September 10, 2021 by D.Fathia
Updated September 29, 2021
Ancient everlasting methods behind dried food products
Drying food is the oldest method known by mankind to preserve food for extended periods. Before freezing became the trendiest option available thanks to the discovery of electricity, drying foods was a life-saving technique. We might have been able to bring this method up to date and render it a sophisticated one, but we owe the essentials to our ancestors.
Dried food products are now luxuries, most of the time. However, a few centuries ago, they were the only way to preserve food, store one’s year-round needs, and preserve lives.
Let’s see about the ancient techniques behind today’s dried food products and dig a bit deeper about related health issues.
Ancient wisdom lives on:
I used to talk about people living in the deserts and nomads drying dates and stockpiling them for year-round use, in previous blogs. What I neglected to say, or probably wasn’t its time, is that people have been drying all sorts of foods.
Agriculture came later, sure, but if there is one thing we can notice is that there has always been a pattern. Whenever a new kind of food, vegetable or fruit or even ham, is discovered, people will soon start drying and preserving it.
Today I hear about all sorts of things being dried, and not for the same reason as we once knew. In Tunisia, some people dry fish! Sounds weird but it is completely true. Well, fish can always be found in the sea, so why drying it, isn’t that absurd?
Well if you had the chance to taste a Sfaxian dish then you wouldn’t be asking such questions or wondering at all. Dried fish can be cooked with various dishes and believe me, they are worth trying. The taste of crispy salty fish is definitely something I look forward to trying each time I head to Sfax, the capital of the south like people call it in Tunisia.
Drying peppers is not just a trend in Tunisia, and I believe in many Arab regions. Starting from august, if you visit North Africa, you will see beautiful surreal paintings on houses’ tops or in open fields. These paintings are scattered tons of red peppers.
Once the peppers are perfectly sun-dried, they would be grounded into smooth powder for kitchen use. Most people would use it as powder, but others turn it into paste combined with other ingredients like onions and salt.
Have you ever tasted a Tunisian dish and wondered where all the sizzling taste comes from? Well, it comes from this powder or pastes peppers products.
Now, people are drying all sorts of things and for multiple reasons. Some products, especially agricultural ones, are being dried and preserved at specific times of the year because of financial reasons.
Tomatoes for example are dried by a growing number of Tunisians. Tomatoes tend to be expensive sometimes, and hence when it is cheap, people would buy huge quantities and dry them. These can be used in various ways. The salty taste of crunchy tomatoes on top of pizza, in sandwiches, or salads is incredible. Some people would ground it into powder and cook with it instead of canned processed tomato.
A lot of other items are actually dried for this reason. It is better to stockpile dried products than buying them at expensive prices, especially when the season is just starting or about to end.
Fruits are something no one can live without, not just because they taste sweet but also because they provide necessary nutrients to the body.
In recent years, drying fruits has been a booming business. The sad thing about fruits is that they tend to deteriorate really quickly. Besides, their seasons don’t last long either. Therefore drying is the best solution to enjoy a handful of bananas or kiwis when the season is over and you suffer cravings.
Fruits are generally dehydrated in machines because they are too delicate to let them under scorching sun rays. Some would use artificial flavors and colors to add appealing looks to the dried fruits, but this is usually not the healthy option to pick.
I do know that dried dates without pits are not common among date products, but they are definitely common among people who grew with date palms. Most people in these regions would preserve dates by sun-drying them. Such dates would last a long time, more than a year if stored perfectly.
Another common fruit that is widely dried is fig. Drying figs is a tradition deeply rooted in history. Various countries still cherish this tradition like Tunisia and Turkey. In the southern areas of Tunisia where mountains spread, people produce excellent quality dried figs. These are often preserved in olive oil and sometimes flavored with some herbs like rosemary and thyme. I have tried their method myself and it is definitely rewarding.
Dried food products are indeed life saviors. Try drying some fruits or vegetables at home yourself and you will see how versatile in use they can be.
Are dried foods bad for the health?
Dehydration retains the inherent nutrients of foods. However, what concerns most people is that sugar contents often double after the drying process. Indeed, sugars become concentrated, and calories as well.
This doesn’t mean they gained more, rather they simply became smaller while their nutritional contents remained the same. Therefore, you need to control your portions and be careful not to overeat dried foods, especially that they are so sweet.
While most nutrients remain the same, some minerals and vitamins such as vitamin C might be destroyed during the dehydration process or at least reduced. This can depend on the dehydration method and equipment used. However, you just need to make sure you get these vitamins from other sources.
One last issue is that dehydrated foods lack their water contents. We stay hydrated mostly because of eating fruits and vegetables. Therefore, drink water to compensate for the water lost from dried fruits and the like. Staying hydrated is vital as it helps in digestion, blood pressure, and other conditions.