Food dehydrators are becoming more and more popular these days, whether for the health side of dehydrated foods without additives, the eco-friendly side with longer food shelf life, combating food waste, and not using freezing, for example.
But realizing that dehydrators are more or less small ovens operating at low temperature with a thermostat, you are entitled to think: is a conventional oven sufficient to make dried fruits, homemade jerky, vegetable crisps, and other healthy, additive-free snacks? What are the advantages of the dehydrator?
And finally, what to choose between the two? Your traditional oven or an Excalibur dehydrator?
Here are some thoughts to help you see more clearly, and whatever your final choice, to help you explore the wonderful culinary world of food dehydration!
What is the principle of a dehydrator?
Before diving into the debate and the comparison, let’s briefly recall the principle of food dehydration: removing water and moisture from food or preparations by drying them to avoid mold and keep them longer.
Our ancestors already used this technique with an outdoor solar dryer using the sun’s heat.
To dehydrate food, it is, therefore, necessary to dry or “cook” it at a shallow temperature, and depending on the food and its water content, the drying time, which could be considered “cooking,” will be more or less long. . But it is always a few hours minimum.
Therefore, an electric food dehydrator is a small oven, with a heating element, with several trays intended for drying food.
Its thermostat typically ranges from 75 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, with food drying temperatures varying but still very low.
It is, therefore, a mini oven optimized for low temperatures, providing good distribution and circulation of hot air through the trays where the food dries.
Therefore, you can also read our article here; it is quite possible to make dehydration recipes without a dehydrator and a traditional oven.
But the question is: what is the best solution? Will the famous fruit leathers or beet chips necessarily be better with the famous Excalibur dehydrator?
Dehydration in the traditional oven
It is, therefore, relatively simple to dehydrate in the conventional oven; all you have to do is spread the food previously cut according to the recipe on a baking sheet, sometimes with parchment paper or parchment paper, in particular for the dehydration of fruits or vegetables in high water content.
Whether it’s for dried fruits like apples or for seasonal vegetables to make sun-dried tomatoes or zucchini chips, you can make a multitude of dehydration recipes with your kitchen oven.
Advantages of the traditional oven
Depending on the model, it is above all the space that is the strength of a conventional oven: you will get double, triple, or even more quantities than with a small electric dehydrator.
We can see it as a better return on the level of time invested in food dehydration, producing more than with an electric dehydrator, in the same duration, or even in less time.
Because depending on the recipe and the type of food, the drying time may be shorter. For example, to dehydrate onions and make good homemade onion powder without chemical additives or preservatives, dehydration will be around 12 hours with an electric dehydrator and about 9 hours with a traditional oven.
The higher temperature power of an oven can thus be an advantage to reduce drying time and for specific recipes that require an ideal temperature in the vicinity of 165-170 ° F or more, which will be challenging to achieve. With some dehydrators.
Disadvantages of the traditional oven
Depending on the recipes and the type of food, the dehydration time is at least 3 or 4 hours, and it can go up to fifteen or even twenty hours.
Yes, it is long, and when you look at the energy and electricity consumption side, as the heating elements of an oven are more significant and more extensive, they require more energy than a small electric dehydrator. It is, therefore, a little less ecological and economical to use a large traditional oven.
In addition, you have to think that a recipe with a drying time of several hours could monopolize the oven for a while, preventing you from cooking a meal in the evening, for example.
And not all ovens are equipped with a timer or a timer that will automatically stop cooking after 8 hours, for example, or stop it without making a big “beep! beep!”. “Imagine you start a dried fruit recipe in the evening; you would have to set the alarm in the night to stop the oven, be woken up by the “beep!” in the middle of the night, or worse, go straight ahead and burn the preparation…
It is, therefore, a specific organization of the time to dehydrate in the oven, depending on the model, especially if it is an old oven that you have had for a long time at home.
Finally, if the higher power of the oven is an advantage in some cases, it is a disadvantage in others. For some dehydrating recipes that call for a shallow temperature, around 50-60°F, some ovens will be too hot and won’t be able to provide a low enough temperature.
Gas oven: If you use a gas oven, the heat will be different from electric heat, and it may “dry” the food less well. It can sometimes be an advantage if you want less crispy food, for example, softer and more flexible dried fruits. However, the heat from a gas oven could also be less stable than electric.
Dehydration with an electric dehydrator
Let’s now look at dehydration with what seems to be the most suitable and optimized device for this use: the electric food dehydrator. A small oven with several trays, stainless steel or BPA-free plastic, is designed for long cooking at shallow temperatures.
It all depends, of course, on the type of model you use because an entry-level dehydrator at 50 CAD or a high-end dehydrator at 200 CAD will not have the same capacity and cooking qualities, especially in terms of good distribution and heat. And temperature stability.
Advantages of the dehydrator
It is first of all the control of the heat. In food dehydration, an important criterion is the excellent distribution of heat so that all foods dry evenly and temperature stability to optimize good drying.
And due to their smaller size, electric dehydrators are generally much more efficient and precise on this side than large traditional ovens: the heat is distributed more quickly and remains more stable.
As a result, the crispy side may be more successful with a dehydrator and more reliable depending on the food. The crispy side can sometimes be challenging to reach in a traditional oven and the risk of burning or burning the food!
Thus, it will be easier to succeed in recipes and adjust and change the temperature. A versatility that will allow more flexibility than in a traditional oven.
For some specific preparations and recipes that call for a shallow temperature such as 55 or 65°F, a dehydrator will be much more suitable and efficient than a traditional oven, which will have difficulty reaching and maintaining such a low temperature.
It is certain that if we compare it to a traditional kitchen oven, we fit less quantity in a dehydrator. If you want to stock up for the winter or you have a lot of children, depending on the recipe and the type of food, you will produce faster and in quantity with a large kitchen oven.
It should also be mentioned that some electric dehydrators, especially the horizontal ones, are sometimes a bit noisy, which can be a problem, for example, if you leave it to dehydrate all night, or simply if you want to have silence and peace in the kitchen that day.
Finally, a dehydrator requires some space on a counter or kitchen table, especially since it will be there for long hours. Therefore, it would help if you had a kitchen, while a traditional oven will leave you more space on the counters.
Finally, what is the best choice?
As we can see, each technique has its advantages and disadvantages. You must determine which criteria are essential to you according to your cuisine, recipes, tastes, budget, and time.
What should be remembered is that food dehydration is a relatively complex and challenging technique to master, subject to several different and sometimes unpredictable influencing factors, and that it is, therefore, impossible to make clear choices. These factors should be considered:
The type of dehydrator: There are vertical models and horizontal models of electric dehydrators, which each have different characteristics, which will sometimes change the drying time, for example.
Also, a small, entry-level plastic dehydrator won’t deliver the same results as a slightly bigger and more powerful top-of-the-line one.
The type of oven: Gas oven, electric oven, convection oven, convection oven: today, there are many oven models. And even within the same category, the features and capabilities will differ.
Indeed, even in traditional cooking, it is imperative to get to know your oven to adjust and succeed in your recipes. Thus, it will be difficult to predict and quickly master dehydration recipes, each oven being different.
The type of food: a grape does not have the same moisture content as kale, garlic, a kiwi, beef, or even an apple. And each type of apple also has different properties, so it has an extra drying time. And depending on the thinness of the slices, for example, the drying time will still be added.
In short: it is impossible to control, predict and know in advance the results of a dehydration recipe, depending on the type of machine, oven, dehydrator, and the kind of food and recipes.
Thus, it is essential to get started and practice, make several tries, gradually refine your tastes and needs, better choose what will suit you best, and then consider the advantages and disadvantages that we have mentioned.
If your choice is already leaning towards the electric dehydrator, you can consult our buying guide for the best dehydrators.