Dried Fruits often turn out chewy and make for delicious snacks. They are good for cookies, cakes, and bread. They can also be reconstituted and used in sauces, pies or cobblers or added to gelatin salads, cooked cereals, and ice cream.

Also, Dried Vegetables can be used as chips, reconstituted for a cooked side dish, used in soups, stews, and stuffings or made into powders.

Drying is the oldest known method of preserving food. Even today, we can sun dry or dry in an oven or a dehydrator that is specially designed for home drying. To operate a dryer business successfully and profitably requires dedication, patience and basic business skills. The investment decision to start a drying business should not be undertaken lightly. It is necessary to understand what is actually involved from the outset.

There is a large international market for dried fruit and vegetables, most of which are used as ingredients in food industries. However, this market is supplied by large-scale, low-cost industrialized producers. Small-scale solar dryer processors can, however, be creative about their marketing and target specific niche markets from which they can grow.

Do your research: The first important step is to study the market in which you are going to launch your products. You need to know the nitty-gritty of the business. Know key terms and process (e.g. sulfite solution — solution of 1 water and sodium sulfite, sodium bisulfite or sodium metabisulfite. Soaking fruit 10 minutes in this solution effectively prevents changes in color, flavor, and nutrition. Sulfite-sensitive people should choose another pretreatment.) You need to ask some of the following questions:

  • What fruit is available most of the year?
  • How many farmers grow the fruit locally?
  • How far away are the sources of fruit from the dryer?
  • What is the price of that fruit? The cost of delivery? Variation during the year?
  • Will you also have to grow crops? Can local farmers be contracted to grow the crop?
  • What drying methods can I use? Is solar drying viable?
  • How will the labor be supervised? how much?
  • Do all the workers have all the necessary skills; if not, can they obtain training?
  • What products am I intending to start with?
  • Is there a local, regional or overseas market for the product?
  • How can I package dried products for sale? What price will I set for local sales?

Getting started

For a simple home run, you start with buying or growing fresh produce. These can be bought from the local market or directly from farmers. Whilst most fruit and vegetables can be dried, the items you select as the raw material must be of high quality and of the required maturity in all cases. Poor quality or reject fruit should never be used for drying. Overmature produce may be fibrous or mushy. If the food is not perfect for eating, it is not suitable for drying.

Preparing the fruit – Fruit needs to be prepared for drying. This is a time-consuming job where high standards of hygiene and cleanliness are essential. The fruit is assessed for quality and ripeness, washed using clean and chlorinated water, peeled, cut into small pieces and placed onto drying trays ready for drying. Tools and working surfaces need to be thoroughly washed and cleaned, before and after use. People peeling and cutting fruit need to have clean hands and wear hair nets or scarves.

Drying – Using a conventional solar dryer, once the drying trays have been loaded with fruit, they are placed in the dryer. The fruit takes two, three or sometimes four days to dry. The actual time required depends on the weather conditions and the type of fruit being dried; this can be judged with experience.

Packing – Once dried, the fruit is removed from the dryer, packed into air-tight plastic bags and stored until being sold. Badly stored fruit can become infested by insects and moths, and be unsaleable.

Your Market

Your well packaged finished products can be sold locally and internationally depending upon quality standards and the market channels you have developed. The international market value of dried vegetables is considerably less than for fruit. In most instances, the same basic principles apply to a wide range of crops and commodities including – onions, ginger, citrus, sweet potato, cereals, and groundnuts. These can be dried when your dryer would otherwise not be in use for producing dried fruit. Different preparation methods need to be used appropriately for each item you are drying to achieve efficient and effective drying; this is often a matter of local experimentation.

Be diligent and thorough in your understanding of the business details – Get started and keep an open mind. Be quick to learn trends and new imaginations in your line of business. Persistence and the determination to succeed are the most important skills you bring to the table.

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