If you’re a homesteader, you no doubt deal with the canning vs dehydrating issue every year.
Which works better in assuring that your harvest of fruits and vegetables will remain fresh, nutritious and tasty months down the road?
Some believe canning is the better option; others swear by dehydration. Who’s right?
In this article, we examine the pros and cons of each, the procedures used, and materials and costs involved.
Definitions: What Do These Terms Mean?
Dehydration is a process that removes 90% or more of moisture content from a food, making it resistant to mold or bacteria growth, thus extending shelf life.
What do experienced preppers like about dehydration?
- The food retains its nutritious value for months.
- Dehydrated foods are easily portable, compact and light weight.
- When you’re ready to consume it, rehydrating the food into a softer, more delectable form is an easy process.
What’s the downside?
- You need a machine or home drying rack to do the dehydration.
- If using a machine, you may not always have electricity in a crisis.
- It can take 8 to 48 hours to complete (longer in areas with high humidity).
Canning, on the other hand, involves heating a food at a temperature that will kill bacteria and then transferring it to an airtight container for long-term storage.
Benefits of canning:
- Reusing supplies makes it reasonably inexpensive to do.
- It retains the food flavor, color and flavor and much of its nutrients.
- It’s faster than dehydration.
Negatives of canning:
- Jars of canned food tend to be heavy, making them impractical for backpacking.
- Jars require more storage space than dehydrated foods—and they can break.
- If you don’t follow the process exactly, you run the risk of botulism.
Equipment: What You’ll Need
You have a wide choice of both dehydrators and canners to make your job both easier and faster.
For example, the best overall dehydrator on Amazon is the Nesco FD-1018A Gardenmaster Pro, a full featured product with lots of positive reviews. It’s one of our favorites due to features like:
- Eight dishwater safe trays (expandable to as many as 30 for those times when you’re processing large quantities)
- A 1000 watt air-drying system that pushes heated air over the food for consistent drying
- Adjustable thermostat for different foods
- Accessories like fruit rollup sheets, recipe instruction book and a flavorful jerky spice pack
Another good option is the Hamilton Beach Digital Food Dehydrator, a bit less expensive but still highly rated by Amazon. It comes with five stackable drying trays instead of the eight offered by the Nesco product, a 48-hour timer, adjustable drying temps of 100-160 degrees F, and both a fine mesh sheet for small foods like herbs plus a solid sheet for making fruit rolls.
Incidentally, if you plan to preserve large quantities of food, check out the Excalibur 3926TB 9-Tray Electric Food Dehydrator (below). Features like a much larger drying space, 26-hour timer, auto shut off, and much more make it ideal for those larger projects you’ve been thinking about.
The temperature range (105-165) is low enough for fruits and veggies but also high enough for making popular prepper items like long-lasting beef jerky.
Finally, for storing your dehydrated foods, you’ll need a supply of plastic freezer bags or containers, both of which can be found in your local food store or online.
For canning, the products you use will depend upon the method you’re using: water bath canning or pressure canning. Each type requires slightly different equipment.
If you choose to do the water bath method, you’ll need a canning pot that comes with a bottom rack.
We found a great, top-rated pressure canner called the Presto 91781 23-Quart Pressure Canner and Cooker. Made of heavy-gauge aluminum for even heating, it features a nice rage of pressure settings for just about anything you’re canning, plus a canning/cooking rack and a very helpful 78-page recipe book.
Need reusable jars and rings? Of course you do! There are lots of sources online or you can check locally at thrift stores and flea markets. To save on lids, we always go with the reusable types because, while initially more expensive than the one time lids, they save you money in the long run.
Handy Tip: While you’re at it, pick up a good jar lifter for safely removing any size jar from boiling water. Could save you from getting burned!
How’s the Shelf Life with Canning or Dehydration?
The National Center for Home Food Preservation says you can store your dried fruits for a whole year if your storage room is at 60 degrees F, and six months for vegetables.
Personally, we’ve found we can go that long and longer when we keep a close eye on the room conditions. We also found it a good idea periodically to check on the dehydrated food to make sure they’re not getting exposed to moisture. That could cut their shelf life considerably.
Unopened home canned foods could last up to one year, says the Utah State University Extension Service. Just make sure you’re using them before two years, however.
As always, room temperature and humidity will determine the length of time you can safely store these foods. If the room is too hot, you could lose up to 80% of a food’s nutrients, so again, keep a close eye on the thermostat.
Canning and Dehydrating: Two Important Skills for Every Prepper
These are two of the most helpful skills you can learn as you prepare your emergency food supplies. Fortunately, they’re also relatively simple to master.
The hard part Is getting started. Let’s do that today!