How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables Without Sulfites

Drying produce from your crisis garden is an excellent way to preserve it. Once fruits and vegetables have been dried, they become small, compact, and easy to store and carry. Plus, within the drying process, pretty much the only thing that is sacrificed is moisture. Most of the nutrients, vitamins, and fiber content of the produce remains. So even though dried fruits may look like leather, they are still quite nutritious.

Despite my love for dried things, you will never, ever see me purchasing them in a grocery store. Why? Well, why would I bother when I have all of this wonderful, fresh produce at home that I can dry myself? Drying your own fruits and vegetables at home is really not that complicated. The very best thing about drying your own garden fresh produce is that you can do it without sulfites.

You see, pretty much any time you see conventionally dried food of any sort at the grocery store, it contains sulfites. Sulfites keep fruits and vegetables looking “fresher” and more colorful once they have been dried, and increase their shelf life. You will notice that an apricot dried with sulfites looks bright orange and relatively round and smooth, whereas an organically dried apricot is brown and looks a bit more wrinkly. The ones dried with sulfites do not taste better, they just tend to look “fresher.”

All wines contain sulfites, as they occur naturally during the fermentation process, but many types of wine also have extra sulfites that have been added as a preservative. Conventional beef jerky always contains sulfites, as do many condiments, and dried food mixes such dried potato slices that come in boxes of instant au gratin potatoes. Oftentimes sulfites are also sprayed on containers of seafood and salad bars at grocery stores in order to keep these things looking fresh, and to prevent black and brown spots from forming. You should see a sign indicating that sulfites have been added “to preserve freshness.” Whereas sulfites used to be commonly used on all types of produce, the FDA banned this practice in 1986. Now, all products with sulfites must contain a warning label stating, “this product contains sulfites.”

Sulfites are supposedly not dangerous to the majority of the population. However, approximately 1 in 100 people have a sulfite sensitivity. A sulfite sensitivity can develop at any time during life. For these individuals, sulfites can cause headaches, diarrhea,  skin rashes, and asthma attacks.  In some cases, the asthma attacks can cause severe breathing problems and be quite dangerous.

Okay, the point of all of this is that it is obviously better to dry your fruits and vegetables without a preservative, if you can. So I’ll stop my yaking and get to how I dry my produce. This is the perfect time of year to start drying, when your garden really starts to produce, and you need to start preserving lest you waste half of it. You can experiment with drying different types of fruits and veggies to see what kinds you like best. Most types of berries dry very well, including strawberries and blueberries. For fruit, I would also recommend drying pears, apples, bananas, and apricots. (You can really dry pretty much any fruit except for citrus fruits and watermelons. The latter is 92% water so you wouldn’t really have anything left.) For vegetables, you can make your own sun-dried tomatoes, and celery, onions, beans, squash, okra, and carrots all dry well.

Drying Fruits and Vegetables:

Step 1- Begin by washing and drying your fruit or vegetable of choice. Thoroughly dry and slice your produce; fruits and veggies that are cut into uniform thin slices dry best. A sharp knife and steady hand is fine for this, but you may also find a mandolin slicer or food processor useful. Make sure to discard any stems and woody or rotten portions.

Step 2 for Fruits- In place of a coat of sulfites, the fruit slices still need something that is going to help preserve them and extend their shelf life. I find what works best is a dip in ascorbic acid. This is much safer, since ascorbic acid simply comes from vitamin C. You can buy it in powdered form at grocery stores and drug stores. To use it, mix one teaspoon of the powder with 2 cups of water. Immerse your fruit slices and let them soak for 3 minutes before removing them and patting them dry with paper towels.

Step 2 for Vegetables- Drying veggies is different from drying fruits because dried fruits obtain a leathery texture, whereas dried veggies become crisp. They contain less acids than fruits, so in a dried state they become brittle instead of chewy. To prepare veggies to be dried, they need to be blanched. This stops the enzyme action that causes loss of color and flavor during storage. To blanch your vegetables, fill a large pot 2/3 full with water, and bring this to a rolling boil. Fill a colander with your veggie slices, and submerge the colander in the boiling water. Delicate veggies such as tomatoes need to only boil for about 1 minute. Give beans 2 minutes, and harder veggies like carrots 3 minutes. (The water will calm down for a moment once you submerge the colander, so start timing when it returns to a boil.) Then, remove the colander, rinse the veggies briefly with cold water, and pat them dry with paper towels. Move immediately onto the next step, as it is best to complete step #3 while the veggies are still warm to the touch.

If you would like, you can buy a conventional food dehydrator at a local kitchen supply store. I have never purchased one of these, since the tend to be bulky and I do not care for kitchen tools that serve only one purpose. So, for drying, I use my oven. That brings us to…

Step 3- Create your own drying trays by placing cake cooling racks (the ones that look like little metal grids) on top of some cookies sheets. These racks will allow for sufficient air flow, which is imperative. Next, set your oven to 140 degrees. This is likely the lowest setting your oven has. During the entire drying process, you will need to keep the door to your oven ajar, so I would not recommend doing this in a house with very small children. Prop you oven door open with a ball of aluminum foil or a wooden kitchen spoon.

Step 4- It will take between 4 and 12 hours for your fruits and vegetables to dry, depending on what you are drying and how thinly it is sliced. Check them after 4 hours. Dried fruit is done when it feels dry and leathery to the touch, but still flexible. Dried vegetables are done when they are brittle, as they they will shatter if you hit them with your hand.

Step 5 for Fruits- After being oven dried, vegetables can simply be cooled and stored in an airtight container. However, fruits must be conditioned. Remove your fruits from the trays and place them in a tight sealing jar. They will need to remain in this jar for the next 10 days. Every day, give the jar a good shake. This will help to distribute the remaining moisture in the fruit, giving it the desired texture. After those 10 days, you can remove your dried fruit from the jar to store or consume it.


4 comments so far

  1. […] can also check out my previous blogs, How to Dry Fruits and Vegetables Without Sulfites, and What the Heck Is Lacto-Fermentation for more information on preserving your garden […]

  2. […] vegetables that you will to store for long periods of time must be canned using a heat process, or dried and vacuum packed. Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)Will Survival Seed Bank […]

  3. M.Charlot on

    Thanks for the information. I dried food using food dehydrator and have not tried to use oven. Just wonder what will be the difference. Do you know?

    • No-GMO-Seed-Bank on

      Hi, thanks for your comment. I do not believe that there is a significant difference in the outcome of the product. An oven is just a less energy efficient way to dry foods. So if you dry fruits and vegetables frequently, a dehydrator is a good investment. But if you dry foods in large batches, an oven is more convenient, in my opinion.

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