A little over a year ago this time, I was in the midst of mango season in Panama. The trees dropped something beyond a 100 mangoes a day, all of which my wife and I dutifully attempted to harvest and, as she says, help them live out their fate as food. We ate mango for breakfast, lunch, and dinner in some form or another, usually with a smoothie thrown in midway for a snack. We even had farm-stay volunteers helping us, but we just couldn’t keep up. And, in the end, it was two things that saved us or, more so, the mangoes: a chest freezer and a dehydrator.

Five trays, which were all we had, of mango slices were dehydrating nearly twenty-four-seven for over a month. We were stuffing jar upon jar with what fast became our favorite snack, even though we’d eaten more mangoes than it made sense to. It was amazing. It was an endless cycle of cutting, freezing and dehydrating, and picking even more the next morning. Then, when it was all over, when mango season fizzled out as it does each year, it was almost out of some sense of obligation that we couldn’t just put the dehydrator back in its box.

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It had preformed so admirably, and we wanted, as we had with the mangoes, to help it fulfill its culinary destiny. It was through this effort that we discovered just how useful a dehydrator can be, that its capabilities stretch far beyond the mangoes, (bananas and pineapples) that we’d pulled it out for.

So if you have a dehydrator, it’s important to look beyond dried fruits …

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More Raw Food

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Many people are now trying to include more raw food in their diets for various reasons. Dehydrators are very useful for this, not just for dehydrated fruits but many options, such as pizza crust and crackers. The key to using the dehydrator for raw food recipes is to slow things down a bit in order to stay beneath the 118-degree temperature mark so that none of the natural enzymes found in raw foods are damaged or lost. It’s very hard to do this in a normal oven, but dehydrators are literally built for maintaining these low, food-of-love temperatures.

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Healthy Snack Foods

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Dry fruit is a healthy snack, of course, but there are also many others that the dehydrating can kick out. Of course, there are the aforementioned raw food crackers, of which there are many varieties, but there are more delicious options as well.  Stuff like kale chips and all sorts of dehydrated vegetables, from sweet potatoes to zucchini make delicious enjoyments. And, the dehydrator also works very well for making crispy nuts and seeds, for times when a little crunch is what we crave.

 

Fermented Foods

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Veganbaking.net/Flickr

Fermenting has become a popular DIY activity, and with good reason: Fermented foods are a great source of probiotics for plant-based eaters (or anyone for that matter). Both tempeh and natto, forms of fermented soybeans from Indonesia and Japan, respectively, can be made at home with the help of a dehydrator. And, it can help with proofing sourdough for bread, as well as simply dehydrating food already fermented, such as homemade kimchi.

Jerky Foods

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Kelly Garbato/Flickr

 Think jerky is only for beef and turkey? Well, then, think again. The food dehydrator can help to create some great plant-based jerkies. This can be done most readily with tempeh or firm tofu, which can be marinated and flavored in awesome sauces like BBQ or spicy mustard. It can also be done with eggplant or mushrooms. Then, of course, for a sweeter variety, there are fruit leathers, which — texture wise — work just like jerky.

 

Herbs and Spices

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Casey Fieser/Flickr

Having an herb garden is simply a miracle for any cook, and if the worst of the problems it causes is growing too many herbs to use right away, well, then, the dehydrator is here to save the day. Any fresh herb or spice can be dried and ground for a little longer shelf life for when it’s needed, maybe those cold winter months when the garden (and gardeners) tend to hibernate. As well, the dehydrator can be handy for making dried stock mixes — a collection of veggies, herbs and spices — to flavor soups and sauces.

In other words, there is little reason the dehydrator should ever be shoved back into the box. It most certainly can earn a permanent spot on the kitchen counter if we all just let it live out its potential. And, in the end, it’s those of us who foster this potential who reap the rewards. Then, before you know it, mango season has rolled around again.

Lead Image Source: Vegan Feast Catering/Flickr