Dehydration: An Ancient Technique for a Modern Busines

Dehydration has been a valuable tool for food preparation for millennia. Since ancient civilizations first started popping up, people have been dehydrating as means of preserving their food and making it safer to eat. While the technology might have changed, the core concept behind it has not. Even today, many businesses use dehydration as a key method of preservation. Wondering if dehydration might be a good option for your business? In this resource guide, we’ll be talking about the science behind dehydration, its history, and its applications today. 

First thing’s first, what exactly is dehydration? As the name suggests, dehydration is the removal of moisture, trace amounts of liquids like water, from food through low heat and a steady airflow. This lowers the water activity, which is the amount of free water available for biochemical reactions and microbiological growth. The removal of water activity dramatically extends the food's shelf life by preventing the spoilage of food usually caused by bacteria and organisms that grow and thrive in the food’s moisture. At the same time, dehydration does not remove any of the nutritional value of the food, which could otherwise be lost in the cooking process. Once dehydrated, the food can then be stored in a place with limited exposure to heat, light, and moisture until time for consumption. For early man, this process could be the difference between life and death.

People have been dehydrating food with numerous tools and techniques for tens of thousands of years. Some civilizations, such as those in cool, wet Europe, had to use tools like ovens to accomplish the task. Others, namely those in hotter, drier climates, could rely on the sun and hot air to dehydrate their food. The Ancient Egyptians, for example, would leave out fish and poultry to dry in the hot Egyptian sun. While other methods of preservation, such as fermenting and pickling came about, dehydration continued to be the dominant method of food preservation until modern refrigeration appeared within the past hundred years. 

While we no longer need to turn to dehydration for survival, many people and businesses continue to use dehydration because of the numerous benefits. You can even find home-versions of dehydrators available everywhere from common box stores like Bed, Bath, & Beyond, Best Buy, and The Home Depot

Wondering if you should adopt dehydration in your food manufacturing process? First consider if your product is right for dehydration. We don’t advise dehydrating any food that has high fat contents, such dairy, nuts, olives, or avocados. High amounts of fat makes those foods very hard to dry out and can leave room for food-borne illnesses. Those aside, we recommend dehydrating your food if you are selling a product that needs a long shelf life but spoils relatively quickly. For example, let’s say you’re selling trail mix and you want to include fruit. Without dehydrating the fruit, your trail mix would spoil quickly due to the mold and bacteria that thrive in the fruit's high water activity. 

If your product matches this description, it might be worth investing in a dehydrator. Don’t immediately go for the highest priced, industrial option though. As previously mentioned, there are plenty of cheaper available options for when you are first getting started and still testing out your food business concept. There are small dehydrators that cost in the $50 to $75 dollar range. This will allow you to play around and experiment with your product without risking a loss on a significant investment. If your operation starts to expand and dehydration plays a key role in your product, consider investing in a higher grade, larger dehydrator, which usually runs upward of $500.

It’s no exaggeration to say that civilization as we know it wouldn’t have come to fruition without the glorious process of dehydrating! Even today, dehydration plays a very important role for many food businesses, which need to extend the shelf life of their product. So the next time you bite into a delicious banana chip, be sure to thank the dehydration process.

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