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What Foods Can Be Sun-Dried? (And Which Can’t)

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In an effort to stay busy during the Pandemic and to try some things that I’ve never done before, I used the stovetop and oven method to dry milk and was successful at making my own dry or powdered milk. Then, I used a dehydrator to dry some cayenne peppers. Plus, I have been making my own beef jerky in the oven for a few years now. So, I decided to put together a resource to help people who are curious about what can be sun-dried.

Foods that are considered safe to sun dry are fruits and vine-dried beans.

  • Fruits that are high in natural sugar and acid like apples, apricots, dates, figs, grapes, peaches, pears, and plums are considered safe to sun-dry. 
  • According to the USDA’s National Center For Home Food Preservation, the only vegetable that is safe to sun-dry is vine-dried beans. Vegetables are low in natural sugar and acid, which makes them more at risk for food spoilage.
  • According to the USDA’s National Center For Home Food Preservation, meat is unsafe for sun-drying because its high protein level makes all types of meat “ideal for microbial growth.”

What Fruits Can Be Sun-Dried?

Mix of sun-dried food on a tray

If we stop to think about it, we are quite familiar with many fruits that can be sun-dried. We can find dried apples, apricots, dates, figs, raisins, which are dried grapes, peaches, pears, and prunes which are dried plums, in any grocery store. But, any fruits that are high in natural sugar and acid can be sun-dried at home.

How Are Fruits Sun-Dried?

Here are the steps to follow to sun-dry any type of fruit:

  1. Choose the best, most blemish-free, and fully ripe fruit.
  2. Wash the fruit thoroughly and dry.
  3. Peel the fruit and remove any pits or seeds.
  4. Cut the fruit into slices that are ¼ to ½ inch thick.
  5. Soak the fruit slices in lemon juice for 5-10 minutes to preserve the color and to keep them from turning brown.
  6. Spread the fruit slices on trays or screens made of wooden slats, aluminum screening, or plastic mesh.
  7. Place a piece of cheesecloth held in place by a wooden frame or use a piece of glass over the trays to protect the fruit from dust, insects, and any other foreign matter.
  8. Leave the tray in the sun for 2 to 4 days, depending on the fruit and the thickness of the slices.
  9. Cover the trays or take them inside at night or during any rainstorm or other inclement weather.

What Vegetables Can Be Sun-Dried?

According to the USDA’s National Center For Home Food Preservation, the only vegetable that is safe to sun-dry is vine-dried beans. Vegetables are low in natural sugar and acid, which makes them more at risk for food spoilage.

But, even though most vegetables cannot safely be sun-dried because of their tendency to spoil before they are completely dried due to the rather long drying process, most vegetables can be safely dried by other methods such as either in an oven or a dehydrator.

How Are Vegetables Sun-Dried?

One method of sun-drying beans is as follows:

  1. Leave the pods on the vines until the pods are completely dry and rattle inside the pods. 
  2. Pick the pods when they are completely dry.
  3. If the beans are still slightly moist when shelled, they must be dried thoroughly, or they will eventually mold. So, place them on a plate or tray and put them out in the sun until completely dry. But, they can also be dried in an oven or dehydrator. They do not have to be pretreated for this process.

What Meat Can Be Sun-Dried?

As with most vegetables, according to the USDA’s National Center For Home Food Preservation, meat is unsafe for sun-drying because its high protein level makes all types of meat “ideal for microbial growth.” But, in the case of meat, there are no exceptions; all types of meat are unsafe for sun-drying.

How Is Meat Sun-Dried?

Because meat has such a high protein level, it cannot safely be sun-dried. However, meat can be dried either in an oven or in a dehydrator. Other modern kitchen appliances such as the Ninja Foodi also have dehydrator functions.

What Foods Cannot Be Sun-Dried?

Because of the length of time required to sun-dry food, many types of food that can be dried in other ways, cannot be safely sun-dried. Those foods include:

  • Avocados
  • Dairy products
  • Fatty foods
  • Juices
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Meat
  • Vegetables except for vine-dried beans

Do Sun-Dried Fruits And Vegetables Have To Be Pasteurized?

Sun-dried fruits and vegetables do have to be pasteurized to kill any insects and their eggs that have come in contact with the fruits and vegetables. But, the process is a simple one. There are two ways to pasteurize sun-dried fruits and vegetables. They are:

Freezer Method

  1. Put the fruit or beans into a freezer bag and put them into a freezer.
  2. Set the freezer on 0℉ or lower.
  3. Leave the bags of fruit or beans in the freezer for at least 48 hours.
  4. They are then safe to remove from the freezer, thaw to room temperature, and store in airtight containers such as Mylar bags or Mason canning jars in a cool, dry area away from any heat or light source for long-term storage.

Oven Method

  1. Place the fruit or beans in a single layer on a tray or a shallow baking pan.
  2. Preheat the oven at 160℉.
  3. Put the tray or pan into the oven for 30 minutes.
  4. The fruit or beans are then safe to remove from the oven, cool, and store in airtight containers in a cool, dry area away from any heat or light source for long-term storage.

What Are The Advantages of Sun Drying Foods?

  • The greatest advantage of sun drying foods is that there is no energy required; that is, only the energy from the sun and the wind is required. 
  • You do not have to use gas for sun drying if you use natural, butane, or propane gas as your main source of energy for cooking. 
  • You do not have to use electric power for sun drying if your kitchen happens to be all-electric.
  • Nor do you have to use your firewood if you cook over a wood stove to prepare your meals.
  • This means that sun-drying is the most energy-efficient method of preserving foods that is available to us.

What Are The Disadvantages of Sun Drying Foods?

There are at least 2 disadvantages of sun drying foods. Those disadvantages are:

  1. The sun-drying process is so slow that often the foods mold before the drying process is finished.
  2. The sun-drying process cannot be accomplished if the weather conditions are not perfect.

What Weather Conditions Are Needed for Sun-Drying Foods?

Wicker tray of green and red chili peppers sundrying

The ideal weather conditions for sun-drying foods are hot, dry, and windy days, with temperatures of at least 85℉ and above. If the weather is humid as it often is in the South, the food would likely become moldy and spoil before it is completely dried. The humidity should be below 60 percent to be ideal for sun-drying foods.

The sun-drying process takes between 2 and 4 days, depending on the food and how it was prepared for drying. If it rains during that time period, there is a real danger of the food going bad.

During the 2 to 4 days that it takes to sun-dry food, the prepared food should be placed outside during the day and then either brought inside or covered at night to prevent condensation caused by the cool temperatures at night, which can add moisture back to the food being sun-dried and extending the length of time for the sun-drying process to be complete.

History of Sun Drying

Sun-drying was the first method of food preservation used by man. According to an article published by the National Center For Home Food Preservation, there is evidence that people in Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures used drying to preserve their food as early as 12,000 B.C. In fact, it was used in different ways in different climates. In frozen climates, ancient cultures used nature to preserve their food by freezing it, while in tropical climates, the sun and wind were used to dry their food so that it could be eaten later when food was scarce.

In more recent years, many other methods of preserving foods have been developed and are widely used, but sun-drying is still a viable method of food preservation, especially for fruit.

Final Thoughts

With food prices on the rise, most households are currently looking for ways to preserve the foods that they have on hand and that they can grow in whatever size garden they have available to them. Sun-drying is not only one of the ways of preserving food for long-term storage, but it is the most cost-effective of them all because the only energy requirement is the heat from the sun and the air moved along by the natural breezes.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

Jelly Grandma

For more, don’t miss 7 Cheapest Places To Buy Freeze-Dried Foods.

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