Drying tomatoes is as easy as 1, 2, 3! Plus they’re cheaper than store-bought and taste WAY better! We’ll show you how to dry tomatoes in the sun, how to dry tomatoes in the oven, how to dry tomatoes in the dehydrator and how to store dried tomatoes. AND we’ll give you a list of ideas for delicious recipes using your sun dried tomatoes!
How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes (in the Sun, Oven or Dehydrator)
We grow our own tomatoes every year and enjoy eating them fresh in salads, diced up for homemade canned tomatoes, transformed into our famous marinara sauce, spiced up in our restaurant-style salsa, made smooth and creamy in our perfect creamy tomato soup, and any other way we can think to use them. Another one of my favorite ways to use our tomatoes, especially when I’ve got a large end-of-season bumper crop, is to dry them. While I don’t often “sun dry” them, the tomatoes are sun-ripened on the vine and once they’re dried in the oven or the dehydrator, these “sun dried” tomatoes taste so incredible you’d never even know the difference!
Still, we’ll tell you how to both sun dry and oven/dehydrator tomatoes so you can choose whichever method you prefer. We’ll also give you some tips for bumping up the flavor notes along with a list of delicious ideas for how to use your sun-dried tomatoes in cooking!
What Are Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
Sun-dried tomatoes, or whichever way you choose to dry them, are tomatoes that have generally lost 82-90+% of their original weight through the process of drying. They lose most of their water but retain their sugar, sweetness, and nutrients and what you’re left with is the deliciously dried tomato flesh with an absolutely incredible and intense, concentrated tomato flavor. They’re perfect for using in dishes where you really want that wonderful tomato flavor to shine through.
These sun-dried tomatoes can be used in a large variety of dishes (see suggestions further below) and can also be plumped up by storing them in olive oil, which opens up additional ways you can use them in cooking.
Three Ways to Dry Tomatoes: In the Sun, Oven or Dehydrator
Drying tomatoes in the sun is something people have been doing it for centuries. Simply cut the tomatoes in half, place them on a raised screen on some blocks (for circulation), sprinkle lightly with sea salt and place them directly in the hot sun to dry. But sun-drying tomatoes does come with its challenges. For one you do have less control over this method of drying because, well, Mother Nature is in charge. It requires both consistent warm temperatures and dry air. If you live in an area that’s humid, humidity makes drying tomatoes difficult if not impossible. Tomatoes also need to be brought inside or to a sheltered area overnight. Another challenge is that when you’re drying food outside you’re attracting more than the rays of sunshine…you’re opening your precious goods up to a critter picnic. To help circumvent that you can lay some cheesecloth over your tomatoes.
Bottom line: Use the sun-drying method is best reserved for those living in warmer, dryer areas with consistent, predictable weather. Depending on how hot it is it can also take a while, anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks.
Drying tomatoes in the oven allows you to bypass all of the challenges associated with sun-drying. It gives you full control and delivers consistent results and in far less time – just a matter of just hours. You control the “weather” (aka, the oven temperature), you can set the time to go on or off whenever you need, and your tomatoes are in an enclosed space where flies and other critters can’t bother them.
Drying tomatoes in the dehydrator has the same advantages as using the oven. The only potential downside of a dehydrator is the noise (and that’s only if it bothers you), but the advantage is that it frees up your oven to use for other things. The other advantage is that you’re not having to use your oven in the heat of the summer.
What Kind of Tomatoes Should I Use? What Size of Tomatoes Should I Use?
There is really no “should” about it, use whatever tomatoes you have access to. Generally fleshier varieties are recommended because they have less water to use and result in plumper dried tomatoes. But you can use any tomatoes you like, big or small. I use everything from cherry tomatoes to jumbo-sized tomatoes. Smaller tomatoes will dry more quickly, larger tomatoes will take longer.
The main thing to remember is to use uniformly sized tomatoes within the same batch so that they dry more or less at the same rate. Other than that, you can use any variety of tomato and any size of tomato you like.
How Do I Add Some Additional Flavor to My Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
Along with the sea salt you can also sprinkle your tomatoes with any dried herbs or dried spices of your choice and then proceed with drying them as normal.
A Note on Salt
Be sure to go easy on the salt, use only a very light sprinkle. Remember that the tomatoes can lose 90+% of their original weight which means the salt will likewise become concentrated in what’s left of the tomato.
How Do I Know When My Tomatoes Are Done?
Your tomatoes are done when they are very dry but still pliable. When you squeeze them between your fingers they should be pliable/bendable (not brittle and snap), but they should not be remotely “squishy” or moist. Check your tomatoes regularly towards the end of the drying period: If the tomatoes are dried too long they’ll become tough and leathery. However if they’re not dried long enough they will become moldy very quickly.
How Do I Store Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
Place the fully-cooled dried tomatoes in an airtight bag or container and store them in the refrigerator where they will keep for a few months (depending on how much moisture is left in the tomatoes) or in the freezer where they will keep even longer. If storing them in the fridge do not keep them in the crisper drawer, they need to be kept dry, in as moisture-free of an environment as possible. Check the tomatoes frequently for any signs of mold and discard the tomatoes if you see any.
How Do I Reconstitute Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
To reconstitute dried tomatoes simply soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes or until soft and pliable. Remove them from the water, pat them dry with paper towels and use them as your recipe directs. And if you’re making soup or stew be sure to save and use that tomato soaking water! Alternatively, you can also soak the dried tomatoes in wine or broth.
How to Pack Sun-Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil
Once your tomatoes are fully dried and cooled, you can pack them in olive oil if you like. This will plump them up and make them perfect for adding to things like antipasto and cheese/charcuterie platters, salad dressings, pasta salads, and anything else you’d normally use dried tomatoes in. Since they’re packed in olive oil they won’t need to be reconstituted with water and you have the option of adding more flavor to them by placing things like herbs and/or garlic in the olive oil along with the tomatoes. Here’s how to do it:
- Use small glass jars; the less air exposure the better. Avoid using metal jars or cans as they can create a metallic flavor. Select jars with tight-fitting lids.
- Reconstitute the dried tomatoes in warm water for about 30 minutes, lay them out and pat then with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible.
- To further soften the tomatoes and to take that extra step of preventing bacterial growth, you can dip the tomatoes in wine vinegar, bottled lemon or lime juice before adding them to the olive oil.
- Pack the tomatoes in the jar, layering them with dried herbs and/or garlic as desired, then pour the olive oil over the top so the tomatoes are completely submerged in olive oil. Seal the jars tightly.
- The flavors improve over time. Let the tomatoes sit for at least a few days before using them, preferably longer. If using fresh herbs and garlic wait at least 24 hours before using.
- Note: If using fresh herbs and garlic be sure to store the jars in the fridge. Safety guidelines recommend using up the jars within 4 days (see more on that in the next section below). The oil in the jars stored in the fridge will solidify but will liquify quickly once at room temperature.
- If using dried herbs the oil-packed tomatoes can be stored at room temperature. You’ll know they’re bad if they taste rancid. If you discover any mold, discard immediately. However, we recommend storing the jars in the refrigerator for two reasons: It will reduce the risk of spoilage and it will extend their shelf life (generally up to 3 months), preventing the contents from becoming rancid as quickly. Again, the oil will solidify but will quickly liquify again at room temperature.
You can pack the tomatoes in oil as is or you can chop them up first for convenience for later adding them to salad dressings, in sauces, or however you want to use them.
Is It Safe to Pack Sun Dried Tomatoes In Oil?
According to the Oregon State Extension Service:
“Because of their acidity, unseasoned (i.e., no vegetables or herbs) fully dried tomatoes may be safely stored in oil at room temperature. (Refrigeration may delay rancidity, however). The tomatoes will soften more if quickly dipped in bottled lemon or lime juice before being placed in the oil. The tomatoes can be flavored with dried herbs and garlic. NOTE: Dried tomatoes-in-oil mixtures with [fresh] garlic and/or herbs MUST be refrigerated and used within 4 days or frozen for long-term storage.”
Note the words we italicized in bold: The tomatoes must be fully dried and only dried herbs and dried garlic can be used, otherwise the tomatoes in oil need to be stored in the fridge and used within 4 days or frozen. Nevertheless, to play it extra safe we recommend storing the jars in the fridge.
How To Use Sun-Dried Recipes in Cooking
The possibilities are endless! Here are a few ideas to get you started. Use sun-dried tomatoes in or on:
- Pasta Salads
- Salad Dressings
- Compound Butter
- Antipasto/cheese/charcuterie platters
- Sun-Dried Tomato Pesto
- Tomato Bread
- Mashed Potatoes
- Scrambled Eggs
- Caprese Salad (in addition to fresh tomatoes)
What are some delicious ways you like to use sun-dried tomatoes? Tell us in the comments below!
How to Make Sun Dried Tomatoes (in the Sun, Oven or Dehydrator)
- 3 pounds ripe tomatoes (quantity is just a guideline, use more or less as desired) , washed and cut in half if medium-sized and quartered if large. Cut out the little core/stem parts. Note: Try to keep the sizes uniform so they dry more or less at the same rate.
- sea salt
- dried herbs/spices (optional)
- olive oil for packing (optional, see blog post above for instructions)
- **For sun-drying and/or packing the tomatoes in olive oil, see blog post for instructions**Preheat the oven to 160 degrees F (a little higher is fine if your oven doesn't go that low). If using a dehydrator set the temperature between 140 and 160 degrees F. On a rack or parchment-lined baking sheet (do not use foil, it can react), arrange the tomatoes cut side up and sprinkle very lightly with sea salt. If desired, add some dried herbs or spices.Turn the tomatoes over around the halfway point so they can continue drying on the other side. For larger tomatoes press down on them gently with a spatula to flatten a little and release some of the liquid.NOTE: Even if your tomatoes are of uniform size they will still dry at somewhat different rates so keep an eye on them and remove the ones that are done while leaving the others to continue drying.If you have an extra large load of tomatoes in your oven, you can crack the oven door open an inch or two to allow for better circulation and prevent them from steaming. NOTE: Drying the tomatoes will take several hours, how many will depend on the size and water content of your tomatoes. The tomatoes are done when they are very dry but still pliable. If dried too long they will be tough and leathery or brittle, if not dried long enough they will become moldy quickly. When you press them between your fingers they should be pliable but not remotely squishy or moist.
- To store: Place the fully-cooled dried tomatoes in an airtight bag or container and store them in the refrigerator where they will keep for a few months (depending on how much moisture is left in the tomatoes) or in the freezer where they will keep even longer. If storing them in the fridge do not keep them in the crisper drawer, they need to be kept dry, in as moisture-free of an environment as possible. Check the tomatoes frequently for any signs of mold and discard the tomatoes if you see any.
- How to Reconstitute Dried Tomatoes: Soak them in warm water for about 30 minutes or until soft and pliable. Remove them from the water, pat them dry with paper towels and use them as your recipe directs. And if you're making soup or stew be sure to save and use that tomato soaking water! Alternatively, you can also soak the dried tomatoes in wine or broth.
- To Pack the Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil: *See blog post above for instructions.
- Makes roughly 2 1/4 cups dried tomatoes depending on the water content of the tomatoes and how long they were dried.