Dry fruits are a dried form of fruits like apricots, apples, berries, plums, and more. These are made by removing the water content naturally present in them.
This process of dehydration can be done naturally through sun drying or by using particular dryers or dehydrators. Dry fruits date back to 4000 BC and are especially prized because of their unique taste packed with nutritions, sweetness, and long shelf-life.
Today, the consumption of dry fruits is rather high and they are made and sold in great quantities across the world.
The most popular kinds of dry fruits used are raisins, dates, apricots, apples, figs, mulberries, and prunes. Because of their vast production and consumption, they are referred to as traditional dry fruits.
Dry fruits are generally made by the three most common processes. The first one is the natural process of sun drying. Second, by using an oven. And third, by using a specific machine called dehydrator.
Sun Drying Fruits
Sun drying is the oldest and easiest method of food preservation. To make nutritious and delicious dry fruits via this process, strong sunlight is vital, with the least temperature of 30° Centigrade and low humidity.
For the sun-drying method, most ripe fruit is harvested. After washing and drying, some of the fruits ( like apples, pears, and mangos) are peeled and cut into thin slices.
To prevent the fruit from oxidizing and changing its color, the fruits are either sprayed with citric acid or dipped in lemon water.
The slices of fruits are then set apart on drying trays, sometimes with glass on top for better absorption of heat and also keeping in mind the room for airflow.
If the sunlight’s too strong, the fruits are placed inside boxes to keep them at a moderate temperature. The tray or boxes are then set in the sun for a minimum of 2-4 days.
Oven Drying Fruits
The oven-drying method is mostly used at a smaller scale and for the production of limited amounts of dry fruits.
First, a test is conducted to check the oven’s proficiency in regards to whether that oven can handle low enough temperature. Otherwise, hardening of the crust may occur which keeps the inside of the fruit from drying effectively.
Now, to test the oven, it has to be set to a minimal setting. Then an oven-resistant thermometer is placed on the rack where fruits are set. Leaving the oven’s lid open about 2-6 inches, a small fan is placed to maintain the airflow.
Then the thermometer is checked for results and the oven can keep up a low enough temperature (140-145° F), it becomes useful for fruit dehydration.
The fruit is then placed on the baking tray and set into the oven.
For drying the fruits by using a dehydrator, the fruits are selected, washed, dried, and peeled. Then they are cut into thin slices (of ¼ to ½ inches), then sprayed with lemon juice or citric acid to keep it from getting oxidized.
Now, the fruit is set on the dehydrator’s tray with spaces between each slice. Each kind of fruit is set into a different tray rack as each fruit has a different dehydration rate.
Following the manual, given with the dehydrator, each tray is set into its rack. The manual may differ for each company but the most usual temperature ranges from 125°F-140°F.
Dehydration at 125°F will produce a more effective end product while 140°F might make the dehydration go faster which will result in a hardened or burnt product.
After the fruits are dried, they are checked for over-dryness. As they should not be hard or brittle; instead they should be leathery and supple. To test their quality, a few pieces are taken out and cooled down.
Then they are checked by taking a handful of them and squeezing them, in which case the pieces should not stick together but spring apart when the grip loosens. Another way the fruits are tested is by cutting several cool pieces in half, to ensure that there is no moisture left.
Preserving Your Dried Fruits
These dried fruits are then packed and stored in glass jars to avoid any moisture getting in for a longer period.
Glass jars are usually used to keep an eye on the dry fruits to check if they are sealed properly and if there’s any moisture present on the glass walls of the jar. These jars are stored away in dark and cool places to maintain their quality.
Another approach is to seal the dry fruits in a plastic resealable bag and store them in the freezer or refrigerator, at a moderate temperature.
Appropriately stored dry fruits stay unspoiled for six months to a year.