Fruit leather, known at the grocery store as Fruit Rolls or Fruit Roll-Ups, is a wonderful way to preserve juicy, flavorful produce, and kids of all ages love it!
“Back in the day”, leather was produced by spreading fruit pulp in the sun, and solar trays remain an excellent method for drying produce today! However, not every day is a sunny one, so we need indoor options, such as the oven or the counter top dehydrator.
This week, we are comparing the methods to determine what, if any, differences exist between the two with regard the time required to dry strawberry leather.
First, let’s prepare our fruit.
Today’s recipe includes three baskets of first-of-the-season strawberries, which needed a boost from a half-cup white sugar. Any sweetener can be used, including honey, artificial sweetener, or corn syrup, which many recipes recommend. If your berries are sweet enough, there is no need to augment.
Most recipes call for two tablespoons of an acid, such as lemon juice, to prevent darkening. I prefer the more complex flavor produced with balsamic vinegar.
I also prefer to cook the fruit before making the leather. This is not required, and you can just as easily puree raw fruit. By cooking, however, the juices are released and flavor concentrated by an hour of simmering.
I puree the cooked fruit with my immersion blender, but you can easily use a counter-top blender or a food processor.
To dry the leather for our comparison, a cookie sheet and a dehydrator tray were both lined with a sheet of parchment paper, and exactly one cup of strawberry puree was spread thinly on each in roughly the same size.
To dehydrate leather in the oven, adjust the temperature to the lowest possible setting. In my kitchen, it is 170 degrees.
There is some disagreement as to whether the oven should be completely closed, or cracked open slightly in order for the moisture to escape the oven. Because I spread the puree very thin, I elect to close the oven completely. (Also, my frugal spirit cannot abide escaped heat!)
Counter-top food dehydrators vary wildly in their features. I am pleased to own an Excaliber, economy model, of course! The Excaliber has temperature settings and a fan, which speeds up the drying time considerably. For fruit leathers, the suggested setting is 135 degrees.
Most recipes indicate a drying time of 8-12 hours. Because I “go thin” when I spread the puree, the drying time is significantly reduced. The question remains, however, which method, oven or dehydrator, is the quickest?
The above picture was taken after two hours of drying time in the dehydrator. The top left quadrant has a ways to go.
Once the surface is shiny, and the fruit does not stick to your finger when you touch it, peel the entire sheet off the parchment and invert it. Another 30 minutes of heat and it should be completely dry. (Thicker layers will take longer.)
I like to roll up the leather and cut into strips, which the kids enjoy unrolling and pretending they are super stretchy tongues!
Which method took less time, the 135 degree dehydrator with a fan, or the 170 degree oven? Well, start to finish was 3 1/2 hours for the dehydrator and 4 hours for the oven. There was a mere 30 minute difference between the two. For all intents and purposes, it was a tie!
If you are unsure which method would work best for you, perhaps the deciding factor would be capacity. The average household oven can efficiently manage two cookie sheets at a time, while the Excaliber has nine trays, more than doubling the amount of leather produced at one setting.
A couple of extra notes from the Frugal Files: Do not discard the parchment sheets after only one use. Flip them over and use the reverse side next time. Also, the dehydrator puts out a bit of warm air when in use. In cool months, I position the unit in proximity to my work area, allowing the dehydrator to keep the room cozy while drying the food!