Use it All: Drying Zucchini
This video shows the production stages from field to table for the process of making zucchini into dried chips.
Farmers who want to add value to their surplus zucchini, and anyone else interested in drying food
Food safety related to commercial food drying
- [Instructor] In today's economy, many farmers are looking for ways to increase farm revenues beyond just selling directly to the consumer.
Some crops, like zucchini, are very plentiful, and it's difficult to sell all that is grown at the farmer's market.
Unlike fruit, this product is not easily put into a jar and freezer space is often limited.
Adding value by drying will allow you to create a consumer-ready product that will have a shelf life of up to six months after processing.
This video shows the simple steps needed to dry surplus zucchini, taken from the research of Dr. Litha Sivanandan, extension specialist and associate professor for food safety and food preservation for the West Virginia University Extension Service.
Dr. Sivanandan has experience with commercial and university research that is valuable for producers who want to add value to their excess produce.
There are many jokes told about the abundance of zucchini and how eager home gardeners and agricultural producers are to give away what's grown.
At the same time, there are production costs, even if they are just the opportunity cost associated with deciding to grow squash rather than a more lucrative crop, and so it's important to gain all the revenues possible.
One way to recapture the investment of complying with food safety programs, like good agricultural practices, good handling practices, is to use all of the crop you produce by extending shelf life through adding value.
There are a number of steps following the processes of preparing, producing and packaging that you will need to know to create versatile zucchini chips.
Let's start with preparation, where the squash in its natural state is made ready for the drying process.
It all starts on your farm, with harvesting, cleaning and arranging for transportation of your zucchini to a commercial or shared kitchen where the equipment is available to have your squash prepared, dried and packaged.
Because most vegetables don't have a natural pH of 4.6 or below, doing anything to modify the squash from its natural whole form makes it potentially hazardous, requiring processing in a commercial facility.
You'll want to outline a schedule so that harvest, cleaning and packing is rapid and efficient.
Once transport is complete and you have the zucchini at the commercial kitchen, you'll need to divide them into batches that will fit your work time schedule and the available dryer space.
Organizing the squash will keep you from delays mid stream that may result in waste or subpar product.
An important part of using a commercial kitchen is making sure of sanitation.
You do this with the following steps.
Change out of your street clothes and put on an apron to avoid contaminating the product, then wash your hands well.
Rinse your hands with warm water, apply soap, scrub for 10 to 15 seconds, rinse with warm water, and dry with a paper towel.
Prepare your work surface by scraping any food residue if necessary, washing it with soapy water, rinsing with warm water, and then sanitizing and letting it air dry.
You want to prepare your cutting board and any implements by washing, rinsing and sanitizing, and finally, wash your hands again and put on gloves to prevent direct hand contact with the food.
Once you and the kitchen are ready for action, take zucchini by the batch, wash it once again in cold water and slice it very fine, or use a mandolin slicer to get uniform chips.
Check the consistency of your slices and discard any that are too thick or are end pieces that will not present well when they're dried.
Having completed the basic preparation steps, it's now time to move onto production.
Once again, it's time to separate the chipped squash into batches for easier handling.
You'll need to consider how many slices your steamer can accommodate for each load that will be blanched, how many will fit on the dehydrator tray or trays, and how many you will easily be able to season and package during the work timetable.
The next step is blanching.
That is briefly precooking food in steam to stop enzymatic reactions within the foods.
Blanching will also shorten the drying time required and it kills many spoilage organisms.
To get started, use a steamer or a deep pot with a tightfitting lid that contains a wire basket or can fit a colander or sieve.
The goal is for the steam to circulate around the vegetables.
Add several inches of water to the steamer or pot and bring to a roiling boil.
Loosely place vegetables into the basket, no more than two inches deep.
Place your sieve or colander into the pot, making sure that the vegetables don't make contact with water.
Cover the pot and steam until the zucchini slices are heated.
Don't cook sliced zucchini more than three to four minutes.
It should be firm when you take it out.
Remove the sieve or colander and immediately place the zucchini in cold water to stop the cooking process.
When you've cooled the zucchini so that it's no longer cooking, arrange the squash pieces on dehydrator trays, leaving space between the pieces on all sides.
You don't want them touching each other, as that will result in inconsistent drying.
You need space around them so that the airflow will be more effective in drying the slices.
Place your racks of zucchini in the dehydrator and set to the temperature appropriate for squash suggested by the manufacturer, approximately 135 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dry the squash until it's crisp dry.
This will usually take about six hours.
During the time that you're drying, you'll wanna remove the trays regularly and turn them around to ensure adequate drying.
You may also wanna turn the slices over so that they'll hold better shape and they don't stick to the rack.
When you think that the zucchini is sufficiently dry, some testing needs to be done to ensure that looks are not deceiving.
You'll want to make sure that any water has been removed by the drying process so that your product will be safe and will not produce mold.
Because you're drying zucchini for commercial use, you'll wanna use the water activity meter and a moisture gauge.
Take a few sample zucchini from different sections of the tray to use for testing, crumple them and place them in the sample pan.
A safe water activity range for zucchini chips is 0.54 or below, and safe moisture content will be 10% wet weight.
At this point, the zucchini should be dry enough that it would shatter if you hit it with a hammer.
If your sample shows that there is still water activity, you may have to return the trays to the dryer for additional time, spot checking them regularly.
If you've reached the desired water activity range and moisture content, you're ready to move to the final phase, packaging.
When production is completed, the work's not quite done.
Remove dried squash from the dehydrator and let it cool at room temperature for 10 minutes.
Dry vegetables are susceptible to insect contamination and moisture reabsorption.
If moisture reenters the zucchini chips from the air, mold will follow.
The object is to pack the product into clean, dry, insect-proof containers as soon as possible and as tightly as possible without crushing.
Because they're so dry, zucchini chips don't need conditioning like fruit.
Once cooled, they can be pre-seasoned and then packaged.
To ensure that the chips don't stick to each other in the package, put a very small amount of cooking oil on the chips.
Apply no more than a teaspoon of oil to your gloved hands and rub it across the faces of the chips.
After oil is applied, you may also wanna shake a bit of ranch, Italian or other seasoning to provide some flavor if the chip is to be used for snack foods.
Cooled zucchini can then be packaged.
Many producers select a high grade plastic bag, like the one pictured.
Notice that the bag has a zipper seal and then is heat sealed.
The original air is allowed to remain to cushion the product and prevent crushing, but no new air with additional moisture can get in.
Once you have your zucchini packaged, it can be stored in a cool, dry, dark area from four to six months.
It's not necessary to refrigerate the storage area, but the higher the temperature of the room, the shorter the storage time.
Most vegetables can be stored for six months at 60 degrees Fahrenheit or four months at 80 degrees Fahrenheit without noticeable change in quality or color.
This video has demonstrated one way to invest time and energy, creating a delicious, nutritious snack for your customers or a garnish for a meal like this.
At the same time, you have remade your surplus zucchini, extending shelf life and using it all to recoup costs of farm production.
It will take some time and practice to perfect your product, but expanding your market in this way reduces financial and marketing risks and differentiates your business from your competitors.
We thank USDA for funding that has helped us support development of this program, addressing financial risk management through drying excess specialty crops.
The information that you have just viewed is part of the Penn State Extension-led project, Reducing Marketing, Legal and Production Risk for Specialty Crop Producers by Adding Value.
If you're interested in broadening your agricultural venture by adding value to excess product, please contact me, Winifred McGee.
Technical aspects of drying zucchini are based on research conducted at West Virginia University.
If you have specific questions about how you might start drying fruit or vegetables, please contact Dr. Litha Sivanandan.
She will be more than happy to work with you.