Dried fruits are a great way to get most of the healthful benefits of fresh fruits in a form that is preserved. Dried fruits can be stored for extended periods of time, unlike fresh fruits, and enable you to enjoy your favorite fruits when the fresh fruit is out of season. Many dried fruits contain antioxidants, vitamins and other healthy constituents and can be used to supplement a diet that is low on the high nutritional qualities of fruit in general.
Dried fruit comes in almost as much variety as fresh fruit. Raisins, figs, dates and prunes are the most common dried fruits you will find at a supermarket, but health food stores and online retailers will carry many more choices. Dried apples, pineapples, berries, mangos, papaya and even the exotic dragonfruit can be found in specialty and health food shops. These dried fruits will keep for months if sealed or refrigerated and are a great source of concentrated nutrition to keep at hand.
Most dried fruits retain some, if not all, of the antioxidant properties of their fresh source. Raisins contain the potent polyphenols found in fresh grape skins, and dried blueberries have the anthocyanins that has caused them to be considered a superfood. Some dried fruits are even used medicinally; the Chinese use several varieties of dates and dried berries in their traditional medical formulas. In the Middle East, figs and dates are considered nourishing foods. In India, dried Amla, or Indian gooseberry, is a staple of Ayurvedic medicine and is sold in powdered form. Dried fruits are also high in fiber and are beneficial for the digestive system, especially fruits that contain digestive enzymes such as papaya and pineapple.
Fruits that are naturally dried in the sun are as old as civilization itself. The ancient Egyptians started drying grapes into raisins, and the ancient Phoenicians exported them around the Mediterranean. Figs and dates became a staple part of the Tigris-Euphrates civilizations as they still are today, and the portability and storability of dried fruit allowed trade merchants to travel even farther and wider, taking the dried fruits with them. Later, Hannibal crossed the alps and invaded Rome by keeping his troops alive in the mountains with raisins. Plum trees planted in early America by settlers allowed them to explore the vast Midwest fueled by the dried fruit known as prunes. And even today, astronauts and wilderness explorers rely on dried fruits as a nutritious and portable staple of their diets.
You can make your own healthy dried fruit by purchasing a food dehydrator. When the season comes for your favorite fresh fruit, stock up on it and take it home to be dried and then store it airtight containers. By drying your own fruits, you can enjoy your favorites fruits all year long.
Fruit cake, the staple of many early poor European and American families, and the subject of the famous quote "Let them eat cake" is really just dried fruit and a simple dough along with whatever dried spices were handy. Dried fruit has been the survival food of Western civilization since its start.