“ Brand: L'Equip / Type: Dehydrator „
===What is a dehydrator and why use one?===
Dehydrating is a method of preserving food by removing the moisture from it thus inhibiting the growth of bacteria, mold and yeast. As long as proper hygiene is followed during preparation and food is dried sufficiently, dehydrated food is considered safer than many other home preservation methods including canning. Food typically lasts about a year so long as it is stored in an air tight container (if the container is not air tight, the dehydrated food will absorb moisture from the air causing the food to spoil).
Dehydrators generally work by generating warm air (normally with electricity) and a fan to distribute the air evenly over the food. There are also dehydrators which use a heating element at the base of the unit and rely on hot air rising through the trays and solar powered dehydrators, but I have no experience with these types as they are generally less suited for use in humid environments.
===Why do I have a dehydrator?===
My mum and brother both have severe food allergies to countless common things such as wheat, rye, barley (and anything else with gluten), soy, corn, cane sugar, honey, just about anything with natural (or artificial) colour or flavourings... and the list goes on and on. We were an active family and it was often hard to find food for them to eat when camping, hiking and traveling. Anything packaged almost certainly contained things they couldn't have. We bought a L'Equip dehydrator to make our own dried fruit, jerky and meals without the added sugar, colourings, flavourings and multitudes of other things they couldn't have.
About a year after I married and moved to the UK I decided to treat myself to my own dehydrator because I missed dried fruit without added sugar. Plus I wanted to take advantage of the masses of free apples and blackberries available in my area in the late summer and early autumn. I had every intention of just getting an inexpensive dehydrator, but I quickly learned that dehydrators were far less common in this country than in the USA. Since I wasn't able to find an inexpensive model I decided to go with a more expensive one from a brand I knew and trusted. I settled on the L'Equip Filter Pro Dehydrator with 24 hour timer.
===About the L'Equip FilterPro===
L'Equip is an American company that has a reputation for quality. The Filter Pro is the top of their line of dehydrators but it is the only one readily available in the UK. This model has a variable temperature control (ranging from 98F to 158F), a 24 hour timer with auto shut off, and an air filtration and circulation system. The fan and heating element are housed in the unit's base. The rectangular plastic trays measure 17" x 11" and are BPA free. There is a 2" diameter circular tube running through the center of the trays to aid even air circulation. It comes with 6 trays (2 deep, 4 regular) but you can buy more and use up to 12 trays at once, although I've never felt the need for more than 6. Each tray has 1.2 square feet of drying space. You also get 6 mesh inserts that are useful when drying sticky items.
Drying fruit is one of the easiest uses for the dehydrator. Most store bought fruit adds tons of unnecessary sugar and preservatives; homemade dried fruit tastes better and is much healthier.
Apples: these are one of my all time favourites because they are easy and taste amazing. Simply peel the apples and cut into slices roughly 1cm thick. Apples can stick to the trays so I recommend using the mesh inserts (although it's not the end of the world if you don't, it's just easier). Dry at 135-140F until they are the consistency of raising (if you want soft apples like they sell in the store) or longer to make apple crisps.
Pineapple: prepare just like apples and remember to use mesh inserts because they stick!
Cherries: cut in half to remove pits, then cut each half in half to make quarters. Prick the skin and place skin side down on the trays (I use mesh inserts, but so long as they are skin side down this isn't essential). Dry at 130-140F until similar to raisins.
Cranberries: even a die hard dried fruit fanatic like myself will admit that cranberries need a bit of added sweetener- although no where near as much as they put in the stores. Cut the cranberries in half and drizzle with honey or maple syrup or soak in sugar water for half an hour before spreading onto the trays.
Those are my favourites, but I've also had good luck with peaches, mangos, and strawberries. Bananas are probably the easiest of all but I personally am not a fan of the taste.
Fruit leather is a thin sheet of dried fruit puree which reminds me of a popular children's sweet in the USA called Fruit Roll Ups. There are lots of recipes on the internet, but I generally mix apples and berries of some sort (blackberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, etc) with a tablespoon or two of honey and a squeeze of lemon juice. Drying intensifies flavour and makes things taste sweeter- so don't add too much sweetener. Honey is best, because sugar will crystallize over time giving the leather a grainy texture. Maple syrup works well and doesn't seem to crystallize (but it is expensive).
I simmer this mixture on the stovetop until the apples are soft then puree it in the blender or food processor. Then, if needed, I pass the mixture through a sieve to remove most of the seeds. The machine comes with 2 fruit leather trays, but I found these to be useless because the leather stuck so bad it was nearly impossible to remove. Instead I tape cling film (the good quality microwave safe type, not the value stuff) over half of each tray- it is important to only cover half the tray to allow proper air circulation through the unit. Then spread a little less than a cup of fruit puree evenly over the cling film. Place trays in the dehydrator alternating which side has the cling film each level. Dry at 130-140F until no longer sticky. I often remove them from the cling film for the last hour or two to aid even drying. To store, roll up in cling film and store in an air tight container. They make amazing snacks when hiking and traveling.
Apple and raspberry are my favourite, but I make the most apple and blackberry fruit leathers because the end of the blackberry season (which I can collect free from local hedgerows) comes at the same time that people in my area put out baskets of free apples meaning I can make the leathers for next to nothing.
This is one of the most common uses for a food dehydrator, but I've not got round to making any with mine. I remember it working well as a child, but don't remember the specifics. One of these days I'll give it a go.
These are my dog's very favourite treat. Like many Alaskan Malamutes, my boy has allergies towards certain grains. When he was a puppy it was hard to find training treats that he could have and those cost an absolute fortune. One of the other owners in my puppy training class recommended making liver treats, but the ones he had were smelly and messy (not something you could just put in a pocket), but it gave me an the idea to make dried liver treats in my dehydrator. I sliced up lamb's liver and dried it at 155F until no moisture was evident when broken. NOTE: make sure to use the mesh inserts as one time I forgot and spent over an hour prying up dried liver from the trays- that stuff sticks like glue. These treats aren't messy and can be carried around in your pocket or days (or weeks) without issue. My dog (and every other dog I've given them to) absolutely love them. Beef liver works just as well. Although my dog is now over two, I still make a batch of these treats once or twice a year because he loves them so much and they cost next to nothing.
The general process is the same: wash, pat dry, spread over trays, dry at 110F until crispy dry. I've had good luck with basil and sage (which are the only two I've tried so far).
Tomatoes: ok, I know they are actually a fruit, but I always think of them as a veg. Making your own "sun dried" tomatoes is easy. Roma tomatoes work best, but honestly I use whatever we grow in the garden which varies from year to year. It's entirely up to you whether you remove the skins or not (most store bought ones have the skins on). If you want to remove the skins place in boiling water for 30 seconds then dunk in an ice bath- the skins will practically fall off. Slice about 1cm thick and place on mesh inserts. Dry at 135-140F until about the consistency of raisins (from a newly opened bag). They should be flexible but not tacky. Tomatoes reabsorb moisture really easily so it is very important to package in an air tight container.
Chilies: this is one of my dad's favourites. He grows his own (very hot) chilies and then dries them (whole) until super crispy. Then he grinds them up with a mortar and pestle to make his own hot chili powder. Make sure to place the dehydrator outside because it will make your eyes burn just being near it- I can't even imagine what it would be like inside.
Celery: sometimes I struggle to use all the celery before it goes floppy. Dehydrating gives me a great way to keep it from going to waste. Simply wash, slice or chop, and dry at 140F until crispy. I keep it around to throw into soups, Bolognese, etc.
Onions: I use a lot of onions so tend to buy big 5kg bags from the store. Most of the time I get through them all before they start going soft, but if I don't I dehydrate the last few for use in soups. Chop or slice thinly and dry at 140F until crispy- make sure to place the dehydrator outside because they will make your eyes burn in a confined space.
Making yogurt is surprisingly easy. Heat milk (I prefer whole milk) to 185F (use a candy thermometer) in a saucepan. Then cool to 110F and mix in 2-3 tablespoons of natural bio yogurt per 2L of milk. It is important to use unflavoured bio yogurt as this contains the right enzymes. Then you pour into the yogurt cups (4 included with dehydrator) and place in the deep trays. Set at 110F and let set for at least 8-10 hours. It yields slightly runnier yogurt than you get in the stores. It thickens the longer you let it set, but it also becomes tangier. Since I like a nice mild yogurt, instead of leaving it to set longer I take it out and pour it into a cheesecloth or muslin lined sieve and drain a little of the liquid out. Drain it even more to make yogurt cheese. I can make 2-3 times as much yogurt as I can buy for the same price.
Since dehydrated food is much lighter than other food (because the water content has been removed) and there is limited packaging it is popular among backpackers. You can create whole meals that just need to be rehydrated with water. I haven't experimented with many of these, but hope to in the future. There are lots of recipes and ideas in the food section of many backpacking forums.
===How well does the L'Equip Filter Pro work?===
The L'Equip is a good upper mid-range (or possible lower high-range) dehydrator. It generates a nice even heat, is fairly energy efficient, and is durable. I've had mine for over 2 years without issue and my parents had their base level L'Equip for about 10 years before it died. The trays are well designed and the mesh inserts really reduce sticking. The air circulation system works fairly well, but I still find it necessary to rotate the trays if using all six. Every few hours I reverse the order of the trays so the bottom becomes the top, the second from bottom is second from top, etc. This helps make sure everything is ready at the same time. The variable temperature means you can cook a wide range of things (herbs need to be done at a lower temp and meat at a higher). The 24 hour timer is nice if something needs another hour or two when you want to go to bed or work, however there are times I'm not sure the timer is entirely accurate. A few times it has shut off before the full time has passed (for example I have left the house when it said 5 hours but when I return in 3 or 4 hours it has shut off), but most of the time it seems to work just fine.
The rectangular trays are more convenient for fruit leathers and jerky than circular dehydrators, but due to the circular tube running through the center they are not nearly as convenient as horizontally blowing dehydrators such as Excaliburs.
===Cleaning the Filter Pro===
It is important to note that L'Equip trays are NOT dishwasher safe (and neither are the mesh inserts, yogurt cups or fruit leather trays). I don't have a dishwasher, so it doesn't really matter to me, but it is something to keep in mind when comparing models. The trays and mesh inserts aren't always easy to clean since certain foods (like liver) can stick like glue. My sink isn't big enough to hold the trays so I usually chuck them in the bathtub to soak before giving them a proper wash in the kitchen.
To clean the base, just wipe down with a damp cloth.
===Price and Availability===
I bought my Filter Pro from www.ukjuicers.com where it is currently listed at £159 (includes next day shipping) with morning (before 9, 10, noon) and Saturday delivery options available for an additional charge.
===Would I recommend the L'Equip Filter Pro?===
This is actually a harder question than you would expect. I love having my Filter Pro and it is good quality, but in the last few years dehydrators have become more popular (and thus more available) here in the UK. Amazon has a few low end options for around £35-40. Lakeland has one for £50.99. I like the additional features of variable temperature and a timer and I prefer the rectangular shape of mine, but had these less expensive options been available when I bought mine, I would have probably gone for one of these. Although the lack of variable temperature will mean you couldn't do as much (herbs and yogurt must be done at a low temp, meat at a high temp).
Perhaps even more tempting: Excalibur (the gold standard among dehydrators) now have international models (when I bought my L'Equip they only sold USA voltage models). Ukjuicers.com has the entry model for just £209.
So do I recommend the L'Equip? Yes and no. They are too expensive for a dabbler (who is better off getting an inexpensive, low range model). They are a very good quality upper-mid/ low-upper range dehydrator, but honestly, if your budget stretches just a little further I'd go for an Excalibur (I've never had one, but I've heard nothing but good things about them and they are more versatile than the L'Equip). My mum is currently thinking about getting an Excalibur so perhaps I'll be able to update this review in a few months with a more informed recommendation.
I'm giving the L'Equip Filter Pro 4 out of 5 stars. I'm knocking off one star for the high price tag and the slightly finicky timer. This is a good quality machine (comes with a 6 year manufactures warranty) and you get 6 trays, 6 mesh inserts, 2 fruit leather trays and 4 yogurt cups. The variable temperature control is vital and the 24 hour time with auto shut off is convenient if not essential.
This review is also posted on ciao, with a few pictures.