Sun-dried tomatoes and dried mushrooms. Two of the most expensive ingredients available, especially in comparison to their fresh counterparts.
They also happen to be two of my favourite ingredients to use. Both offering rich, intense flavour; tomatoes with their sweetness and punchy tang and mushrooms with their deep, sultry, earthy, woodiness. They both have the ability to take a dish from ordinary to extraordinary and to make an otherwise mundane dish sing like it's been slaved over and had magic added to it.
Think tomato based sauces, such as that for pasta. Just a small amount of sun-dried tomatoes can add a serious explosion of flavour, adding tang, sweetness and umami in an already perfectly balanced little package.
Dried mushrooms are extra special in that they offer you their wonderful flavour steeped into the water they soak in to give an amazing stock, plus he intense mushrooms themselves. Again, just a small handful will transform your mushroom risotto, creamy sauce or stroganoff into a truly decadently rich mushroom affair.
It's no wonder these magical ingredients can be so expensive when they have so much to offer. But what if you could make your own for the cost of the fresh ingredients alone plus a one off well-worth-it investment into a dehydrator?
Fresh tomatoes can be purchased for as little as £1.38/kg or £4.00/kg for organic and the dried variety (just tomatoes, no oil) comes in at a whopping £18.90/kg.
Fresh mushrooms price up at £2.08/kg or £3.11/kg for organic, whilst the dried variety comes in at a jaw dropping £75.00/kg!*
*Prices based on Tesco's
About 2kg of fresh tomatoes will make about a litre or 4 cup jar full of dried tomatoes. You can make organic dried tomatoes for a fraction of of the cost and make so much more than comes in those tiny packs so you've always got that little something to add to your cooking to give it a boost. As with mushrooms, even the plain cheap versions will still produce gorgeous concentrated flavours, so if you're financially conscious, you don't need to be shelling out on the finest shiitake mushrooms or vine ripened plum tomatoes, they will all emerge from the dehydrator as delicious morsels of concentrated flavour.
Now, we need to talk about the equipment. I have in the past dried tomatoes in the oven. Fine, but they will never fully dry out enough to either get as concentrated in flavour or be so moisture free that they can be stored for a prolonged amount of time. That's why I really recommend investing in a dehydrator.
I had one of those cheap models for a while and it ended up at the back of the cupboard with a good half of the gadgets I've collected over the years. Kitchen gadgets are either must have, daily or at least regular use pieces or just total one hit wonders. The old dehydrator was definitely in the latter category. Why? Well, it was clunky, and awkward. The stacking shelves made it a nightmare to store as did it's round shape which also made using any kind of sheet on the trays a nightmare due to the doughnut shapes of the trays. It was SO NOISY and bearing in mind that it takes a fair amount of time to dehydrate things, that really matters. This isn't a quick blitz in the blender for 30 seconds, this is a good 12 hours straight and sounding like the hoover is on the entire time. It also took way too long to dry things and most of the time I gave up before things were truly dry - fed up with waiting, fed up with the noise, fed up with the use of space and concerned about the electricity bill! Last, but not least, it had horrid manual controls which made temperature control a bit of guesswork at times. Phew....
Now, I've discovered what a real quality dehydrator is like. And I am hooked.
- It's so quiet!
- It's elegantly designed with proper drawers instead of clunky stacking shelves.
- The trays are large and rectangle.
- It comes with two varieties of cleanable insert, perfectly fitting to the inside of the drawers so no fiddling and cutting parchment.
- It has so much space (mine has 6 drawers but serious dehydrator enthusiasts can go for the 10 drawer for just £60 extra!) meaning that it is so much more energy efficient as much can be dried at the same time.
- It has digital, very simple to use controls and a self timer to switch off after the allocated time so you can leave it on overnight or while you are out without worry (If, like me you have an Economy 7 electricity meter so that electricity is cheaper at night, this is most useful!)
- Although large, it's sleek, rectangular and sturdy design makes storage easy as it can stack and be stacked on in a cupboard or shelf.
- It thoroughly and evenly dries foods in the time suggested and has a great guide to drying different foods with it.
- It has a proper circulation and airflow which means unlike an oven or a cheaper dehydrator, moisture is forced to leave the machine and thus the food, making long term storage safe and mould free.
- It's extremely affordable for it's kind of high end machine.
- Available in 2 sizes : 6 trays or 10 Trays
- Equipped with a 40-hour digital timer
- Adjustable thermostat: 29-63 Degrees C
- 3-or 5-year domestic and 12-month commercial warranty
- Easy-to-clean non-stick and mesh sheets
- Unique custom-made cleaning brush
- Access to expert support team
- 30-day money back guarantee - Includes return postage!
- Powerful 800W (10 tray)/630W (6 tray) wattage power.
- Unrivalled Parallex drying system
- BPA-free trays - dishwasher safe
This makes it more powerful than the market leader Excalibur which is 600W, with a longer timer compared to their 26-hour digital timer and more accessories included such as mesh sheets which Excalibur sell separately.
The temperature range incorporates temperatures suitable for raw food, food drying and jerky making plus the handy guide included lists temperatures and times for a whole range of foods as a guideline.
Drying Mushrooms and Tomatoes
The length of time needed to dry foods such as tomatoes and mushrooms will really vary depending on the water content of the particular batch, whether you have washed them (remember mushrooms will absorb moisture) and how big the pieces are.
My mushrooms were wiped clean with a barely damp paper towel and broken into roughly one inch chunks. They took about 12 hours at 54'C. The temperature can be lowered, for example to accommodate strict raw food diets, which will of course lengthen the drying time. The mushrooms should be leathery and brittle to enable storage free of mould growth.
My tomatoes were halved cherry tomatoes that had been rinsed and wiped dry in paper towels. They took about 16 hours to be dry enough for safe, long term storage. If you were to use the tomatoes within a couple of days, you could dry them for less time. The tomatoes should be only slightly gummy and release no moisture when squeezed to enable storage free of mould growth.
Making the most efficient use of the Optimum P200 Dehydrator
Obviously, the length of time is alarming. I used to write off dehydration due to the timings having always been a person to cook for something I want or need right now. This method of preparing incredible natural flavour enhancers is one which I have found much enjoyment and reward. For very little work, an amazing product emerges. The lengthy time is in the background, it is not hands on work for you. For efficiency, I would suggest to fill the machine each use which is another benefit of the size and number of drawers since the energy usage to run the Parallex drying system fan would be the same whatever the size.
Any fruits or veggies which may be in need of use will always be welcomed in your dehydrator instead of the compost, or worse the bin. If you have pets, why not dehydrate treats for them? Or even for the bird table! There will always be something around to fill the trays to increase efficiency - stale bread? Croutons. None of the above? How about boosting the nutrition of your nuts and seeds by activating them?