Three Points of the Compass snacking on dried fruit in the English Lake District, autumn 2015
The advantages of snacking on trail mix throughout a long days hiking are well known. Keeping a steady inward trickle of calories avoids the energy slumps that can come up so slowly but manifest themselves so suddenly.
There are many favourites amongst hikers, jelly babies and jelly beans, Snickers and Mars bars, energy gels and drinks, protein bars and oak cakes, nuts and Jaffa cakes. I have chatted before on one particular sticky favourite of mine- Sesame Snaps. Many embrace the various pre-prepared trail mixes that are produced though it is almost as easy to produce a far more flavoursome mix yourself.
Another favourite of mine is dried fruit. These usually contain only naturally occurring sugars (fructose) and a bare minimum of salt. Some fruits such as cranberries, cherries, strawberries and mango may have had a sweetener added either prior to or following drying. Others such as cherries, papaya, kiwi and pineapple may have been soaked in heated sugar syrup (which draws out the moisture and preserves the fruit) and are more properly candied rather than dried fruit. However it is often possible to find fruits that have not undergone either such adulteration.
Drying fruit for later consumption is one of the oldest methods of preserving food. Figs, dates, apricots and apples have long been prepared in this manner, as have raisins, which today form about half of the dried fruit consumed globally. Most of the nutritional value of the fruit is retained. Of additional benefit is the low to moderate Glycaemic Index (GI) of dried fruit. Therefore more slowly digested, absorbed and metabolised. This means a slower rise in blood sugar level and insulin level due to the slow release of glucose into the bloodstream, far more suited to an activity such as hiking over a sustained period.
Another advantage of consuming dried fruit is that as the water (weight) is withdrawn, the nutrients are condensed into a smaller and lighter product. While I don’t use a dehydrator myself, many hikers and backpackers like to produce fruit ‘leathers’ with a dehydrator that not only provide the aforementioned calorific boost and nutritional value, but are also further reduced in bulk.
Some pre-prepared bags of dried fruit are small and expensive- however very tasty! These small bags of baked and dried strawberries and pineapple provide around a 100kcal each. Each 35g portion contains 24g carbohydrate, of which 20g is naturally occurring fruit sugar
Other advantages are reduced or zero fat and increased amounts of fibre over same sized servings pre-drying. Dried fruits are also often a good provider of antioxidants, which can fight heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes and some degenerative diseases of the brain.
While I do occasionally buy one or more of the small pre-prepared pouches of fruit, I tend to get the larger bags, usually intended for cooking with. A good tasty mix can be made, possibly adding a few cracked nuts, and any amount can be taken in a zip-lock baggie. The mix shown above is some of that left over from making the family Christmas Puds! It consists of currants, raisins, sultanas, cranberries and blueberries. I find the chopped dried dates, prunes and glacé cherries which are also part of the finished mix too sticky to use as trail snacks. But I do like to take dried mango (a favourite), apricots and figs with me.
Another bonus is that dried fruit is not difficult to find. They have the advantage of being pretty much universally available in many shops. If not in the baking area, then in ‘healthy eating’ or snacking parts of the shelves.