Dried fruit? Isn’t that kind of high in sugar? Well, the short answer is yes, but the long answer is that in small doses – such as in a nut-based snack mix, or sprinkled on top of a high-fat plain yogurt (e.g. Fage Total) for a sweet dessert – dried fruit can be a welcome addition to the Primal eating plan. With that said, it is called Nature’s candy for good reason, so be careful not to overdo it.
Before we get started, let’s first address why you should be drying your own fruit – especially when dried fruit is available just about anywhere (and by that we mean even the grimiest of gas stations are stocking it these days!). According to the folks over at Wikipedia, some commercially available dried fruit products are first treated with sulfur dioxide to enhance the color of the product after drying. The problem? Sulfur dioxide can trigger asthma symptoms in those with the disorder. You can avoid purchasing sulfur dioxide-treated fruit by always opting for organic dried fruit products.
Ok, now on to the good stuff – let’s dehydrate some fruit in 10 easy steps!
1. Fruit Finder
The first step? Deciding what type of fruit will work for drying. The obvious are apricots, apples, bananas, berries, coconut and plums, but be sure to give cherries, citrus peel, figs, kiwis, mangoes, nectarines, papaya, peaches, pears and pineapple a try! An even more off the wall – yet no less delicious option? Cantaloupe – it tastes just like candy!
2. Pick a Candidate
When selecting candidates for fruit dehydration, you’ll need to employ the same stringent eye you would use in the grocery store. As such, you should be picking up fruits that firm, blemish free and ripe, but not overly so (which means using fruit dehydration for the forgotten contents of your fruit bowl is not going to prove successfully!)
3. Slicing and Dicing
Preparing fruit for dehydration is no different than preparing fruit for consumption. You’ll want to wash all fruits thoroughly, particularly if the fruit you are going to use will be eaten with its skin, to remove any dirt and lingering pesticides. If necessary, pit and slice the fruit into equal-sized pieces. For larger berries or cherries, for example, you’ll want to cut them in half. Apples and Pears should be cored and then sliced into ½ inch thick slices. The key here is that all of the pieces are of similar size so that they dry at an equal rate.
4. Proper Pre-Treatment
Remember how we mentioned that store bought dried fruit often contains sulfur to make the fruit look a little more appealing? Well, there is a simple, no chemical way to pre-treat fruit that also has the benefit of restoring a portion of the vitamin C that is lost during the dehydration process. The easiest way to do this is to dip the fruit slices in an ascorbic acid dip made by combining 2 tbsp ascorbic acid – or the equivalent of 5 grams of crushed vitamin C tablets – in one quart of water. Another method is to blanch the fruit by putting slices in a steamer for five minutes then transferring them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking. Though this process is really only good for a few fruits, such as apples, pears and apricots.
You know how they say there’s more than one way to skin a cat? Well, there’s also more than one way to…errr…dry a fruit! Here are a few of our favorites:
5. Sun Drying
By far the most environmentally friendly method, sun drying is really only a viable option for those living in climates with 100 degree heat and relatively low humidity…and where you can guarantee that this fine weather will last two to four days. To do, line a cookie tray with sides with cheese cloth or a fine netting. Arrange slices on the tray and place in direct sunlight. Turn fruit once a day to promote equal drying. Some fruit drying aficionados recommend positioning a fan close by to boost air circulation and also suggest that you bring the trays indoors overnight to prevent dew from forming on the fruits.
6. Oven Drying
Yes, the oven is on for a long time, but it’s on at such a low heat, that it really isn’t that bad on the environment (or, lets face it, the electricity bill!) To dry fruit in the oven, line the racks with cheesecloth and place fruit slices on top. The oven should be set at its lowest setting, reaching a temperature of no higher than 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and the door should be left slightly open to allow any steam to escape (again, experts recommend positioning a fan close by to keep air circulating).
7. Electric Dehydration
If you’re planning on making a habit out of dehydrating fruits, it might be smart to invest in an electric dehydrator. They’re more economical than running your oven for that long and, unlike an oven, you don’t have to stay home when the dehydrator is going! Plus, it’s the fastest way to get the job done, meaning you’ll get your prunes pronto!
8. All Done
Although drying times vary based on the type of fruit, how it is prepared, and how you dry it, there are a few simple tricks you can use to test when it is done. A good way to test whether the fruit is “cooked” is to first touch it – it should feel dry but not brittle, almost taking on a leathery yet pliable texture. Then, tear a piece apart and look along the tear. If there are moisture beads, you’ll need a little more time.
You spent all that time doing the dehydrating, the quickest way to reverse all your hard work? Store it improperly. To keep the (dried) fruits of your labor in tip-top shape, store them in a Ziploc bag or other airtight container that is then wrapped in a brown paper bag or other covering that will keep the fruits protected from sunlight. Then, store the package in a cool, dry place. If you must keep the fruits in the fridge, take extra steps to ensure that the package is airtight so that the cool moisture of the fridge doesn’t spoil the fruit.
10. Pass the Pasteurizer
Not going to get to your dried cantaloupe pieces any time soon? There is a way to extend the life of your fruit: Pasteurizing. There are two options to do this: The first is to heat the dried fruit in an oven at 175 degrees for 10-15 minutes. The other requires you to freeze the fruit for several days at zero degrees. It should be noted, however, that you’ll need a deep freezer to do this (the one attached to your fridge just won’t stay cold enough!). Once pasteurized, follow the same storage protocol as detailed above.
Final Thoughts: Fresh and dried fruit is a welcome addition to the Primal eating plan. In moderation, dried fruit can be a healthy, sweet treat. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t reiterate that, especially with dried fruit, you may want to keep an eye on consumption if you’re trying to keep your carb count within the healthy Primal range. Check out FitDay’s nutrition facts panels for select fruits here.