When I used to have the cafe (Cafe Virtuoso 2012-2016 in Bedford UK), I often used to make RAW foods (breads, cakes, savoury dishes as well as crackers & fruit snacks).

Although I still have my wonderful dehydrator (stored away in the garage) I have decided to bring it out and back to the land of the living and start getting creative with it once again, to create delicious and healthy foods and snacks.  A dehydrator is a great piece of machinery that uses low amounts of heat and has an in-built fan to disperse hot air through the appliance.  Over time, this steadily reduces the amount of water in the food until it appears dried and sometimes light brown in colour.  It can be a lengthy process but the results are more than worth it.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?

TASTE:  Removing the water from fruits and vegetables naturally concentrates on natural flavours.  The crisp and chewy texture, which can be achieved through dehydration, make the fruit and vegetables appear more akin to a naughty treat than a healthy whole food, meaning it is a great way to get fussy children (an adults for that matter) excited about healthy eating!

PRESERVATION:  Dehydration can be used as a form of preservation by drawing out the moisture from food which means it limits the amount of mould, yeast and bacteria that can affect the ingredient being used.  By dehydrating food yourself, you can eliminate the need for artificial preservatives as well as being able to enjoy your food over a longer period of time, without it going off so soon.

WASTE & MONEY: Due to the great preservative qualities of dehydration, it can help minimise your food waste.  Whether it is produce you’ve brought from a store or grown in your own garden, there will always be extra that you struggle to use up, especially during each fruits peak season by turning them into healthy snacks.

DOES IT COUNTERACT THE FOODS NUTRITIONAL VALUE?

When food is dehydrated, the heat can sometimes decrease the nutritional values of certain fruits and vegetables.  Vitamin C, for instance, is found in almost every fruit and vegetable to certain extents but it is also sensitive to heat, water and even air, so cooking can often decrease the vitamin c content of food.  Similarly, vitamin A is also light-sensitive and may be affected not only by this but by the subtle heat used during the dehydration process.  However, because the heat is so gentle, some studies have concluded that the nutritional value lost can be as little as 5%, making it almost as healthy as eating the fresh stuff and often far more convenient.

WHAT CAN YOU MAKE USING A DEHYDRATOR?

Fruit Leather:  This is a fabulous way to use up over-ripe fruit and because, when rolled, the leather looks more like a sweet than one of your five-a-day, it’s a great way to encourage those who aren’t keen on fruit to give it a go, plus it is truly tasty, tangy and nutritious.  HOW:  Start by pureeing your fruit (you can add a little maple syrup if the fruit is too tart to sweeten it up) then pour the mixture onto a tray of your dehydrator and use a spatula to spread it out into a thin layer. Dehydrate for 6 hours.  Fruits that work best: mango, apricot, berries.

Vegetable & Fruit Crisps: We all love the worlds favourite snack ‘crisps’ however why not give a go to crisping up some nutritious vegetables (and even fruits) without all the added oils, sugars, salts & preservatives.  Simply place thin slices of fruit and/or vegetables (carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, parsnips, apples, beetroot, tomatoes etc.) in a bowl with a tiny bit of oil (I use spray oil) and seasoning of your choice (dried herbs, spices, pepper, chilli, sea salt etc.) and mix it all up before placing them one at a time on the dehydrator tray and bake for 6-8 hours.  You can turn over half way through.

Crackers: Although there are a huge variety of crackers & crisp breads out in the market, I can never find one that I LOVE and that fits into dietary requirements that I need to cater for, therefore, making your own crackers is a great way to get creative, use only flavours that you love as well as using up leftover ingredients i.e. pulp from your fresh juices, nuts & seeds, herbs & spices, fruits & vegetables etc.  Try my recipe for tasty ‘RAW TOMATO & HERB CRACKERS‘!

It is time to get creative and healthy!

raw tomato and herb crackers

mango fruit leather

dehydrated vegetables

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