Yes, but obviously certain fruits give a better dried fruit product than others. There are also special varieties of specific fruits (e.g. Bon Chretien pears vs Forelle pears) that are better suited for drying, and are sometimes cultivated specifically for this reason. These varieties are specially planted and treated while they grow to further enhance the dried fruit product that will be produced in the end. A whole orchard can be dedicated for drying and the fruit is then tree-ripened for maximum flavor development which results in the best possible dried fruit product.
Doesn’t the fruit get dirty while being dried in the sun?
Yes. That is why we wash the fruit before we pack it. The rigorous washing process will add just the right amount of water to render a soft textured dried fruit that is great to eat.
How is the fruit preserved?
Dried fruit is preserved by removing the water from the fruit. We also make use of a preservative called sulphur dioxide which breaks down the cell walls which in turn allows the water to evaporate and thereby prevent the fruit from going off. The sulphur dioxide levels are monitored carefully and as low as we can keep them without compromising the fruit quality. If we didn’t use sulphur dioxide, all our dried fruit would go black like raisins and prunes do!
How long does the fruit take to dry?
It depends on the type of fruit, the time of the year and the weather conditions on the day, but in general it can take as little as 3 days and as long as 3 weeks for the fresh fruit to dry to the right consistency and quality.
I have recently moved to the Komga area in the Eastern Cape and want to grow a variety of peach tree that produces fruit suitable for home drying. Would you be able to offer me any advice on the matter?
There are two kinds of peach that can be dried: yellow cling peaches and free-stone “Elberta-type” peaches. The latter is ideal for drying because the free-stone pip is easy to remove. There is range of cultivars in that category, all bred from or selected mutations of the original Elberta cultivar, including Suncrest, Sunsweet, Witzenberg, Cederberg and Bokkeveld. Of these the one that will probably suit your needs the best (and it is great dessert peach for fresh consumption as well) is Suncrest.
The primary use of yellow cling peaches is canning. However, it also delivers a great dried product that is very different to the Elberta-type due to its firm flesh. But to get the best results, you have to peel it first to get rid of the hairy skin and the removal of the clings-tone pip requires a special “spoon” and some skill. Well worth the effort for home drying though as the final product is a really traditional classic. Almost all yellow cling peach varieties can be dried, but ask your nurseryman for Keisie, Kakamas, Supreme or Autumn Crunch.
Is dried fruit as “healthy” as fresh fruit?
Because the water has been dried out of the fruit, dried fruit is actually more concentrated than fresh fruit. This means that dried fruit contains more nutrients per mass than it’s fresh counterpart.
Is the fruit actually dried in the sun?
Yes. We make use of the natural energy of the sun to dry the fruit. The fresh fruit is packed on special wooden trays and placed in the sun.
Is the sulphur dioxide not bad for you?
Sulphur dioxide (SO2) is classified as an allergen. This means that there are a small percentage of people who are truly allergic to SO2. The majority of people however are not affected by SO2 at all.
What happens if it rains while the fruit is drying?
Good question. We receive a detailed weather report every day and will cover all open product with special covers to prevent the fruit from getting wet if rain is forecast. But if a sudden thunder-storm sets in, everyone on the Drying Yard scrambles to cover the fruit as fast as possible!
Why do your staff not wear gloves in the factory?
It is one the most widely-held misconceptions that the wearing of latex gloves in food handling leads to better hygiene and food safety. Up until a few years ago, the use of gloves in food manufacturing was promoted and widely adopted, but that trend has since been reversed. Research has shown that the use of gloves, while it seems counter-intuitive, actually has the opposite effect. Because it numbs the sense of feeling in ones fingers, one gets a false sense of cleanliness while there is actually a build-up of food material (and therefore bacteria) on the surface of the glove. This then may lead to workers not adhering to hand-washing protocols and quite easily lead to a person going through and entire shift with a pair of gloves that have become quite dirty. On the other hand (excuse the pun!), when handling food with ones bare hands, the sensation of stickiness, wetness etc. in fact leads to people naturally wanting to wash their hands more often and therefore acts as a very effective reminder to adhere to hand-washing disciplines. Consequently, we have discontinued the use of latex gloves. Instead, our focus is on ensuring that people work with clean hands at all times. We have very strict hygiene standards in our factory, which includes hand-cleaning procedures. Nobody can enter the factory without first washing their hands and scrub their nails. The flow of water on these wash troughs is activated by photocells so that a person does not need to touch a tap, which may lead to recontamination. Thereafter the person sanitizes his or her hands with an alcohol sanitizer. In addition there are washbasins within the factory close to every work station so that people can routinely wash hands during the course of a shift. We take random swabs of hands and work surfaces and send these to an accredited laboratory for microbial analysis to check the effectiveness of our hygiene measures. Lastly, I should point out that our factory and third party auditors regularly audit food safety systems. Not only are we a HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point ) certified facility, but our retail customers also have us audited against their own food safety and GMP (good manufacturing practices) standards regularly. These audits are often unannounced to prevent “window-dressing”.
Now is the time to stock up on dried Mango in celebration of sunny weather and holidays on the horizon!