Centuries ago, man discovered that removing moisture from food helps to preserve it, and that the easiest way to do this is to expose the food to sun and wind. In this way the North jAmerican Indians produce pemmican (dried meat ground into powder and made into cakes), the Scandinavians make stockfish and the Arabs dried dates and ‘apricot leather’.
All foods contain water-cabbage and other leaf vegetables contain as much as 93% water, potatoes and other root vegetables 80% to 60% depending on how fatty it is. If this water is removed, the activity of the bacteria which cause food to go bad is checked.
Fruit is sun-dried in Asia Minor, Greece, Spain and other Mediterranean countries, and also in California, South Africa and Australia. The methods used vary, but in general, the fruit is spread out on trays in drying yards in the hot sun. In order to prevent darkening, pears, peaches and apricots are exposed to the fumes of burning sulphur before drying. Plums, for making prunes, and certain varieties of grapes for making raisings and currants, are dipped in an alkaline solution in order to crack the skins of the fruit slightly and remove their wax coating, so increasing the rate of drying.
Nowadays most foods are dried mechanically. The conventional method of such dehydration is to put food in chambers through which hot air is blown at temperatures of about 110oC at entry to about 43oC at exit. This is the usual method for drying such things as vegetables, minced meat, and fish.
Liquids such as milk, coffee, tea, soups and eggs may be dried by pouring them over a heated horizontal steel cylinder or by spraying them into a chamber through which a current of hot air passes. In the first case the dried material is scraped off the roller as a thin film which is then broken up into small, though still relatively coarse flakes. In the second process it falls to the bottom of the chamber as a fine powder. Where recognizable pieces of meat and vegetables are required, as in soup, the ingredients are dried separately and then mixed.
Dried foods take up less room and weigh less than the same food packed in cans or frozen, and they do not need to be stored in special conditions. For these reasons they are invaluable to climbers, explorers and soldiers in battle, who have little storage space. They are also popular with house-wives because it takes so little time to cook them. Usually it is just a case of replacing the dried-out moisture with boiling water.