So you’ve made the right choice and want a dehydrator!
But what type? What types are there?
It can be bewildering when you’re looking to get into a new area of a hobby or process such as this one. Google tells you page after page of reviews of products, all of which claim to be the best. Five star reviews abound but who can you trust?
Let’s answer those questions.
It boils down to two types of dehydrator: Vertical and horizontal flow.
What does this mean? It’s all down to how the air is passed around the inside of the product. It’s the circulation of dry air at the optimum temperature that results in a great end product and the above methods refer to how the insides of the product are arranged.
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Vertical and horizontal flow both come with their own nuances and pros and cons. You’ll need to be sure as to which is best for you to get a product you’re truly happy with.
So what’s the difference?
As with many things in life it largely comes down to cost! There’s a few further points we’ll go over first however.
Let’s start with a vertical flow dehydrator. These are ideal for the entry level user or beginner in the field. With these units the mechanism that pushes the air and begins the circulation is mounted on the bottom of the unit.
This is a common setup for the entry level and middle level dehydrators and is perfectly fine as a method of air flow.
Vertical flow units are great for somebody who is buying their dehydrator for a specific type of produce. It’s just as efficient as a vertical flow unit but has some limitations.
Key points for vertical flow dehydrators
There are three key issues that people commonly report with a vertical flow unit.
The first is that the heat distribution can be uneven. As the heat comes from the base of the unit and naturally rises up in some cases this can mean that produce placed more towards the bottom of the unit will receive more than items placed on the top. That can be frustrating as you imagine – you want a consistent end result all the way through instead of some parts being underdone!
The next point is that you can only really dehydrate one type of food at a time with a vertical flow unit. This isn’t a problem for some people who generally need a specific product from their dehydrator but it can be frustrating for some to spend money on a dehydrator and find they are limited on how many different foods they can play and experiment with.
The last issue often brought up is the potential of juices and other liquids extracted in the drying process to fall to the bottom of the unit.
This is a potentially serious issue for two reasons. Firstly, it can mean that juices can damage the heating element or cause a lot of mess if they gather at the base of the dehydrator. Nobody wants to turn a convenience into an exercise in cleaning a machine!
Secondly you can also have issues with flavor. It’s easy to see why – if you have a hot heating element and juice or liquid falls directly on to it the liquid can be heated at too high a temperature and produce a sour or unpleasant odor and taste. You certainly don’t want that evaporating and ruining the flavor of your end produce.
These problems are inherent to a vertical flow dehydrator but are usually mitigated by a higher quality item.
The advantage of vertical units is usually that they are on the cheaper end of the spectrum. You can still land a quality unit for a lower price than you might manage with a horizontal flow dehydrator. As product quality from certain units and brands is important it really comes down to your budget.
A great point to consider for a vertical flow unit is that the ability to add more trays to the dehydrator is easier with a vertical flow. This means you can purchase a dehydrator that suits your budget with the option to expand available to you. Smart!
If you have a tighter budget and aren’t worried about having to do different food types at once you’ll be well served by a vertical flow unit and won’t have to break the budget too much either.
Horizontal flow – how is it different?
This brings us neatly to the other type of dehydrator available, the horizontal flow unit.
We mentioned price being a difference here. That applies to the horizontal units although the increase isn't always drastic.
They'll usually have a single fan that is situated with the heating source in the back of the unit, mounted on the side. This of course results in the air flow moving across instead of up and down.
So what does that give you? .There's a key point that makes a horizontal unit better. You can have multiple food types in one go.
This means that you aren't quite as limited. If you're very enthusiastic about getting into dehydrating food for fun or to add to your staple foods you might find yourself limited by a vertical flow unit that won't let you try out different things at the same time.
Some recipes using these items can take a fair amount of time to fully process - you wouldn't want to find yourself landed with a vertical flow unit and a large list of items waiting around to be put in, losing quality by the day.
There's also a point that your horizontal units will often cater for some of the more inventive recipes out there. If you're dehydrating fruit recipes that need a non stick tray to be stored while in the dehydrator you'll likely struggle to find a vertical compatible tray.
Some recipes like fruit loafs or fruit leather need these kinds of storage methods. If that sounds like the kind of thing you'd be working on mostly you might want to invest in a horizontal unit instead.
The final word
You need to identify what it's you want out of your dehydrator before you'll ever be able to make a clear decision. We recommend taking a look at our different articles on the site to get a sense of recipes and other dehydration methods.
The price isn't too drastic between the two types of air flow units and as such it more comes down to your volume, how many different recipes you need to work with and specific items that need different trays within the units.
The complications described with vertical flow units aren't too drastic and shouldn't dissuade you if the other benefits of that type of unit appeal. Higher quality units have better construction that can avoid some of the usual issues at the cost of a higher price tag.
For a great research guidance article take a look at this offering from the University of Wisconsin.
Do your research properly and you'll be guaranteed a good result!