Jun 4, 2012

Dehydrating Citrus Peels (Even Without a Dehydrator)

Dehydrating citrus peels - even without a food dehydrator
If you're like me and hate wasting food, then you also enjoy finding new ways to use up the "throw away" parts of it. That's why I've been dehydrating citrus peels to use in place of fresh citrus zest in baking.

Now, I wouldn't do this if I wasn't absolutely certain the citrus was organic. There's no point in saving the peels of lemons, oranges, and other citrus if they are laden with chemicals. And dehydrating citrus peels does take a little prep time. But I think the results are worth it. Citrus zest adds a great deal of flavor to baked goods, syrups, and French toast - and by dehydrating left over peels you'll save time and money later.

Start by saving citrus peels. I spent a week using up a plastic grocery bag of lemons a friend gave me; mostly, I juiced them. As I juiced them, I placed the peels (including the left over "meaty" parts of the lemons) in a Ziplock bag and put them in the fridge. But don't feel you have to save up bagfuls of the peels. If you only have the peels from one or two citrus fruits, it's still worth dehydrating them. In my electric dryer, the drying process took just 2 hours. 

Also, while this method works for all types of citrus, I've found it next to impossible to remove the bitter white pith from thin-skinned citrus like mandarin oranges.

Now, here's how to do it - with or without a dehydrator:

1. Cut the lemons into quarters - or slightly smaller pieces, if that makes them easier to handle.

2. Remove as much of the bitter pith (the white part found between the peel and the "meat") as possible. I found the easiest way to do this was to lay a piece flat on a cutting board, peel side down. Then I shaved away thin layers of the pith using a serrated steak knife.
Remove as much of the bitter white pitch as possible.
 When you're done, the peel should look something like this:
 3. Cut any large peels into smaller pieces; you want them to be about the same size so they dry evenly and as quickly as possible.

4. Lay the pieces in a dehydrator tray and dry at 135 degrees F. until completely dry. If you don't have a food dehydrator, lay the peels on a wire cooling rack placed inside a baking sheet. Place in the warming drawer of an oven, or in the oven at it's lowest possible temperature, until the peels are completely dry, curling, and chip-like. (To test for dryness, pinch a piece between your fingernails. You shouldn't feel any moisture.)
Dried citrus peel are chip like.
 5. Use a coffee grinder to turn the peels into a powder. Store the powder in a canning jar with a metal lid and ring. (Plastic is okay, too, but because it expands and contracts, the powder will be exposed to more air and won't last as long.) Store in a cool, dark location. The powder will stay good for at least a year.

Use the powdered zest just like you would fresh zest. There is no need to adjust amounts. The flavor is slightly different - less acidic and more mellow and robust. Enjoy!

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