Dehydration, in food processing, means by which many types of food can be preserved for indefinite periods by extracting the moisture, thereby inhibiting the growth of microorganisms. Dehydration is one of the oldest methods of food preservation and was used by prehistoric peoples in sun-drying seeds.
Hot-air dehydration was developed in France in 1795. Modern dehydration techniques have been largely stimulated by the advantages dehydration gives in compactness; on the average, dehydrated food has about 1/15 the bulk of the original or reconstituted product.
Dehydration equipment varies in form with different food products and includes tunnel driers, kiln driers, cabinet driers, vacuum driers, and other forms. Compact equipment suitable for home use is also available. A basic aim of design is to shorten the drying time, which helps retain the basic character of the food product. Drying under vacuum is especially beneficial to fruits and vegetables. Freeze-drying benefits heat-sensitive products by dehydrating in the frozen state without intermediate thaw. Freeze-drying of meat yields a product of excellent stability.