Carrots are one of the last things harvested in the Fall and although there are a variety of methods to storing them fresh over the winter, sometimes those methods aren't as certain as processing them. Even if you have had luck in the past with storing fresh root vegetables over the Winter often it just comes down to a matter of space. Your root cellar might be full of other food, if you're lucky enough to even have a root cellar. Luckily, dehydrating carrots is almost a foolproof way to keep carrots in your pantry and food storage.
How To Dehydrate Carrots (Plus A Word About Blanching):
Carrots happen to be my favorite vegetable for eating raw and it just so happens that I do not like them cooked. Yes, I'm a little crazy (but if you've been reading this blog for awhile you know that, and even if you haven't I'm sure the blog name might have given it away). "Don't like," might really be an understatement. Unless they are chopped up tiny in a stew or a soup, I will pick them out. When I have gone to dehydrate carrots in the past it never occurred to me to blanch them. Cooked carrots, yuck! So that got me thinking how exactly do you know when to blanch and when not to blanch food (mainly vegetables) when it comes to dehydrating?
First a little background about my early years of dehydrating. Although, I've always thought of myself as a prepper (read more about that here) I have not always had a structured food storage. My family and I are vegetarians and we've experimented with a completely vegan diet as well. We (mainly me, my husband wants no part of it) have also done extensive research into eating a raw food diet. So when I began to dehydrate food I was doing it from a raw food approach. One more note about my background, I have not always had an alternative diet. There was a time that when I ate meat and potatoes. I mention this because I want you to know I'm not oblivious to traditional food and how to store it.
Let's go back to the blanching question. How do you know when to blanch food before you dehydrate it? Well, the short answer is you don't have to know, you can basically do whatever you want, without any real dangers (unlike in canning where it is always recommend to use safe and tried methods). Let me explain.
We are all familiar with blanching because that's generally how we freeze some fruits and most vegetables, although I often don't bother blanching even when I freeze. Don't get me wrong it's necessary in some cases, and most commercially frozen fruit and vegetables are at least blanched and some are even cooked fully. When you freeze food the structure of the food's cell walls changes because of the freezing process--the water expands and alters it. So sometimes when you don't blanch or cook food it will be mushy (or at least lose it's original texture) when you defrost and cook it. Also, there are certain enzymes that turn food dark and discolor it making it unappetizing.
Dehydrating is not freezing; however, most of the same blanching "rules" have been applied to dehydrating, which is not altogether bad, but I'll get to that in a minute. Dehydrating doesn't alter cell walls like freezing does because it removes the moisture. After all, it's water that does most of that cell damage in the freezing process. And yes, enzymes are still present in dehydrated food which can dull some of the colors some of the time (think potatoes) but not all of those enzymes are bad and it is beneficial to keep some of them. Unfortunately, you can't pick and choose because heat will destroy both the good enzymes and the bad enzymes.
If you dehydrate most of your fresh fruit and vegetables when they are at their peak then most of the enzymes will go dormant and you won't have a problem with food deterioration. At this stage the food is still considered raw because those enzymes have not been destroyed; they would be reactivated by your body when you eat the food. There is some debate as to whether dehydrated food will lose nutrition over time if it's not blanched, but this is a paradox because food loses some nutrition during the blanching process too.
Notice I keep saying "most food". The are exceptions. Potatoes will turn black if you don't cook them before you dehydrate them. Are they still edible? Yes. But do you really want to eat black potatoes? Probably not. Apples will turn brown if left untreated, but in that case a chemical reaction can be used to stop enzymes and blanching is not needed.
Remember I said that following the frozen food "rules" was not an altogether bad idea? Here's why: When you blanch food you are doing more than stopping the enzymes. Blanching kills bacteria, mold spores, and fungus. In essence it helps to clean the food before processing. So, that's not a bad thing. Blanching also helps the food reconstitute faster. After all it's already cooked a bit so generally all that is required is that it be placed in water to rehydrate. Unblanched food might need to placed in boiling water to rehydrate it and will take longer. The color of blanched food is usually brighter so it will be more appealing to eat. There is some debate over whether blanched dehydrated food will store for a longer period of time, but I recommend rotating your food storage so you shouldn't have home dehydrated food that reaches the two year mark.
My general rule of thumb is that if you eat it raw then it's probably ok to dehydrate it raw. Of course there are exceptions to this too. Here is a case where I broke that rule. As with many things pertaining to food storage, it boils down to what you intend to do with the food you are dehydrating, how you intend to use it, how long you intend to store it and common sense. Find out more about the science behind blanching here and here.
I decided to dehydrate half of my carrots raw and half blanched so I could show you the difference between the two methods. Both methods are safe.
How To Dehydrate Carrots:
Wash your carrots. Be sure to use veggie wash.
Peel your carrots if they are store bought. This step is optional if you have home grown carrots, as much of the nutrients are in the skin.
It's still difficult to use the slicing guard for this kind of slice, especially for carrots so I definitely recommend cut resistant gloves when you're not using the slicing guard.
The Bron Slicer made nice even carrot slices.
For comparison I did a few in my food processor.
The Bron Slicer definitely sliced the carrots thinner.
I did use my food processor to shred some carrots - I like to dehydrate carrots cut both ways.
The only thing about the Bron Slicer is that it left these thick ends that even the hand guard couldn't handle to well. You could take a knife and cut them up the old fashioned way if you wanted to include them. I just saved them to feed to my dogs as treats.
Load up your trays.
Here is a shot of the loaded 9 tray Excalibur Dehydrator. I've had this dehydrator for years and love, love it!
Dehydrate at 125 F° for about 8 hours.
Here are the raw sliced carrots.
Here are the raw shredded carrots.
So I steamed my carrot slices.
I did go through the trouble of placing the carrots in cold water to stop the cooking. You don't have to do this but keep in mind that the carrots will continue to cook until they start to cool down.
I did the same thing with the shredded carrots.
So here are the cooked carrots (left) and the raw carrots (right). I actually think the raw carrots look brighter.
Same set up here. The cooked slices are on the left and the raw are on the right. The raw look better to me. Maybe I'm just biased.
Label your jars and put away. I guess I better go label these, I should have done that before I took the picture.
Let me know how you dehydrate your carrots or what foods you prefer to blanch before dehydrating.