If you’re just starting to store food it only makes sense to ask yourself which is the best method--canning or dehydrating? It’s also a question you should be asking yourself if you’re an avid canner or dehydrator and have never tried the other. After all, I would not want to be so set in my ways that I never would entertain the idea of doing something different, especially if it were easier and cheaper.
I've been dehydrating for over 12 years. I picked up the practice quite by accident when investigating a raw food diet. Then of course I discovered that it was a great process for adding food to my food storage. Then I've picked up a few things here and there from my husband who, being an avid hiker, has been dehydrating for over 30 years.
I've been canning for around 10 years. It’s always something I knew I wanted to do even when I was younger but never was around anyone who knew how. It was always one of those mysterious old fashioned practices, like quilting, that was romantic in theory but was somewhat difficult in practice. That is, until I started to research both. Canning is not difficult, it’s just a little structured. It turns out quilting is not so difficult either, but that’s a subject for another post.
Dehydrating VS Canning--Which Is Better For Food Storage?
So is canning or dehydrating better? Well, let me break it down for you. Besides, you’ll need all this information to make a compelling argument when you come across someone who swears their method of preservation is better, right?
Dehydrating--Dehydrating for food storage is the process of removing 90 to 95% of the moisture from food so that bacteria and mold cannot survive.
Canning--Home Canning is the process of heating food to high enough temperatures to kill harmful bacteria and then sealing the food in an airtight container. The temperatures are reached through heat or pressure and heat combined.
To dehydrate food you’ll need some kind of dehydrator. Even though you can dehydrate with a simple box you place in the sun (even in your car), I always recommend beginners start with a machine that has a fan and is designed to dehydrate food in the interest of food safety. There are a number of dehydrators on the market. Here is my review of two of the most popular. After you've practiced a bit and understand how dehydrating works then it’s safe to move on to the more innovative equipment. And that’s it; that’s all you need. There are a few items that you might want to purchase to make your dehydrating life a little easier but to get started that’s all you need.
There Are Two Canning Methods That Require Different Equipment--water bath canning and pressure canning. Depending on the food you want to can you’ll need the appropriate canner. Most people who can for food storage have both a water bath canner and a pressure canner.
Water Bath Canner--you can buy a pot specifically designed for water bath canning that comes with a bottom rack, or you can use a pot that you already own as long as you put a rack or towel in the bottom. So it’s possible that you already own a “water bath canner”, or at least a pot that will work.
Pressure Canner--a pressure canner is something that you will need to purchase. The good news is that typically they will last a lifetime, however, they can be rather expensive. It is not possible to pressure can without a pressure canner. Most people start out canning foods that are appropriate for water bath canners and wait for a bit to start pressure canning.
Jars--you need to have canning jars to can. They are relatively inexpensive and can be used over and over again, but you can’t can without them.
Jar Lifter--Some people will tell you that this is an optional tool, but I would not like to can without one. You can quickly ladle out hot water and then reach in and grab your jars if you really don’t want to buy one. However, a jar lifter is really not that expensive, so it is on my essential list.
Starting Out--Of course you can’t do a comparison without considering price. Canning could cost very little to start if you already have a pot that will work as a water bath canner, and most people do. So you just have to buy a few jars and a jar lifter. Even if you do start dehydrating with a homemade dehydrator you still have to build it and of course that takes time and money. But let’s say you wanted to start with a decent commercially made dehydrator. To get one with a temperature control (which is what I recommend) costs a little bit of money.
Moving On To Really Put Food Into Your Storage--In the end, to really put food by you’ll need a large dehydrator and a pressure canner. Of course it depends on the make and model they but they roughly cost about the same.
Winner? Canning because of the low cost of starting.
It’s not my intention to go into great detail about the process of dehydrating or canning. I have a class for dehydrating and one that will start on canning shortly if you’re interested in learning step by step. But of course, the process has to be considered when trying to figure out which is better.
The Process of Dehydrating
Most people think that you simply throw food into a dehydrator and it comes out dehydrated. While this is true in a few cases, it’s not true in most cases. In most cases there are certain things you have to do to your food before you place it into the dehydrator. The process can take 72 hours or longer but does not use a lot of energy. Depending on the size of your dehydrator the process may have to be repeated several times. Hopefully, it’s timely enough so your food does not spoil waiting to be dehydrated.
The Process of Canning
Canning is a process where you have to go step by step, and if one step is skipped it’s possible your entire batch could be ruined. Furthermore, if you don’t follow recommended canning practices your food can contain dangerous bacteria. Also canning and pressure cooking have a different process. The process only takes a few hours but depending on the size of your canners, it may have to be repeated several times and takes a lot of energy.
Winner? Dehydrating for low energy usage and simpler processes.
Placing Your Food In Food Storage
Dehydrated Food In Food Storage
Dried food can last for 30 or more years if stored properly. I wouldn't want to eat food that is more than 5 years old, so I always rotate my food, but still there are options. Dehydrated food can be stored in all types of containers--Mason jars, 5 gallon buckets, Mylar bags etc. Also dehydrated food is relatively light and therefore portable.That’s why hikers love it so much.
Canned Food In Food Storage
Home canned food can be placed in your food storage but it has to be watched. You want to make sure the lids don’t pop off and as a result the food spoils, therefore becoming dangerous to eat. Also, those jars take up a lot of room, they are breakable and heavy. So they are not the best choice to use if you need to be mobile.
Winner? Dehydrating because of ease of storage.
How Easy Is It To Use?
Ease Of Using Dehydrated Food
Dehydrated food has to be reconstituted, so it takes a little time and a little know-how, especially if you are just throwing the dried food as is into a recipe. Also, it takes water to re-hydrate your food, so you’ll need to have a good source of water when you’re ready to eat your food. There are a few exceptions where food can be eaten right out of the dehydrator but for the sake of argument we’re talking about food that can be made into a meal.
Ease Of Using Canned Food
Canned food can be eaten right out of the jar. You might not like just plain beans, but if your were really hungry they’d probably be the best beans you've ever had. The point is that all home canned food is ready to eat as is. Of course it’s much tastier if you heat it or mix it with some other things, but it’s not necessary.
Winner? Canned Food because you can eat it right out of the can.
The Winner Is...
Have you been keeping score? Of course you have. Who watches a duel and doesn't keep score? No, your math is not incorrect. It’s a tie. Both dehydrating and canning have an important place in food storage and both are worth learning how to do. So next time you’re in a hot debate or maybe watching someone debate which is better, you can politely point out that both have their place in the world.
Do you do more canning or more dehydrating?