The process of preserving food is something mankind is familiar with since the days of yore. Several folklores recount the methods of preserving foods in one way or another in accordance with the local and cultural traditions. The idea was to prevent food from spoiling and help make it last longer while keeping it fit for consumption. Though there are various ways of preserving food, drying and fermentation are said to be one of the oldest methods of preservation. The idea was to eliminate the water content in the fruit and vegetables thus preventing bacteria, yeast or fungi from growing on them.
Drying as a method of preservation has numerous advantages. Food becomes lightweight and easy to carry due to the reduced water content in it. A research conducted by Dr. Naseer Ahmed, of RIMT University, says, "Dried foods are tasty, nutritious, lightweight, easy-to-prepare, and easy-to-store and use. 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 freeze containers. The nutritional value of food is only minimally affected by drying."
History of Sun Drying
Sun and wind both have been used for preserving food through the process of drying since time immemorial. Sun drying is one method of preserving which is used in abundance in various parts of the world, even today.
The importance of the Sun as a vital source of energy has been incorporated in various scriptures and texts. Thus, it is no surprise that sun drying was a commonly used method of food preservation in those days. In fact, archaeological sites in Egypt and Mesopotamia show proof that food has been preserved using these methods since the year 4,000 B.C.
Even in the Middle East, evidences prove that sun drying was used as a method of food preservation as early as 12,000 B.C. The Romans are also said to have a special corner for sun-preserved foods such as dry fruits.
Indians are also quite familiar with sun drying. Most children in India have borne witness to their grandmothers and mothers practicing some or the other form of the natural drying process. Whether it is chillies being sun dried for the process of being converted into pickles, or delicious homemade potato chips - sun drying has always been an essential part of Indian cooking. Sunlight is also said to be the best disinfectant, helping cleanse food grains and produce that is infested with insects. In dire times when there is no electricity or transport, sun drying helps preserve food for longer till it can be taken to the market to be sold.
Sun Drying: Boon Or Bane?
Sun drying basically involves complete reliance on the power of the sun, with the help of natural airflow. It is a gentle process involving a simple reaction of the sun's heat with your food. Since the sun drying method involves being slow and steady, the interesting and unique flavours that it imparts to the sun-dried food can be vastly different from that of fresh food. This is the reason why sun drying is a popular method of cooking even in highly modernised kitchens of the global world we live in today.
The best part about sun drying is that it is relatively low cost and a low-investment process too. The fact that it is environment-friendly makes it an ideal method of preserving for everyone. Plus, it is a great way to preserve food during situations of emergency when no other method is available.
There are, however, a few disadvantages of preserving food through the process of sun drying as well. Firstly, temperature cannot be controlled and food may tend to get overheated at times. Plus the method of sun drying is a labour-intensive method which involves a lot of people in the process. Also, the sun drying process is slightly risky as it involves heavy reliance on unpredictable weather conditions.
(Also Read: A New Way to Preserve Bread for Longer)
A Beginner's Guide To Sun Drying
The best way to start experimenting the method of sun drying is to begin with fruits. Dr. Naseer Ahmed agrees, "The high sugar and acid content of fruits make them safe to dry in the sun." Vegetables and meats are generally best avoided, since they are lower in sugar and acid content. In case it is vital to preserve meat and vegetables with the sun drying method, it is best to use an indoor method such as an oven or a food dehydrator.
Here are a few tips and tricks to keep in mind:
- Breezy, sunny days work best for sun drying with the temperature on the higher end, approximately 30 degree Celsius or more.
- The humidity level should ideally be below 60% for optimum sun drying.
- In case fruits are planning to be sun dried outdoors, it's best to provide a shelter or cover in case of unpredictable weather conditions.
- It is a good practice to check weather forecast beforehand, since it takes several days to completely dry food in the sunshine.
- Food should only be sun dried during the day, and brought back in during the night time, due to the risk of moisture seeping back into it.
Sun Drying Process
- To get started, pre-process your fruit produce. Fruits with seeds should be split into two and the seeds should be removed.
- Light coloured fruits such as apples, pears and apricot should be soaked in lemon juice, in order to protect them from discoloration
- Ideally, the fruits should be cut into similar-sized pieces in order to ensure that all of them are evenly dried
- Use good drying racks to spread out the fruit in the tray. The racks can be made of bamboo wood or stainless steel.
- Place your drying racks in an area that receives bright sunshine and a cool breeze. Preferably stack the drying racks away from dust and traffic.
- Normally, it takes three to seven days for sun drying most fruits. The best practice is to let them sit out through the day and bring them back in the night.
- Once the food is sundried, it is important to pasteurize and condition them before storage to make sure the produce is insect-free. Here's how:
a) Conditioning:Take the dry fruits and pack them in a sealed container for seven to ten days. If condensation develops in the jar, then the fruit requires more drying before storage.
b) Pasteurisation: To pasteurise in a freezer, simply store the cut and dried fruits in plastic bags in a freezer at zero degree Celsius for 48 hours. In case you want to use an oven instead, repeat the process by putting the sun dried produce on a tray and setting it at about 70 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes.
Sun drying is an easy process, if practiced with caution and care. There is no end to the amount of creativity and imagination that can be applied to sun dried produce during cooking. The flavour that is derived from sun dried fruits is truly incomparable to any other.
About Aditi AhujaAditi loves talking to and meeting like-minded foodies (especially the kind who like veg momos). Plus points if you get her bad jokes and sitcom references, or if you recommend a new place to eat at.