostat, metal or plastic shelves, and much more. Choosing one to buy can be very difficult, but once you understand what type of user you are, purchasing decisions become easier. Here are the needs I see for the different user types.
Regardless of which category you fall into, the dehydrator’s footprint and its storage will be an issue that must be addressed by individual cases.
Budgeters. Someone who needs to keep food costs down can benefit from a dehydrator only if the cost of the food to be processed in the dehydrator is free or very low. This user would dry food out of necessity. If you get free apples, then you will come out ahead of buying dried apples for snacking or baking. My local grocer carries 5 oz. of dried apple rings for $1.99 and by the pound for $8.99. Considering that approximately 4 pounds of apples makes one pound of dried apples, you would need to buy fresh apples for no more than $2.25 per pound in order to reap a benefit from dehydration.
Those concerned about food safety. This group of users is interested in health (for the planet and self) and avoiding the use of unnatural chemicals. The biggest concern I see for this user is temperature control (to keep nutrients intact).
Bulk users. Anyone with large quantities of food to process could benefit with a high capacity dehydrator. Gardeners with large plots, hunters, and food auction buyers could be examples of bulk users. The size of the drying area is most important to get large batches of food dried at one time.
Avid home cooks and DIY foodies. This group of users probably has the most freedom to pick and choose models because they dehydrate food out of pleasure, concern for food quality, and curiosity. The food quality can be addressed best with making sure that the drying shelves and temperature control are appropriate for the food you are dehydrating.
As a user in the avid home cook category, I will share that I have a very basic dehydrator with a simple on/off switch. My family loves the apple slices that it produces. However, I feel that my oven is best for fruit roll-ups. With its small footprint, I run my dehydrator on the seat of an unused dining room chair. The only drawback would be the noise from the fan, but it’s very bearable, especially when operating in a rarely visited room during off-hours.