This is a very common question which I’d love to be able to say “yes” to (since practically everyone already has one), however sadly the answer in most cases is “no.”
Understanding why it typically does not work is helpful in comprehending the dehydrator and how it differs from an oven – how it keeps things “raw.” Here’s why:
1. Most ovens do not have temperature settings below 115F; even the warm setting on most ovens is too hot.
The average temperature for enzyme loss is 115-118F. One major difference between raw and cooked food is that cooked food lacks most/all of its active enzymes.
2. Most ovens do not have circulating air (a fan) within them. Air circulation across the drying food helps cut down drying time and prevent spoilage.
3. Ovens (without fans) heat very unevenly. Even if your oven does have a setting that is below 115F, it may not be reliable.
The heating element in an oven will typically fire up as hot as it can get, until the temperature evens out and the sensor in the oven detects the programmed temperature.
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This means that there will be hos spots and food in one place of the oven can be subject to much higher temperatures than food in another part.
The only time I’ve successfully dehydrated in an oven was when using a gas oven on the “warm” setting, turning it off from time to time, and keeping the door open for some circulation, which isn’t very efficient.
That being said, here are the circumstances where an oven can work:
1. It is a convection oven (use the fan).
2. It has a temp setting below 115F or you only want to warm food for a few hours. If the latter is the case, you can crank it as high as 145F for up to 3 hours.
This will give a roasted look to most marinated vegetables. Due to the moisture in the food, the inner temperature won’t reach anything close to 145F.
A convection oven is going to consume more energy than a dehydrator, so ultimately my recommendation is acquire a dehydrator or even better, create a reliable sun-drying system outdoors!
Keep in mind that it is not a necessity for a raw food diet, however my experience has been that it helps immensely in sticking with a raw diet long-term.
It is also very useful in eating more locally, as you can use it to preserve seasonal food for later use.
One additional benefit is that you can turn leftovers that might potentially spoil into a dry crunchy snack that has more longevity. It is a fantastic tool!