NDSU Extension Service - Ramsey County

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Dried Fruit at Home

Dried Fruit at Home

 

Making dried fruit can be a fun family activity with a tasty end product. Dried fruit is a portable snack and it also can be used in recipes. Proper and successful drying produces safe food with good flavor, texture and color.

Whenever you preserve foods, choose the best-quality fruits and vegetables. As with other food preservation methods, drying does not improve food quality. Select high-quality, fully ripe fruit, and discard any fruit with decay, bruises or mold. Thoroughly wash and clean fruits to remove dirt. Cut foods into c-inch to ½-inch slices. The higher the water content, the larger the slice size should be. Small slices of high-moisture foods would disappear when all the moisture has evaporated.

The following fruits were rated as “excellent” or “good” by the University of Georgia for their quality after drying: apples, apricots, bananas, cherries, citrus peel, coconuts, currants, dates, figs, grapes, nectarines, papayas, peaches, pears, pineapples, plums and rhubarb.

Pretreating light-colored fruits before drying is important for the quality and safety of the final product. Soaking the sliced fruit in an acidic solution preserves the color and texture of the dried fruits, and it increases the destruction of potentially harmful bacteria during drying. There are three common pre-treatment methods.

- Ascorbic Acid Pretreatment: Pure crystals of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can be found at supermarkets and drug stores. Stir 2½ tablespoons of pure ascorbic acid crystals into 1 quart of cold water. This amount of solution treats about 10 quarts of cut fruit. For smaller batches, adjust proportions accordingly. Soak the fruit for 10 minutes, then remove it with a slotted spoon, drain it well and dehydrate it.

-  Citric Acid Pretreatment: Citric acid is available in the canning section of many supermarkets. Stir 1 teaspoon of citric acid into 1 quart of cold water. Add the fruit and allow it to soak for 10 minutes, then remove it with a slotted spoon, drain it well and dehydrate it.

-  Lemon Juice Pretreatment: Mix equal parts of lemon juice and cold water. Add the fruit and allow it to soak for 10 minutes, then remove it with a slotted spoon, drain it well and dehydrate it.

An often overlooked step in dehydrating fruits is to “crack the skin”.  Some fruits have tough skins. For successful dehydration, the skins must be “cracked” before being dried as whole fruits. To crack the skins of grapes, plums, cherries, berries and other fruits with tough skins, dip the fruits in briskly boiling water for 30 to 60 seconds, then dip them in very cold water. Drain them on absorbent towels before placing them on drying trays.

Drying is not a precise method of food preservation, and the amount of drying time will vary depending on the equipment, moisture content of the fruit and the humidity in the air. Spray a cookie sheet or similar flat tray with vegetable spray, or line the tray with plastic wrap or parchment paper and spray with vegetable spray. Another option is to use the specially designed plastic sheets for electric dehydrators, and follow the manufacturer’s directions.

If you are attempting oven drying, test your oven to be sure it can maintain a low enough temperature; otherwise, “case hardening” may occur. This is the formation of a “crust” on the food, which prevents the interior from drying properly.  To test your oven, set it to the lowest setting. Place an oven-safe thermometer on the rack where food will be placed. Leave the oven door open 2 to 6 inches. Place a fan near the open door to circulate air. Check the temperature. If your oven can maintain a low enough temperature (140 to 145 F), it may be used for food dehydration. Racks should be 2 inches apart, with at least 3 inches of clearance from the top or bottom to the rack.

Two favorite foods to dehydrate are apples and bananas.  For apples, select mature, firm apples. Wash well, pare and core. Cut in rings or slices up to ¼ inch thick or cut in quarters or eighths. Dip in ascorbic acid or other anti-darkening/anti-microbial solution for 10 minutes. Remove from solution and drain well. Arrange in single layer on trays, pit side up. Dry until soft, pliable and leathery; no moist area in center when cut (usually six to twelve hours).

For bananas, select firm, ripe fruit. Peel and cut in 1/4-inch slices. Dip in citric acid or other anti-darkening/anti-microbial solution for 10 minutes. Remove and drain well. Arrange in single layer on trays. Dry until tough and leathery (six to ten hours).

Fruits should not be dried to the point of being brittle or hard; they should be leathery and pliable. To test for dryness, remove a few pieces and allow them to cool to room temperature. Squeeze a handful of the fruit. The pieces should spring apart when released. Cut several cool pieces in half. You should not see any moisture, and the fruit should not be sticky.

Pack cooled dried fruits in small amounts in dry glass jars (preferably dark) or in moisture- and vapor-proof freezer containers, boxes or bags. Using glass containers allows you to see moisture buildup on the interior immediately. Place the containers in a cool, dry, dark place or in the refrigerator or freezer. Properly stored, dried fruits keep well for six to twelve months. And for food safety’s sake, always discard foods that have off odors or show signs of mold.

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