sun drying and dehydration
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The Difference Between Sun Drying and Dehydration

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There is more than one method you can utilize for dehydrating or drying out your foods and some differences in these methods and you can’t expect them to work the same across the board.

So, what is the difference between sun drying foods and dehydrating foods? While both of these methods dry your foods, they accomplish so through varying processes and the end results might also vary. Sun drying is often grouped as a form of dehydration, but the process is very different.

We’ve compiled a guide that breaks down the difference between these two methods and what they each potentially work the best for. We will walk you through how each method works and give you all of the tips and differences between them. 

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about the difference between sun drying and dehydrating foods. 

A Guide to Sun Drying and Dehydration of Foods

Not every process is created equally and not every process works the same for all types of foods. When it comes to sun drying and dehydration, these methods clearly work in different manners. 

They accomplish multiple purposes and can be useful in their own regards. We’re going to start on the topic by speaking about each one individually. We will go through what that process involves and even what it is best used for. 

Are you ready? Let’s go!

A Sun Drying Guide

Sun drying is a simple form of dehydration that essentially accomplishes a similar purpose to dehydration. And guess what? No equipment is required – unless you count sunshine as equipment. 

Sun drying has been used for centuries as a means to dry out foods, removing the natural moisture of the food and in a sense dehydrating that food. There are some foods that may not work as well for dehydration purposes, but you have to remember that this is a viable process. 

Sun drying is a process that was used in ancient times and can still be used. It may take certain temperatures, patience, and of course sunshine, but it DOES work and it does not require you to purchase equipment or even heat up your home with an oven. 

The truth is not everyone has a dehydrating machine or even an oven at their disposal but these individuals still deserve a method for accomplishing a similar function. So we revert back to a tried and true process – sun drying. 

Pros to Sun Drying Foods

  • Use natural sunlight for drying
  • Save energy and no need to purchase a dehydrator
  • Accomplish similar functions to dehydrating
  • A timeless process that has worked for centuries
  • A great “dehydration” method if you need an alternative to the oven or dehydrator

Cons to Sun Drying Foods

  • Some foods do better than others when it comes to sun drying, but there was a time when sun drying was used for even meats
  • Sun drying can leave food with low acidic levels or high protein levels more susceptible to bacteria infiltration
  • Requires sunshine and the temperature to be no less than 85 degrees for multiple hours or even days in a row
  • Works best in areas with low humidity levels (below 60%)
  • Takes some work with laying out, finding a large space, and bringing in or covering the food overnight so your progress does not reverse. 

Much of the world has decided that dehydrating using appliances is simply the way to go because it is so much easier. And this might be true, but we also have to keep in mind that it may not always be an option. 

For instance, if you don’t have these appliances available to you, you might still need an alternative. Another consideration would be individuals who spend a lot of time “in the wild”. Backpackers, hikers, avid campers, survivalists – each of these categories requires a fend for yourself process. 

There are a lot of variables with the sun drying process that could potentially harm your sun drying foods. If you choose to use this method in order to dry or dehydrate foods, be mindful of the minute details for the best results. 

With knowledge as it is now, fruits sun dry better than any other type of food. Vegetables tend to have low acidity and meats tend to be high in protein. These foods CAN still be sun dried but there are higher risks in doing so. The key is to be informed and aware. 

The Process for Sun Drying

Sun drying is relatively easy, in theory. However, it can take substantial amounts of time. Sun drying is a process that is heavily involved at certain steps. Be prepared to spend some time at periodic intervals as you go through the sun drying process. 

sun drying tomatoes

Here are some basic steps to a sun drying process. We’ve accumulated these steps based on a tomato and process for sun drying tomatoes, as they are a common fruit to sun dry. However, you can commit these steps for whatever you use, potentially with slight modifications. 

Just be sure whichever food you are sun drying, you check out the process best served to that item. 

Steps to Sun Drying Tomatoes

  1. Slice tomatoes to your preferred size. Your tomato could shrink by up to 80%. Most tomatoes are simply sliced in half for the sun drying process, but you can slice them smaller if you would like. 
  2. Place tomatoes on a screen (preferred sun drying surface) and sprinkle them lightly with salt for preservation purposes. 
  3. Use cheesecloth on raised tiers to cover your tomatoes if you want to try to keep critters out of them. 
  4. Place your screen of tomatoes in an area that gets steady sunshine throughout the day. Remember it needs to be above 85 degrees. 
  5. Bring the tomatoes inside overnight or if the temperature drops below 85. 
  6. This process could take up to 2 weeks. You simply keep going until they are dried out. They need to be fully dry but not crispy in order to be done. 
  7. Store them properly and they could last months or potentially even years

As you can see, sun drying foods is a fairly extensive process. While it’s not really hard, it takes an extensive amount of time. Consider if you were sun drying items out on a survivalist journey. Would you even get them sun dried? What about meats? 

Sun drying is not always a great solution, but the fact of the matter remains that it is a solution. It may seem inconvenient or like it will take far too much time or monitoring but don’t count it out. 

For the record, sun dried tomatoes are useful and delicious. They provide a great storage method if you have an abundance of tomatoes. You can accomplish a similar effect by dehydrating them in the oven or a dehydrator. 

Additionally, many people refer to the oven method of dehydrating foods as sun drying, and clearly, it is not the same process. 

A Dehydration Guide

Dehydrating various foods is a far simpler process than sun drying. Why? Well, for one, it takes hours compared to days and there are no worries of bugs or critters getting into your drying products. 

Dehydration can be completed by either drying the product out in an oven process or by using a dehydrator. Dehydrators are extremely effective tools. They work quickly and easily and you can easily find one that is not terribly priced, although there are some that can get expensive. 

Sun drying is quickly becoming an outdated method simply because these methods make the process easier to complete. While they may be the preferred method for simplicity, they are not always the best method (for tomatoes, for instance) and sun drying works great when you need an alternative option. 

What’s so great, or even not so great about dehydration?

Pros of Dehydration

  • Dry and preserve any food item of your choice (foods, fruits, veggies, etc.)
  • Dehydration process takes hours, not days, to complete
  • You can dehydrate using either a dehydrator or the oven (check out my favorite dehydrator on Amazon.)
  • There is no need to actively monitor the dehydration process
  • Simple and easy to do

Cons of Dehydration

  • It is possible to dehydrate too long
  • May require some form of additive to use as a preservative
  • Often have extra salt or sugar added to them
  • There is a preparation process to follow prior to dehydration

In this instance, the pros outweigh the cons. Even if you are not familiar with the dehydration process, it’s relatively easy. You can use the stove or the oven and you will get delicious results. 

The primary difference between sun-drying foods and dehydrating foods is that dehydrating your foods is far less limiting. There are no foods that you are warned not to dehydrate, you can literally dehydrate almost any food. 

Do you like veggie chips? Use a dehydrator. Want some homemade jerky? Use a dehydrator. Prefer to keep dehydrated fruits on hand for snacks? Guess what! Use a dehydrator. In this instance, we also mean dehydrate in your oven when we say use a dehydrator. 

Are you feeling a bit overwhelmed with all of this? Don’t worry, we will include a quick comparison reference section later in this article. 

The Dehydration Process

The dehydration process is so easy. Whether you use the oven or a dehydrator, it’s relatively simple. We will walk you through both. In an effort to compare apples to apples (or tomatoes to tomatoes?) we will use dehydration steps for tomatoes in this guide as well. 

dehydration tomatoes

Remember that the primary steps will remain the same, but times or recommended prep could vary. Just check the process for your food item before proceeding. 

Steps to Oven Dehydration of Tomatoes

  1. Slice tomatoes to desired sizes. Again, it is recommended that you slice them in half, but you can slice smaller if you prefer. Remove the cores during this process. You can also scoop out most of the seeds and pulp. 
  2. Season your tomatoes in a bowl and toss until seasoned. You can season however you like, but we recommend at least sprinkling some salt for preservation purposes. 
  3. Arrange the tomatoes on cooling racks or on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Using cooling racks has the best all over dehydration effect. 
  4. Move the oven rack near the bottom of the oven and place your pan on the rack.
  5. Bake in this manner at 200 degrees for 4-6 hours. You want the tomatoes to be free of moisture without being overly dry. 
  6. If stored properly, dehydrated tomatoes should last several months, possibly even years. 

Steps to Dehydrating Tomatoes Using a Dehydrator

  1. Wash tomatoes, remove stems. Slice tomatoes to desired size. In this case it is recommended to slice them about ¼ inch thick. In this case, they take much longer to dry if they are thicker, but you can do whatever size you prefer. 
  2. Season your slices however you like. We recommend using at least a small amount of salt for preservation purposes. 
  3. Arrange the slices on your dehydrator trays
  4. Dehydrate at 150 degrees for 8-10 hours. You want them to look and feel a bit leathery when they are done. 

Brief Overview of Differences

I know this information can be overwhelming, so we’re going to summarize the high points for you. 

Dehydrating is a much more time-effective process than sun drying. Sun drying can take up to 2 weeks for full drying time while dehydrating takes more like 6-10 hours for the total process. 

sun drying and dehydration

Sun drying requires specific circumstances, such as low humidity, sunshine, and high temperatures while dehydration can be done anywhere with the proper tools. 

Sun drying could be somewhat labor-intensive since you have to cover and move the items inside overnight and then replace them in the sun the next day. Dehydration does not require this. 

Dehydration can be used on any type of food from fruits and vegetables to various meats. It works well every time and contamination is not a concern. Sun drying is recommended primarily for fruits as there is potential of bacteria with other foods. 

Related Questions

We hope that you have found this guide to provide valuable information and insight into the world of sun drying and dehydration and that you fully understand the differences between the processes. 

We’ve included some common questions and answers and we invite you to review those for additional information that could be useful for you. 

What Are the Best Vegetables for Sun Drying?

While fruits are the highest recommended food for the sun drying method, you can have positive results with some vegetables as well. Try sun drying with vegetables like potatoes, celery, green beans, corn, and carrots. 

What is the Best Way to Store These Foods?

You need them to be well-sealed more than anything else for proper storage. You can store them in an airtight container or a sealable bag. We also recommend vacuum sealing as this removes excess area and properly seals the packaging. 

Is Food Unhealthy When Dehydrated?

Unfortunately, some of the vitamins and nutrients that are naturally found in fruits and vegetables can be compromised during the dehydration process as heat tends to wear down those properties.

However, this still maintains some of their nutrients. Additionally, sodium content tends to be higher for preservation purposes. 

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