When you are planning to bring snacks on vacation for yourself or kids, it can be tough to find nutritious options that won’t expire quickly.
Dehydrated food is a great option for all travelers, especially for adrenaline junkies, because you don’t have to worry about it going bad. As long as the moisture content in the food is close to nil, dehydrated food is estimated to last up to 5 years. Storing dehydrated food in a vacuum sealed bag can even increase its shelf-life up to 30 years.
What Is Dehydrated Food?
Today we can get access to a wide variety of commercially produced dehydrated food products just by visiting our local grocery store. However, the concept of dehydrating perishable food has been followed for centuries. Our ancestors preserved meat, fish and plants by drying them in the sun for hours together in preparation for winter.
Scientifically speaking, food dehydration is the process by which moisture is gradually reduced from perishable food so that shelf life of the product is increased. Removal of moisture does not include pressing or squashing the product; rather heat is added through bursts of hot air which slowly drains water content away. Simply put, water is removed through evaporation and the end product has close to zero liquid content.
The Objectives of Dehydrating Food
So, why not simply resort to fried food instead of drying the food inside out? A few reasons could be:
- It is a form of natural preservation, where water alone is removed entirely
- Once the water is removed, it also changes in mass, weight and volume
- In its dehydrated form, it can be easier to put in storage. For example, coffee beans are transformed to coffee powder and the same goes for milk too
- Dehydrating food can improve the flavor and change its texture. In fact, food products can be made to taste chewy or even crispy. Potatoes when cut into thin strips and dehydrated become crunchy in texture.
Factors That Influence the Shelf Life
Shelf Life depends on two factors, which differ from one product to another:
How it was Dried
Drying out a food is a very slow process which can even take hours, depending on the water content present in the food.
Quality of the Food Product
Complete removal of the water from the perishable product is just one feature. While the drying process takes place, there are other quality related changes that happen in terms of taste, flavor, texture and even appearance. The extent to which the product is processed will also determine the end nutrient content.
The moisture content present is the deciding factor for the shelf-life of dehydrated food. Foods which have the least moisture content last longer and can be safely consumed for up to 5 years if it is prepared, dehydrated and stored properly. Dehydrated vegetables, on the other hand can last for even up to 10 years if it is prepared and then stored properly.
Why Is Vacuum Sealed Dehydrated Food Better
If you have ever spotted packs of dehydrated food that have an expiration date of twenty years and above, that’s not a marketing ploy. If dehydrated food is properly vacuum sealed, it can last for a really long time. In fact, we highly recommend vacuum sealing you are planning to store the food for extended periods of time.
Here are 4 other reasons why vacuum sealing gives you more benefits:
1. More Nutrients
Preservation of food usually reduces the nutrient content of perishable food products and the same is true for products that go through the dehydration process as well. However, by vacuum sealing the pack, further nutrient loss can be prevented.
2. More Flavor
What’s the point of eating preserved food that doesn’t taste good? Vacuum sealing ensures that all flavors are locked in even if the food product does not have any water content in it. Sealing the pack in this manner ensures that food also does not go stale once it is opened.
3. Easy to Pack
Whenever you plan that long-postponed hiking trip, you’ll find that packing a bunch of vacuum sealed packs filled with dried fruits and nuts is the easiest way to pack nutrition filled snacks. Plus, they don’t take up a lot of space in your backpack either!
4. Keeps Food Fresh
Most of the products that are dehydrated have high fat content and that is an issue as the same fats that make food taste good can also make them go rancid. Vacuum sealing prevents oxygen from reaching the food so that it stays fresh for longer.
How To Tell If Dehydrated Food Has Gone Bad
Dehydrated food no doubt, can go bad irrespective of the ‘Best By’ date mentioned on the pack. Here are a few reasons why dehydrated food goes bad:
- The food that was dehydrated was of poor quality
- The vegetables or fruits used were not prepped for dehydration properly
- The food still had a high level of moisture in it even after being dehydrated
- The conditions for storage were not optimal both in terms of the location and the containers that were used
A few of the unmissable signs that your dehydrated food has become stale or gone bad include:
- The presence of mold and black spots
- A shift in food color or texture
- A change in appearance of the food
- The presence of moisture
- A strong smell or bad odor
- A change in taste
Benefits of Dehydrated Food
Let’s take a look at the many positives of stocking up on dehydrated food.
Any Perishable Product can be Dehydrated
Almost all food products can be easily dehydrated. While camping, instant soups made using dehydrated veggies and meat can be whipped up within minutes. Crunchy snacks made from potatoes and bananas can be given to toddlers to keep them busy. When citric fruits like oranges and lemons are dehydrated, they can be used to flavor beverages.
No Compromise on Nutrition
Any dehydrated product will have the same nutrient profile as the original undehydrated version, which means that you can be assured that you will get your share of vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes and minerals without any compromise. On the other hand, since dried food has reduced to nil water content in it, it tends to be smaller in size too.
May Reduce Risk of Cancer
Nutritionists say that fruits and vegetables when dried may actually play a role in reducing the risk of cancer in the body. It is believed that cancers specifically related to the pancreas, stomach, bladder and prostrate may be the most impacted.
The drying process apparently, helps to activate certain chemicals found in food that could drastically reduce the occurrence of cell damage in the body.
Most of the food that we consume today lacks fiber which acts as an internal toxin cleaner. On the other hand, the content of fiber has been shown to increase in fruits and vegetables that have been dehydrated.
Including food that has a high amount of fiber in it, helps to prevent further issues of constipation, colon cancer and even diarrhea.
If you consume a dehydrated fruit, chances are that you would find it sweeter in comparison to a fresh fruit. This is because during the dehydration process, both fructose and calories become more concentrated and that is why they tend to taste sweeter.
Nutrients in dehydrated snacks are better absorbed by our body as well giving us more energy for longer.
No Presence of Harmful Bacteria
Since water content in the food is already removed, the possibility of the growth of harmful bacteria, mold and yeast is greatly minimized.
This means that there is lower risk of people contracting stomach flu or food poisoning when they consume dehydrated food because food contamination is way lower.
The Cons of Consuming Dehydrated Food
There are a few cons about making dehydrated food a part of your diet:
It is true that dehydrated food has a lot more calories and higher concentrations of salt, sodium and sugar (depending on the food type). This could cause bloating, weight gain and if left unchecked, could also increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
May Exclude Some Vitamins
Natural dehydration is a much better method of preservation than using chemical preservatives but vitamins such as A and C could also reduce or be eliminated entirely.
It has been found that vitamins that come in the B group may also be removed entirely.
Could Interfere with Medicine
Doctors often tell patients to seek medical advice before consuming dehydrated food as it has been found to interfere with certain types of medication that could lead to more health complications.
Dehydrated food is undoubtedly a favorite with outdoor enthusiasts because its much healthier than other quick over the counter snack options. If dehydrated food is a big part of your diet, ensuring that you don’t skip your supplements is one way to stay healthy.