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Electric Food Dehydrators: Choosing the Right Type

Dehydrated Food

There are several things to consider when shopping for an electric food dehydrator. This guide attempts to provide an overview of the main types of dehydrators on the market and to illustrate the pros and cons of the different types.

Types of Food Dehydrators

When you start shopping around for the best food dehydrator for your kitchen, you will notice that most models fall into of one of two categories: shelf-style dehydrators providing horizontal airflow or stacking-style dehydrators producing vertical airflow. Horizontal air flow dehydrators have a back-mounted fan, whereas vertical air flow models have their fan located either on top of the unit or at the bottom. Below, you will learn how the position of the fan affects the drying process, and what other factors you should consider when trying the figure out whether you should buy a horizontal-flow dehydrator or a vertical-flow dehydrator.

Differences Between Horizontal and Vertical Airflow Dehydrators

Here are six factors you should consider when trying to figure out which type of electric food dehydrator best fits your needs:

1. Heat Distribution & Airflow

Even heat distribution and good air flow are the most important factors to consider when choosing an electric food dehydrator. Picking a dehydrator that delivers on these requirements means your food will dry evenly without you having to rearrange the pieces or rotate trays during the drying process. With back mounted fans and heating elements, horizontal-flow dehydrators typically provide even heat distribution and airflow, whereas most vertical-flow dehydrators have uneven airflow, and chances are you will have to manually rotate the trays if you want your foods to dry evenly. It is worth noting, though, that sometimes uneven airflow can be an advantage rather than a disadvantage: foods do not have equal drying times, so if you like the idea of dehydrating different types foods simultaneously, getting an electric dehydrator with vertical airflow may have some advantages.

2. Expandable Drying Space

As their name suggests, stacking-style dehydrators allow you to expand the drying space by stacking more trays on top (to a limit – heat and air flow will suffer if you add too many trays). That is a nice feature if you later on realize you would like to be able to dehydrate larger amounts of food at once. Shelf-style dehydrators, by contrast, are not not expandable. This means that if you decide to get a shelf-style dehydrator and you later on outgrow its size, you will need to buy a second one to increase your drying space.

3. Cleaning and Maintenance

If you pick a horizontal-flow dehydrator or a vertical-flow model with a top-mounted fan, you won't have to worry about drippings and crumbs from fruits, vegetables, and meats soiling the fan. If you go for a dehydrator with a bottom-mounted fan, you may have to spend a lot of time cleaning the fan after each use. Or even worse, the drippings and crumbs may cause a bottom-mounted fan/heater to malfunction or break down.

4. Shape of the Trays

Horizontal-airflow dehydrators come with rectangular or square trays, which work perfectly with all sorts of foods, including long strips of food. Vertical-flow dehydrators, by contrast, come with round trays or rectangular trays with rounded corners, and each tray has a hole in middle. One of the disadvantages of getting this type of dehydrator is that you will lose some of the drying capacity to the holes. In addition, it may be difficult to position longer items on the trays.

5. Access to the Food

Yet another factor to consider when selecting a dehydrator is the ease of access to the food during the drying process. With a horizontal-flow dehydrator, checking on and removing pieces of food during the drying process is easy as each tray pulls out individually, just like the trays in your oven. By contrast, if you have a vertical-flow dehydrator and you want to access a tray in the middle of the stack, you will have to lift off all of the trays above it.

6. Availability of Stainless Steel Trays

If you don't like the idea of your foods drying on plastic trays, there are plenty of horizontal-flow dehydrators with stainless steel trays out there (you can find reviews of some of the most popular models in this Guide to Non-Toxic Kitchen Appliances). If you decide to go for a dehydrator with vertical airflow, you will likely have to settle for plastic trays, but it may help to know that many of the vertical-flow models sold in North America and Europe come with BPA-free plastic trays.

Pros and Cons of the Two Types at a Glance

Horizontal-flow dehydratorsVertical-flow dehydrators
  • Even heat and air distribution
  • Rotation of the trays usually not required
  • No risk of drippings from foods soiling the fan/heater
  • You can easily access the food during the drying process
  • Many models come with stainless steel trays
  • Easy to position also longer pieces of strips of food
  • Uneven drying can also be an advantage if you want to dry different types of foods at one
  • You can increase the drying space (to a limit) by adding more trays on top
  • Models with a top-mounted fan/heater are easy to clean
  • Generally much cheaper than horizontal-flow models
  • You cannot increase the drying space by buying more trays
  • Can be quite expensive
  • Uneven heat and air distribution (there are a few exceptions, though)
  • Most models require you to rotate the trays
  • Models with a bottom-mounted fan/heater are difficult to clean
  • You may have to lift off many trays to see food on a tray in the middle of the stack
  • Tray shape not ideal for longer pieces of food