We had barely heard of the Excalibur dehydrator when we purchased ours two years ago. But we did our research and discovered that the Australian agent was situated a mere twenty minutes' drive away into the mountains. Our preferred model was in stock so we collected it and were ‘in business’ and having fun that same day!
Wherever you are in the world, you, too, can have one delivered to your doorstep, in some cases free of charge.
Have you ever had so much fruit that you didn’t know what to do with it? It was the mango season in North Queensland and the result of an hour’s picking (with children helping!) was rapidly ripening fruit that overflowed from boxes and bench-tops.
After some trial and error we perfected a fast method of cutting off the mango cheeks and scooping out the flesh before slicing it so that it would fit between the shelves of our new toy – the Excalibur Dehydrator.
Of course, even if work is meant to be fun, we still had our fledgling business, Tropical Superfoods, to run. So, in our shared commercial kitchen, it was soon humming away, producing a variety of dehydrated vegetables and fruit, powdered turmeric and ginger, in addition to the long-keeping dried mango.
This method of preserving fruit, vegetables, spices and nuts also meets all the requirements of the raw food diet and has the enormous benefit of being completely free of chemical additives or preservatives.
Being so portable, it was easy to bring the dehydrator home for weekends to experiment with and to develop new products and recipes. For instance, Virginia recently made pasta with her Kitchen Aid machine then dried it in the dehydrator. A highly successful experiment was activating almonds then drying them to perfection or getting that 'crunch' in spiced nuts and pumpkin seeds. She discovered that even stale nuts and biscuits can be given new life!
A word of caution should be noted about home use of any dehydrator. Because they use heated air and a fan to distribute that air, they can be rather noisy in a confined space so it is ideal if you can situate yours in an area away from bedrooms, for instance. Perhaps it is because we live in a hot and humid climate but we find that the pleasant smells of drying fruit and the moisture that is removed from the fruit into the air can become rather overwhelming, so the machine needs to be near an open window or extractor vent.
Our machine is a 9 tray dehydrator which holds approximately 9 kilos of fruit or produce but there is a 5 tray dehydrator for smaller home drying. Either Excalibur Dehydrator model takes up about the same amount of bench space as an espresso machine or a large inkjet printer.
As mentioned, we spent considerable time trying to find the best dehydrator within our price range, world-wide. We had previously been disappointed with a couple of the round, plastic types. We found a commercial model that appealed but its cost, as well as freight and handling and installation costs, was prohibitive.
Our Excalibur Dehydrator suits us well but if we decided to process fruit and vegetables in greater volume the company now sells commercial models, which we would be tempted to purchase.
These models would be attractive to owners of large orchards, who could then ‘value add’ to their fresh product. In the last two years the Excalibur range of models has been updated and designs improved.
If you are wanting to enjoy the benefits of dried fruit or follow the raw food diet guidelines, then you will want to buy yourself one of these versatile machines. For instance, the benefits of bananas dried in the Excalibur Dehydrator include not only their obvious nutritional benefits but also their increased shelf life, reduced size and weight as well as the convenience of packing this delicious fruit for hiking, school lunches and as an emergency supply in the glove box. Quick snacks have never been so easy!
Although the instruction booklet states that you do not need to rotate
the trays, I would disagree when it comes to using very juicy fruit.
Bananas are fine to stay in the machine with no rotation (although
better results are achieved if the fruit is turned over half way through
drying) but mangoes dry better on the 3rd to 7th trays. The first two
trays and the last two trays benefit from a rotation about half way
through. The resulting dried mangoes are of excellent flavour and are
consistent in their texture.
When making fruit leather I found that adding a thicker fruit, such as banana, really helped with the leather’s overall even consistency. Also the fruit dries more quickly on the outer edges so, if possible, push the puree towards the outside edges of the trays. I use plastic wrap to cover the trays but there are special fruit leather sheets available for purchase from Excalibur Dehydrator sellers, which might be better.
Washing the trays and screens is a real ‘pain’ in a normal sink. I suggest that you do your clean-up in the laundry tub or purchase a large plastic tub from a hardware store, so that you can submerge all your trays and give them a good soak – the dried fruit comes off so much more easily after soaking.
Virginia drying activated almonds
The hardest part of slicing odd-shaped fruit and vegetables is getting each piece the same thickness. This is made easier if you use a ‘mandolin’, but this utensil carries its own dangers – please be careful! If your fruit happens to be unevenly sliced, put the thicker pieces around the edges of the trays, as the middle of the tray dries more slowly.
The instruction booklet is quite comprehensive but is aimed at an American audience so some of our Australian fruits and vegetables are not listed. However it does explain how to dry fruit in a fairly easy-to-understand way, but I have found that I needed to keep my own diary for each of my loads (as well as asking Google for tips).
For instance, it is good to make a note of what the weather conditions are (humidity will increase drying times), what variety each of the fruits is eg: bananas come in three main varieties that I like to dehydrate – Cavendish, Sugar and Ladies' Fingers. Each has a different amount of sugar so each dries differently. In your dehydrator diary you should also note how many hours each batch took to dry, whether you had to turn over the fruit during the process, and if you rotated the trays. By keeping these notes as detailed as possible you will reduce the number of mistakes you make (albeit yummy mistakes – nothing is wasted!).
When you buy an Excalibur Dehydrator, if you are like me, you will be ‘hooked’ and your pantry will be a lot healthier. The biggest problem I have is keeping up the supply – once someone tries a dried grape they will never eat a shop bought sultana again!
The benefits are many and that’s not including other non-food uses such as dried flowers, paper making, and rescuing photos that got wet! However my next experiment will be food oriented - I will be dehydrating kale so watch this space for the result!