Air fryers are taking the nation, no, the world, by storm! And every day it seems like there is some new way in which they can be used! What started out as a new way to deep-fry foods without any oil has now bloomed into dehydrating food.
But the real question is, can you even dehydrate food in an air fryer? You can dehydrate food in an air fryer. To dehydrate food in an air fryer, set the temperature to its lowest temperature (or to the dehydration setting), place the food items in a single layer, and let them dry for 2-4 hours, depending on the food being dehydrated.
Today, we will have a look at some traditional dehydrating methods, how they work, and how they compare to dehydrating in an air fryer.
Then, we will have a look at exactly how you can dehydrate food using your air fryer and we will also share some of our favorite products that are available online.
Traditional Ways To Dehydrate Foods
Drying food and other raw ingredients is an age-old method to preserve food. It has actually been around since 12,000 BC. It was first invented/discovered in the modern Middle East and Asian regions.
The ultimate purpose of dehydrating food is to remove as much moisture as possible. Moisture is a key element that bacteria need in order to survive.
So, by removing it, you are removing a key element for them to survive. Just like we need water to live, so do they.
There are mainly four methods traditionally used to dry foods: air drying, wind drying, sun drying, and smoking food.
Air drying is a common method that uses ventilation to help dry food. It always takes place indoors and is not exposed to any sunlight or wind.
The food items to be dried are placed in a well-ventilated room or attic, or in a screened-in porch. The items are then left to dry for a couple of days, some items even a couple of weeks.
The best ingredients to air dry include herbs, mushrooms, and hot peppers. These items can be enclosed in bags to help protect them from foreign objects and pests, but easily dry without much work.
Wind drying is very similar to air drying, but instead, it uses the actual wind outside to help dry food. This method is practiced outdoors and is done by hanging food on hooks or string in a shaded area.
Over the next couple of days or weeks, food is allowed to hang open and exposed and naturally, slowly, and very evenly, dry.
This method obviously has a few problems to it, mainly how exposed it is to all the elements, but many people who practice this method of drying have special ways to deter pests and protect their ingredients from the elements.
Sun drying is another natural method used to dry food outside. The food is placed in a relatively safe area, preferably somewhere that is mostly protected from pests and foreign objects like dust and twigs.
The ingredients are left in the sun to dry for a couple of days and are often turned to ensure that all sides are exposed to the sun and evenly dry.
Cocoa beans and coffee beans are two extremely common ingredients that are sun-dried. Herbs are also great to dry in the sun, and so are most fruits and vegetables.
Smoking is a way to dehydrate food while simultaneously imparting flavor. Smoking is a fantastic method as it kills bacteria and keeps the food away from pests and foreign objects.
This method is mostly used to dehydrate meats, whereas the other methods work better for fruits, vegetables, and herbs.
The main reason for this is because meat is a highly perishable item that cannot be left at room temperature for too long.
New Ways To Dehydrate Food
So, we have just discussed the many traditional ways in which food is dehydrated, but let’s take a look at some more modern methods.
While the traditional methods have their pros and cons, the main reason newer methods were developed is for safety reasons.
Most of the traditional methods expose the food to a ton of foreign objects, making it sometimes very difficult to dehydrate food safely and without risk. The food is exposed to pests, air pollution, dust, and other hazardous items.
These modern methods all take place indoors and in enclosed controlled environments. Some of these methods used and even pieces of equipment are much more advanced compared to others, but nevertheless, they all work great!
In our opinion, microwaves (in terms of dehydrating food) are only good for herbs. Because it uses an intense amount of heat, it usually just leaves food tasting overcooked rather than dried.
With herbs though, it is a great way to remove virtually all of the moisture in almost no time. We would recommend working in small batches to ensure all the herbs dry evenly and effectively.
To dry food in the microwave, simply place about 4-5 branches between two pieces of paper towel, set the microwave to its highest setting, and heat them for roughly 2-3 minutes.
Once the time has elapsed, allow the herbs to cool completely before checking them.
They should be dry and brittle after they have cooled. If not, place them back into the microwave for about 30 seconds at a time. Repeat until they are completely dry.
Oven drying is arguably the most popular household drying method, especially when you don’t have or want to buy any special equipment.
Ovens take quite a while to dehydrate food, but work well for large batches and can dry virtually anything. This incredibly long drying period is because ovens do not have fans to help circulate hot air.
To dehydrate food in the oven, set the oven to roughly 140°F or the lowest temperature that it can go. If your oven has a “keep warm” setting, use that one. If your temperature is too high, the food will cook instead of slowly dehydrating.
To dry food in an oven, simply place the ingredients in a single layer and place the tray inside. Make sure the oven door is propped open about 2-4 inches. Place a fan near the door so that it helps circulate the air inside.
Dehydrators are technologically advanced pieces of cookware that are specifically designed to dehydrate food.
They work using electricity and are so efficient that they can dehydrate your food in much less time compared to virtually any other method we have covered already.
They basically work like ovens, but they have a built-in fan to help circulate the air. They run at very low temperatures and have multiple levels of mesh screens so that you can dry bulk quantities evenly.
What Is An Air Fryer?
Despite the confusing name, an air fryer is not actually a fryer and it also doesn’t fry your food. It is basically a countertop convection oven that works in a specific way to mimic deep-fried foods.
It works by circulating hot air with a fan at extremely high speeds. This is what helps create browning on food and what dehydrates the outer layer to create crispiness.
To understand exactly how this effect works and how it essentially is applied to dehydrating food, you have to understand how air fryers work. This will allow you to get the perfect dehydrated foods each and every time.
So, air fryers mainly work with a fan and a heating element. In the chamber of the air fryer, a heating element is what creates the intense and instant heat.
It can create temperatures up to 482°F, depending on the model of course.
The fan inside the air fryer helps circulate the air so that it is evenly distributed and thereby evenly cooking (and crisping) the food.
Air fryers work much faster compared to the traditional deep-frying method. It doesn’t require a ton of oil (if any) and helps induce the Maillard reaction much quicker.
This is because of the circulating hot air. The thin layer of oil on the food or the oiliness the food already contains is constantly kept warm at the needed temperatures and then crisps up.
Dehydrating In an Air Fryer
More people have air fryers compared to dehydrators and it honestly makes sense that you would want to use it to dry food. Air fryers are extremely versatile pieces of cooking equipment whereas dehydrators only have one function.
- Set your air fryer on the lowest possible setting. Any temperature higher than 123°F and the food will start to cook instead of dry.
- Place the food in a single layer on the food rack or shelf. This will help the air circulate right around each item.
- Put the dehydrator on and allow it to run for a couple of hours. The exact amount of time will depend on the item you want to dehydrate and the size and thickness of it.
Air fryers are very effective when it comes to dehydrating. The biggest problem area you will find is that you cannot make large batches of dehydrated food and you also have to possibly cut the pieces smaller to fit inside the air fryer.
Other than that, the air fryer produces beautifully and evenly crispy well-dried food products. We would highly recommend drying fruits inside the air fryer as it helps intensify their natural flavors while preserving their texture.
Mushrooms, apples, stone fruits, tomatoes, and berries are some of the hardest ingredients to dry for this exact reason. Well, we can safely say that we have tried dehydrating all of them in our air fryer and it worked perfectly!
Tips For Dehydrating In An Air Fryer
Dehydrating in an air fryer can be tricky to get at first, so here’s a few tips for when you start you dry out your own food.
- Do not stack food! As with any other dehydrating method, you absolutely have to place the food in a single layer. This is the only way the ingredients will dry at the same pace and also dry evenly.
- If you have a drying recipe that uses a dehydrator, you can use the same time and temperature settings for your air fryer (if possible). Otherwise, just set the air fryer to the lowest setting and leave it for a couple of hours. You have to check in every hour to see the progress.
- A good indication that your food has been properly dehydrated (and for long enough) is to check its consistency. If the item is soft or sticky you need to continue the dehydrating time. The food should be hard and crunchy before being removed. Make sure to keep your dehydrated food away from any humidity, moisture, or breezes.
- Before you start dehydrating, make sure that all your food has been prepped. We highly recommend washing your ingredients before dehydrating them (if possible. Then, before placing them in a dehydrator, make sure to pat them dry with a paper towel.
- Allow the dehydrated food to cool completely before storing it. Also, it is extremely important to store the food inside an airtight container away from any moisture, air, or direct sunlight. A pantry or food cupboard works best.
Air Fryer Vs Dehydrators
So, why would you want to use an air fryer instead of a dehydrator?
Well, there are a few pros and cons to each, but at the end of the day, we would say it comes down to the fact that you can use an air fryer for many other reasons other than dehydrating. A dehydrator can only dehydrate food.
Both of these equipment pieces work by circulating air so that the heat is evenly distributed.
Air fryers mainly work at the highest possible temperature to cook food, and dehydrators work at the lowest possible temperature to dehydrate food.
Air fryers are also usually used for short periods of time to ensure the food cooks quickly, and dehydrators work for longer times. The longer times paired with the lower temperatures ensure that the food dries and does not cook.
Air Fryer Buying Guide For Dehydrating Food
Just because one air fryer is able to dehydrate your food doesn’t mean that all of them can. There are actually some things you have to look out for when choosing an air fryer for dehydrating as well as cooking other food items.
The first and arguably the most important thing to look out for is the lowest temperature setting of the air fryer.
As you now know the temperature should be able to go lower than 123°F. Anything higher and your food will cook, not dry.
Another thing to make sure of, but which is more difficult to know or test, is that your air fryer should have a good air venting system. When food dehydrates it releases moisture.
That moisture has to escape otherwise it will become trapped, create condensation, and the dried food will reabsorb it.
Make sure your air fryer comes with a rack or shelf. This will help the hot air circulate and evenly cook the entire piece of food. This will also make less work for you as you don’t have to constantly turn the food.
Make sure to consider the size of the air fryer. Air fryers do not have multiple layers so dehydrating food has to happen one layer at a time.
While this might not be a problem for some, for those wanting to dry bulk amounts of food, you may want to invest in a bigger air fryer or a dehydrator.
Make sure your air fryer can run for long periods of time. Usually, an air fryer only has to run for about 15-30 minutes, maybe an hour. You want to research your specific model to see if anyone has any comments about the time it can run.
The 5 Best Air Fryers For Dehydrating Food
Now that we’ve gone over dehydrating foods in air fryers, let’s take a look at some of our absolute favorite air fryers for that exact purpose!
1. Instant Vortex 7-in-1 Air Fryer
This is one of the leading air fryers on the market as it can be used for more than just air frying.
This specific model comes with a built-in dehydration setting.
Other settings include air frying, baking, broiling, roasting, rotisserie, and reheating.
In terms of the dehydrating aspect specifically, the machine comes with 2 perforated cooking trays as well as a drip pan.
This makes it easier to dehydrate on multiple levels and for the air to be properly circulated during the dehydrating process.
The setting also runs at a very low temperature and can keep drying your food for hours without any problems.
Our favorite part about this air fryer is its very affordable price.
You will find that there are many air fryers on the market that can only do one thing and which will then still cost you a tiny house! This one is definitely worth the money and will last you a good while.
2. Ninja Air Fryer
Looking at some more traditional air fryers, this one, while looking normal, still has some impressive features.
This model has a built-in dehydrating setting and also comes with an additional multi-layer rack.
This will increase your surface area for dehydrating foods.
It runs at very low temperatures as well as low fan speeds to ensure that you can create deliciously crispy and perfectly flat dehydrated foods.
And all the removable parts are dishwasher safe! Trust us, this will save you a ton of cleaning time!
Because the Ninja air fryer has a much simpler design and fewer functions compared to some other air fryers, it does come at a much lower price.
If you are starting to dehydrate or simply looking for a well-rounded air fryer, then we would recommend this one.
3. COSORI Smart WiFi Air Fryer
If you are looking for an incredibly modernized air fryer, then this one is a must-have!
Before we even jump into the functions it has, we have got to talk about what makes this model so impressive.
It can be controlled with its display screen, remotely through an app, or by simply using Alexa or Google Assistant—crazy, right?!
Okay, so now for some of its impressive design features. This air fryer has a very spacious frying basket that measures about 5.8 quarts. This means that you have quite a lot of space to dehydrate food.
This air fryer doesn’t come with a pre-programmed dehydration setting; however, you can easily dehydrate food while monitoring it closely using the app.
4. Ultrean 8.5 Quart Air Fryer
This is another simpler-looking air fryer that still packs a punch.
This product comes with 7 pre-programmed settings that will allow you to perfectly cook or dehydrate your food.
What makes this a top choice for us is its auto-shut-off features.
What these basically are are build-in settings that shut down the machine in case the fryer becomes too hot.
This air fryer uses 360-degree cooking which means air is circulated throughout the entire machine, not only in certain directions as with many other fryers.
You will have perfectly crispy and evenly dehydrated ingredients in no time!
5. Chefman Air Fryer and Dehydrator
Chefman is a very well-known kitchen appliance store and we must say, we are very impressed with their air fryers.
This model has a built-in dehydrator setting and also has been designed for this function.
It comes with two removable racks and a drip tray that will catch any crumbs or juices.
The perforated wire racks will allow the food to dehydrate much better while the drip tray will make cleaning a breeze!
And what’s even better is that again, all parts are dishwasher safe!
Other than dehydrating, you can also cook many other foods inside including roasting a whole chicken!
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