Sunday, September 13, 2009

Can You Use Your Crock Pot as A Dehydrator?

At one point, I owned a dehydrator. It was given to me by a neighbor whose daughter didn't use it any more. I made a ton of banana chips in a one week period, and didn't use it again. When we moved, I decided it wasn't worth taking with us.
Over the summer, we got a surplus of grapes because I had bought more on sale than we needed. I ended up freezing the grapes, but the sale was so good, it would have been better to make raisins, a rare treat for my family. I looked into drying methods at that time.
You can dehydrate in your oven, but that is so energy-inefficient, it will drive up the cost of the final product significantly. If you live in the right climate, you can dehydrate any time in the open air. You can also dehydrate (and do many other "baking" tasks) in your hot car in the summer. We were having a rainy spell when I found these tips, so I wasn't able to put them to use.
Recently, I was asked about dehydrating, and how energy efficient a dehydrator is. It costs about $0.09 to run a dehydrator for an hour, not too expensive but not free.
I have also been experimenting with crock pot cooking a lot lately. The two ideas started working together in my mind. To dehydrate, you need the air to be at least 100 degrees. The ideal temperature is 135 degrees. Crock pots run around 300 degrees for high, 200 for low. There was not a lot of info about the temperature of the warm setting, but it would make sense to be between 100 and 150 degrees.
So I got a banana. I put my cake pan upside down and put the slices on top. I then crumpled some tin foil into four balls and put them around the edges of the cake pan. I put another cake pan upside down on top of the tin foil to create my second "tray." I put more sliced bananas on that. I put the cover on loosely so there was plenty of air flow. That allowed most of the condensation to evaporate. After a few hours, I noticed that some condensation had built up on the lid, so I wiped it off and put the cover back on.
After about three hours, I flipped all the chips. I don't know if this was necessary, but it seemed like a good idea. I then let them continue to dehydrate for three more hours.
The banana chips came out darker than I remember in my dehydrator, but the taste and texture was identical. My kids loved them and were disappointed that I only dehydrated one banana. As for the budget, I turned a $0.12 banana into a $0.18 banana, so it is not something I will do with every banana, but it was a nice treat and a fun experiment.
In fact, I probably won't do this often at all, although I am thinking of trying some fruit leather this way. If you have a small task, it is more energy efficient than just using one tray in your dehydrator. I'm glad I know I can do it, because every once in a while, I do have a use for a dehydrator. I just don't have enough use to actually be willing to let one reside in my home. All of our stuff has to earn their keep in usefulness. I am going to keep and reuse the tin foil balls though. Stacking cake pans in the crock pot can allow me to make two pizzas (or more), a layered cake, a batch of cookies or brownies, the options seem limitless.


S said...

I am wonderng what it costs per hour to run a crock pot, do you know? Just trying to figure out how it would compare to running an oven or dehydrater, especially if you had a lot of fruit to dry...

Emily said...

It costs $0.10 to run a crock pot for 8 hours on low, so just over $0.01 per hour. I guessed $0.06 for six hours, since it was on warm, not low. An oven costs $0.20 for the first hour, then less after that since the major cost is in the initial heating, but I'm not sure of the hourly cost after the first hour. A 750 watt dehydrator costs $0.09 per hour to use.

Scottish Twins said...

Yes, but I can fit over ten times that amount of fruit in my dehydrator at once, so it is actually more cost effective.

Captain Cleavage said...

lol I use my crock pot for everything!I don't think we have used the stove or oven for anything other than like storage space since we moved in to our apart. But our utilities are included in our rent so i guess it just never occurd to me to figure out how much it saves over the stove and oven...hmmmm. where do you get your numbers btw?

Emily said...

Captain Cleavage, I just do a search for the numbers. Here is where I found the numbers comparing ovens to crock pots.

Aiming4Simple said...

Thanks for this idea. We have no desire to acquire another kitchen appliance for our smallish kitchen. I hope to try dehydrating soon. How ripe should the bananas be, by the way?

Emily said...

Aiming4Simple, I used a banana that was bright yellow. I imagine that if they are overly ripe they will take longer to dehydrate, but still be good.

Anonymous said...

I'm in such awe of your inventiveness and dedication! But can I ask - can you really keep a completely straight face when you say, "I had turned a $0.12 banana into a $0.18 banana"? I can't quite pinpoint what sounds so funny to me in that sentence... I think maybe it's the contrast between the mystical tone of the words (like in a fairy tale, when a witch turns a hunk of cheese into a cherry pie or something), and the ultra-mundane topics of bananas, crock-pots, and six cents? :)

Anonymous said...

What purpose do the cake pans serve? Are they just to create a "shelf" of some sort, to simulate the oven? Do I need to do this in order to make the pizza and banana chips? My crock is oval and I'm just not sure what to do with it.

Emily said...

Anna, the pans in dehydration allows you to put twice as many banana chips in there, as it doubles the space. You can put them on the bottom of the crock pot on tin foil as well though.

If you can't fit the cake pans in the crock pot for the pizza, it won't cost much more to make the same recipe in the oven, either in a cake pan or larger pizza pan. I think it will still be under $2.50 for the pizza.

I'm working on my email to you. Sometimes these things take extra thought. (:

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