Have you learned to condition dehydrated food? Learn how easy it is to take the necessary next steps after drying your favorite fruits and vegetables.
Ever have that moment when you open your jar of dehydrated strawberries and find mold inside?! Learn the easy steps to condition dehydrated food to make sure that your hard work doesn't go to waste!
What is Conditioning?
Conditioning is the act of bringing the humidity level of your dehydrated foods to a balanced percentage throughout your container. It helps alleviate the risk of mold growth in your dehydrated food storage.
Why do I need to Condition Dehydrated Food?
When dehydrating, not all food dehydrates the same. So you may check a few of your pieces and they are fully dehydrated, but you might find that others aren't quite dry.
Traditionally, herbs and vegetables have 10% or less humidity once fully dried. Fruits have less than 20% less humidity after being fully dried.
What causes food to not dehydrate at the same time?
- Different pieces of fruit or vegetables contain different amounts of moisture
- Your machine may not dry equally and you aren't rotating trays.
- Pieces have been cut at very different sizes.
So, with these things in mind, you need to condition your foods to make sure that your residual humidity levels are spread throughout your finished product. Also, you want to test it all to make sure there aren't issues that could cause you to lose everything later.
How to Condition Dehydrated Food
1. Fully dry your produce
Whether it is fruit, vegetables, herbs, or jerky, the first step is always completely drying your food. Go by the times posted in my posts, in the best dehydrating recipe books, or other information you find on the internet. But know that those times are relative. You need to make sure that your batch is dry and allow it to come to room temperature.
How do I Know When Fruit is Dry?
How do I Know When Vegetables are Dry?
2. Place in an airtight container with space
This does not have to be the container you plan on storing your food in your pantry. You need a little extra space so that you can shake the jar and move the food around a bit. Jars are easiest, but any airtight container will work that gives them space. You just don't want a huge amount of room as extra air can introduce even more moisture.
You do not have to vacuum seal at this point.
3. Shake once a day for five days
You want to move the produce around so that there are no sticking areas, and give all of the surfaces a chance to be free
What to look for:
- Moisture beads on glass - put them back into the dehydrator
- Food sticking to the sides or bottom of the glass - shake gently - if the food comes off, you're fine. If it requires a larger shake to get it off, return it to the dehydrator
- Food sticking together - a gentle shake should break clumps of sugary food (carrots, onions, fruits). If it takes effort to break them up - put it all back in the dehydrator.
What if something sticks?
Sticking is likely caused by either compaction (weight of items putting pressure on bottom layers) or static. In either case, if you can easily shake the produce off, it's fine. If it takes work to shake it off, then put it back.
4. Discard all produce if you see mold
Any mold at all, even the smallest bit, is simply the spores finally blooming enough to make them visible. But there are tinier spores already in the rest of your jar that makes your food inedible. You need to toss it and start over.
This was likely due to not checking through all of your pieces for fully dry food before conditioning.
5. Store in appropriate airtight containers
At the end of your 5-7 days, feel free to store your dehydrated food in airtight containers as you normally would.
Which Containers to Use for Conditioning?
The container you choose should be easy to handle and sturdy enough to be tossed about. Store the open containers in a warm dry area free of insects and animals.
- Glass or enamel bowl covered with plastic wrap
- A pot is fine so long as it is stainless steel
- Glass jars with lids
- Clear, plastic food-grade containers with lids
Which Foods Need to be Conditioned After Dehydrating?
Fruits - Always
Fruits are the primary food that needs to be conditioned after drying. With a relative humidity of 20% after drying, fruits already offer up a higher humidity level than vegetables do.
Also, fruits tend to be prepared in larger pieces than vegetables by most people. So the risk of 3-4 pieces not being properly dried while the rest increases the risk.
In general, fruits are dry when they do not stick together and no beads of moisture form when they are squeezed together. Fruit that is properly dried will have about 20% moisture. That can be hard to obtain evenly in the home dehydrator, and some pieces will have more than 20% moisture, there is no sure way to test at home.
To get it under that point, dry your fruits until they are crisp for the best storage when possible. If you are drying for snacking, conditioning is not necessary, but store in the fridge and eat within 3-4 days.
Vegetables are easier than fruit to determine dryness. With time and experience, you may be able to tell which pieces just need more drying time before they are fully dry.
Because vegetables should be dried to the point of easily breaking or making a clicking sound when they hit a solid surface (versus a duller thud), you will know when vegetables are dry.
However, after drying a few rounds of lettuce a year ago or so, I found that some of my lettuce had not fully dried. I realized the culprit was a particular kind of lettuce leaf in the spring mix I was working with. A few pieces had not dried, and could have ruined the whole batch had I not processed them immediately, realizing there was an issue.
If I had just put the leaves into a mason jar for later use, I probably would have lost the whole batch.
As a person who may be new to dehydrating, I would recommend that you condition your vegetables until you get a sure eye on what is fully dry and what isn't.
Herbs - Sometimes
Because herbs are easy to see if they are not crispy when crushed for storage, you should be fine.
The only time you really need to worry is if you're doing mounds of herbs with stalks. You need to be sure those stalks are dehydrated to the same humidity level as the leaves. Over time, and with experience, you may understand what a snapping stalk should feel like. So in most cases, this is not needed.
Jerky - no
Jerky is one of those foods that should be stored in the refrigerator. This puts off any issues of moisture and mold growth, as long as you have practiced safe dehydrator procedures.
Snacks - no
Since you're going to be eating it within the week, just eat it and enjoy 😉
What if I Don't Condition Dehydrated Fruits?
Well, maybe nothing.
Or maybe you notice your fruit is looking pretty moist again a day or two later.
And then...maybe you'll lose it all because it molded within a few days since the one or two pieces that didn't quite dry properly had enough moisture to create a mold problem.
So, let's skip that worry and learn how to condition that food you've worked so hard at preserving!
How to Condition Dehydrated Powders
Powders, like dehydrated foods, need some time to release any moisture that may have been collected in the grinding and cooling process. Powders are even more prone to moisture as there is more surface area to collect moisture.
- Heat your oven to its lowest temperature, then turn it off.
- Place powder in a thick layer on a cookie sheet.
- Allow the powder to sit in the dry heat for 20-30 minutes.
- Store in an airtight container. You might also follow these steps to avoid other clumping issues.
- Place powder into muffin papers, coffee filters, a shallow bowl, a lipped tray of some sort. Alternatively, you can place your powder on a fruit leather sheet and place a piece of weighted parchment on top.
- Close your machine. This is an important step to save the powder from flying out everywhere.
- Turn on your machine to its lowest setting, and run for 20-30 minutes.
- Wait for the fans to stop completely before opening your machine to check on powder.
- Store in an airtight container. Use these follow-up steps to avoid clumping if necessary.
Is Pasteurizing the Same as Conditioning?
Pasteurizing is the name for heating food to the point of killing off all unwanted bacteria, including the good vitamins and nutrients we want. That's why most dairy is pasteurized.
You may have heard the idea of storing your bags of grains and flours in the freezer for a few days to kill off any bugs that may have introduced themselves during the storage process in warehouses and stores.
In food storage, it is a name also given to the act of placing foods into the freezer to kill off any unwanted bugs and bug eggs that may have introduced themselves into your food during the drying or storing process.
Do I need to Pasteurize Dehydrated Foods?
Unless you dehydrate in the open, outdoors or are in the habit of leaving your food sitting on your dehydrator trays while it's not running, this kind of pasteurization is not necessary, nor does it replace the need to condition your food.
Luckily, there is little that can go wrong.
- Humidity will affect this process, so if you live in a humid climate, your conditioning should be done in a closed glass or plastic container.
- Don’t use an aluminum container when you are drying fruits, it will react with the acid in them.
- Wood bowls are not a good idea, because they are porous and can retain moisture.
- If the food has started to mold it must be disposed of.
Be truthful ...
Do you condition your fruit after dehydrating? Come on, tell us the truth !!