Which is more versatile, a solar dehydrator or a solar oven? Many solar ovens are sold with the promise that, besides cooking food by the energy of the sun, you can also dehydrate food. I have owned two solar Sun Ovens for almost two years and have cooked every kind of food that I ever cooked in a conventional oven. I discovered that food cooked in a solar oven using the sun’s rays tastes better — moist, not dried out or overcooked if left in for longer than its normal cooking time. Solar cooking has become a way of living, not out of necessity to save money, but because the food tastes so much better and the nutritional value is not diminished as with traditional cooking methods.
I continually experiment with various foods and differing amounts of cooking time. This past summer, I tried drying fruit and vegetables in the solar oven. I would love to report the experiment was a success; however, I would not recommend it as an easy, economical method of dehydrating food. The only two downsides to cooking with a solar oven are: number one, no sun equals no cooking; and number two, there is no thermostat to control cooking temperature. Because the Sun Oven maintains a constant temperature of 300-350 degrees F., it is great for cooking or baking almost anything. But it is not so good for drying food, since it takes less than 200 degrees to dehydrate food.
I had to continually adjust the angle of the oven reflectors to the sun. It would be fine one minute but start to cook the fruit and veggies the next. You can find just the right position to make the oven reach 145 degrees, but the sun is continually moving. Dehydrating food is supposed to be a money-saving technique, however after two hours of wrestling the oven back and forth, the savings was not that appealing to me.
In fact, the fruit cooked rather than dried and baked to the drying racks. I love baked potatoes or squash, but baked mango or papaya? Yuck!
Since that day, I have been diligently experimenting with different techniques using the Sun Oven, such as propping open the glass door in varying degrees. The problem with that was the heat inside the oven was not even; consequently neither was the consistency of the finished product.
For this reason I surmised that a fan was needed to circulate the warm air in and around the food to help dry it out evenly. Since the whole purpose of a solar oven is to conserve energy and use in areas where electricity is not accessible, I needed to use a dc fan and power it with a solar panel.
That was the solution. I placed the fan on the tray, propped open the glass door 3/8 of an inch and stacked drying racks using pvc as spacers. Now the hottest air could escape through the crack in the door and the balance of the warm air was circulated evenly around the food by the fan.
Directions on how to build your own solar oven dehydrator kit along with free recipes can be found on sunovenchef.com. This kit will fit the majority of solar ovens on the market. I recommend dehydrating food, not your body! And be sure to drink plenty of clean, healthy water daily.