There are several methods for preparing food products for home drying that include chemicals. I do not under any circumstances suggest these methods, and, have only included this chapter because I have noticed that I have had some searches to this site specifically looking for these methods.
One of the major drawbacks of using these chemicals is that, if the weather changes, and your produce is not dry, you cannot bring it indoors to finish the drying process in your oven, as the heat could cause lye or sulfur fumes to build up in your house. Also, since putting produce away can be a family activity, your children should NOT be exposed to these fumes or the splashing that might be caused by dropping the produce into the solutions.
Disposal of the chemicals is another issue. All of the reference materials I used in the writing of this site suggest that you slowly pour the chemicals down your drain when the drying process is complete. If you have a well and septic system, this could be a huge problem, which could potentially pollute your water. And, dumping large amounts of sulfur or lye into the public water system is not advised either, so the disposal of these chemicals poses an environmental problem which is unnecessary, especially when organic alternatives are available.
NEVER do this process indoors, under any circumstances!
2 level tablespoons of lye
1 gallon COLD water
Some food products, such as prunes, are routinely dipped in a lye solution to aid in the peeling of these foods and to make them dry faster. When using lye, care must be taken to use only stainless steel or enamel pots for preparing the solution. Make sure that, if enamel pots are used, that there are no cracks or chips, as the lye will react with the metal, causing the fruit to loose its colour and imparting an unpleasant taste. Never use metal spoons or utensils for stirring the solution for the same reasons. Always use wooden spoons or a clean wooden paint stirrer for this process. This process recommends that you bring the water and lye mixture to a boil and dip the food product in the solution for 5 to 30 seconds, until lots of small cracks appear on the skin of the produce. Produce treated in this way MUST be rinsed thoroughly to remove as much of the lye as possible before laying out to dry, and is recommended to be done, again, out doors. Because lye is so toxic, it is recommended that you wear rubber gloves and take special care not to splash the solution onto your skin or clothes. Protective goggles will help protect your eyes from any splashes. NEVER add hot water to a lye solution, as the fumes created are toxic. If you do get any of the solution on your skin or clothes it is recommended that you rinse the area with COLD water thoroughly. To dispose of this lye solution, you should, again, SLOWLY pour the solution down the kitchen sink, followed by a 5 minute flushing of the sink and pipes to remove as much of the lye as possible.
It is also recommended that the complete drying process should be done out doors in the open air to reduce the chances of lye fumes building up in your kitchen.
I, again, do not recommend this method for drying home food products. The reasons should be quite obvious...lye is toxic and adding toxic chemicals is counter productive to preparing wholesome foods for your pantry.
The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary defines lye as "1. any strong alkaline solution: Lye is used in making soap and in cleaning. Sodium hydroxide and potassium hydroxide are kinds of lye. 2. (formerly) an alkaline solution made by leaching wood or other vegetable ashes: soap lye, soda lye. 3. a crude or impure caustic soda, used for scouring, etc."
NEVER do this procedure indoors, under any circumstances!
1 1/2 to 3 1/2 Tablespoons of sodium bisulfite, sodium sulfite or sodium metabisulfite
1 gallon of water
Many commercially dried food products have been pre-soaked in a sulfur solution to aid in the retention of colour and texture of the foods. It allows more of the natural vitamins and minerals to stay in the food product by reducing the drying time. The sulfur used is called "Flowers of Sulfur" and can be obtained from most pharmacies.
Some manufacturers either soak the food products in a sulfur solution or, to me, even worse, they fume the products over a burning sulfur solution to infuse the produce with the sulfur smoke. Although this method preserves most of the vitamins A and C, it destroys the vitamin B1 (thiamine) and leaves sulfur residue and taste on the food products.
This method is so toxic that it is recommended that you not bring the sulfured products into the house to finish drying in your oven as the heat will produce sulfur fumes, which are quite irritating to the mucus membranes of your nose and eyes. When sulfuring your product, it must be done outside in the open air. The produce is put onto racks under a box of some sort to keep the sulfur fumes around the produce as it burns. After the sulfuring process, it is recommended that you burn the box! When using this process, you must dry the produce outside until completely dry to avoid fumes from leeching into the air of your enclosed house.
If a dipping solution is made of the sulfur, sodium bisulfite, sodium sulfite, or sodium metabisulfite are used. NEVER confuse sodium bisultite with sodium bisultate, as sodium bisultate is even more TOXIC than the other sulfurs! If using a solution of sodium bisulfite (or the other two chemicals) it is recommended that, once the process is concluded, that you slowly pour the solution down the kitchen drain and rinse thoroughly with cold water to clear out the drain and the residue in the sink.
I do not recommend this process for any reason...why add chemicals to your organic produce? If you don't mind the chemicals, you can save yourself a lot of time by just buying the dried products at the grocery store. To me, the whole point of preserving your own foods is to have control over the additives and other harmful products added to our food constantly to improve the shelf life or flavor of certain foods. However, if you are determined to use this process, there are several books available which outline the procedures required.
If you are a compulsive label reader, like I am, some of these chemical names will be familiar to you. Sodium sulfite is a common food additive listed on the labels of many food products. You might think it is a salt, but, instead, it is sulfur.
The World Book Encyclopedia Dictionary defines sulfur as "a light-yellow, non-metallic chemical element, found abundantly in volcanic regions, and occurring free in nature as a brittle, crystalline solid. It is widely distributed in combination with metals and other substances, and is also present in proteins. Sulfur is highly in-flammable and burns in the air with a blue flame and a stifling odor. It is used in making matches and gunpowder, for vulcanizing rubber, in bleaching, in medicine as a laxative and diaphoretic, in ointments for the skin, etc."
I feel, personally, that this chemical has no business being used in food products, but, because of the "Veggie Liable Laws" as they are known in the US, I can not disparage ANY product by name, or even company that produces it without risking being sued by these companies for "loss of business" and "damages to product name".
If you get nothing else from this website, PLEASE learn to read the labels of the products you buy. If you are unsure of a certain chemical name, Google it! It will take you less than 15 minutes to find the pros and cons of almost any of the chemicals listed on the ingredients labels of the food you buy. If you cannot find it, chances are good that the product is new and little is known, yet, about it. Also, consider the sponsors of the tests as you read. You will be surprised to find that there are large corporations and lobbyists whose sole purposes are to promote these food additives, and, they, of course, have web sites promoting the wonders of these "harmless" additives. Then other sites, such as www.ewg.org, outline possible side effects of these chemicals on animals and humans. You, at least, have information which you can choose to use in making intelligent choices when you buy for you and your family.
You will also, probably, be surprised to learn that most of the studies challenging the safety of many of these additives are done overseas in university and laboratory tests all over the world. My congratulations and a heart felt "Thank You" to these testers, for, without them, little would be known about the adverse effects of these additives on both animals and humans.