solar food dehydrator

Want Summer Flavor to Last All Year? Use a Solar Food Dehydrator

Spend a weekend building a solar food dehydrator, and you can bite into nutrient-packed, super-flavorful produce year-round.

By Leah Zerbe


Want Summer Flavor to Last All Year? Use a Solar Food Dehydrator

Let the sun be your chef: A solar food dehydrator preserves the summer's bounty.

RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—Food dehydrators serve as a gift from the garden gods for anyone who loves indulging in homegrown, seasonal produce year-round. Tomatoes in December? No problem. Local blueberries in February? Okay. Apples and pears from your backyard trees in the middle of a winter snowstorm? You got it! The main issue with conventional plug-in food dehydrators, or with using your oven for dehydrating, for that matter, is that the machine gobbles up lots of energy to reach high temperatures. And that's often during the peak of the harvest—summer—exactly the time of year when you'd rather not be generating excess heat in the home. Crank up the AC during food-dehydrating days to keep comfortable, and up creeps the energy bill.

Eben Fodor changed all of that when he developed plans for his own solar-powered food dehydrator. Armed with a background in engineering and solar design, and a genuine interest in gardening and green living, Fodor tweaked his invention, called it the SunWorks Solar Food Dryer, and has published detailed plans that anyone can use to build a solar-powered food dehydrator in his book, The Solar Food Dryer: How to Make and Use Your Own Low-Cost, High Performance, Sun-Powered Food Dehydrator (New Society Publishers, 2006). "It's a hybrid design with the efficiency of solar collectors attached to a cabinet with the compactness of a high-efficiency dryer," he explains.

Fodor notes that it does take some handyman knowledge and tools to build the solar food dehydrator, and about two full days of labor. But the payoff is bone-dry, super-flavorful food that can easily be stored for a year, with many nutrients locked in place for months. That means you don't have to buy cardboard-tasting produce from halfway around the world when produce is out of season in your area.

Some people may scoff at the thought of such arduous labor. After all, can't you just let your produce sit in the sun to dry?

"You could," Fodor says, "but it's not ideal."

For starters, setting food outside to dry takes a long time—up to a week for some types of produce. And it never dries out as well as you'd like for longer-term preservation. Fruit acids want to reabsorb moisture, and produce rehydrates at night when the sun is out of sight. (That's not even considering the effects of rain and summer daytime mugginess.) Plus, the longer it takes to dry your food, the more nutrients leach away from it.

Published on: July 15, 2011
Updated on: July 15, 2011

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