One of the major advantages of drying your own food is the cost. Also, when you dry your own food you have control over the quality of ingredients and the flavor. This means that the food you dry at home will often be much better quality than what you can find in a store.
Let’s say you want to make beef jerky. You do not need a high quality cut of beef, a rump roast will work the best. Make sure that you ask the deli counter to slice the beef thin (or you yourself slice it thin). You will probably want to marinate the beef as well, as this is kind of the “fun” part of making your own beef jerky. However, most of the ingredients you would use for a marinade (such as soy sauce, vinegar, spices, sugar) you probably already have on hand at home.
Let’s say you buy a two pound rump roast for $8. Beef is about 50% water, so two pounds of beef will yield one pound of beef jerky. Which means you wind up with beef jerky flavored exactly the way you wanted for a little over $4 per pound (you will have to factor in costs of electricity, as detailed below). Even searching the best deals online you will not be able to find beef jerky for under $11 per pound (plus shipping costs), and if you are buying the brands typically available at the grocery store the price will more likely be $25 per pound or more. Obviously, making your own beef jerky is a much cheaper (and healthier!) option.
However, there are also electricity costs to consider. The average cost of using a 750 watt food dehydrator in the U.S. is about four to five cents an hour. Online calculators, can help you determine how long drying a particular food item will take as long as you know the weight of what you would like to dry. Online calculators can also help you determine what the price of electricity to run your dehydrator will be in your state, as the costs of electricity can vary considerably.
Let’s go back to our beef jerky example. It takes eight to ten hours to dry beef jerky, with which an average of five cents per hour electricity costs means you will pay about fifty cents in electric costs in addition to the price of your ingredients. Still a really great deal!
There is not much control that you will have over the costs of your ingredients, although dehydrating food does allow you to take advantage of sales at grocery stores, seasonal farmer’s market prices, and harvest from your own garden if you have the space for one. The amount of time that you need to spend drying your ingredients (which is directly related to how much the electricity will be for that batch of food) is something that you have some control over. Drying times are dependent on many factors such as the sugar and water content of foods, the size of the pieces being dried, the temperature at which the ingredients are being dried, and the amount of air flow between the pieces of food. Some of these things – such as amount of air flow and size of pieces – are things you will have control over. Some of them – such as sugar and water contents of the food – are not. As stated above, on average meats will take eight to ten hours to dry, whereas fruits such as apples take about seven hours.
Making your own dehydrated foods at home is definitely cheaper than buying them at the store. In addition, the convenience of being able to chose your quality of ingredients, spice to your liking, and shop the sales to buy in bulk make home dehydration of food a very efficient method of spending your grocery budget.