Sun Drying: The Oldest Dehydrator That Ruled Over Centuries
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Since time immemorial, Indian households have used the sun and wind to preserve food. In one way or another, it has become a huge part of our culture. Most children in India have grown up witnessing either their grandmothers or mothers practicing some form of sun drying, whether it is for pickles or homemade potato chips. Sunlight is also considered to be the best disinfectant because it helps clean food grains and produce that are infested with insects. In fact, the importance of the sun is mentioned in various scriptures and texts, like the archaeological sites in Egypt and Mesopotamia that show proof that food has been preserved since the year 4000 B.C. Evidence also shows that Middle Eastern and Oriental cultures used to actively dry foods like fish, meat, vegetables, and fruits from the earliest times. The Italians have been doing it for ages, turning simple tomatoes into the absolutely divine topping called sun-dried tomatoes.

Sun drying is a simple process if done with caution and care. Though there are various ways of preserving food, drying and fermentation are considered to be the oldest. The basic idea is to remove the fruits or vegetables' water content, which helps prevent bacteria, yeast, or fungi from growing on them. This makes it last longer while still staying fresh and fit for consumption. It is a gentle and simple process that basically involves relying on the power of the sun with the help of natural airflow. It is a simple reaction of the sun’s heat with your food that imparts a unique flavor to the sun-dried food. Sun drying also makes perfect financial sense because it is a low-cost and low-investment process. Even environmentally, it is a great, nature-friendly method. The energy input is less than what is needed to freeze or can, and the storage space is minimal compared with that needed for canning jars and freezer containers. Plus, it is a great method to preserve food during situations where resources are scarce. Moreover, dried foods are a good source of quick energy and nutrition since the only thing lost is moisture. The nutritional value of food is only minimally affected by drying.

Even though it has numerous advantages, there are a number of drawbacks to preserving food through the process of sun drying. Temperature cannot be controlled, and thus food may get overheated at times. It is also a labor-intensive method that involves a lot of people in the process. It is also risky, as there may be instances of unpredictable weather conditions. There are a few tips to keep in mind while sun-drying. First, choose a breezy, sunny day for sun drying at a higher temperature, approximately 30 degrees Celsius or more. Second, the humidity level should be below 60 percent for optimum conditions. Third, if fruits are to be sun dried, it is always best to provide shelter in case of inclement weather. Fourth, it is always a good practice to check the weather forecast beforehand since it takes several days to completely dry food in the sun. And lastly, food should only be dried during the day and brought back in during the night to avoid the risk of moisture seeping back.

All foods, such as vegetables, fruits, grains, and pulses, can be dried. Fruits are relatively easier to dry than vegetables because moisture evaporates more easily. Ripe apples, berries, cherries, peaches, apricots, and pears are the most practical fruits to dry. Vegetables that can be sun dried include peas, corn, peppers, zucchini, okra, onions, and green beans. Foods like lettuce, melons, and cucumbers do not dry well because of their high moisture content. Sun drying can be done in two ways: mat drying or pavement drying. In mat drying, the paddy or any other food to be dried is placed on mats, nets, or plastic sheets to dry. It is comparatively more hygienic since the grains are less likely to get contaminated with stones or dirt. However, there is danger of re-wetting due to soil moisture. Pavement drying is a more preferred method among farmers, grain collectors, traders, and millers. In this method, a special drying pavement is constructed that can dry a high capacity of grains and can be mechanized using wheel tractors.

Sun drying is a popular method of cooking even in modernized kitchens all over the world. There is no end to the amount of creativity and imagination that can be applied to sun-dried produce during cooking. The flavor that is derived from sun-dried fruits is truly incomparable to any other.