Making sun dried tomatoes at home is easy, fun, and rewarding. It’s also a delicious project, and a great way to save money over buying them from the store.
The end of summer is close at hand! I can smell the change of weather in the air, which means that now is the perfect time to use up your abundance of tomatoes from the garden. One delicious way to do that is by making sun dried tomatoes at home! If you don’t have an abundance of your own tomatoes, steal borrow some from your neighbor’s garden. You can “return” them later… sort of. I’ll explain in a minute.
There are plenty of recipes you can make with an abundance of tomatoes:
Cream of tomato soup is one of my favorites, but please don’t forget to add the grilled cheese croutons!
Or how about a delicious frozen virgin Mary dessert?
There’s something special about making sun dried tomatoes, though. They’re great to snack on, added to salads, or even to rice side dishes like this one.
I love sun dried tomatoes, but they can be expensive to buy. Being the budget-driven, frugal shopper that I am, I can’t afford to splurge on them very often.
I was super excited to learn how easy it is to make them at home, and with no special equipment! The quality is just as good as store bought, and it’s a great way to use your excess of garden tomatoes.
Drying them will even allow you to use them throughout the winter, and they make excellent gifts, too. (Give a jar full to your neighbor…you know…the one whose garden you stole the tomatoes from!)
Here’s my step-by-step guide on making sun dried tomatoes at home.
This method is so easy that anyone who can use an oven will be able to do it. It’s a fun project to do with your kids, too! According to the USDA, few, if any store-bought “sun dried” tomatoes are actually dried with the sun, primarily because there aren’t too many climates that are conducive to incredibly hot, dry air (unless you like hanging out in the Kalahari desert!), so I’m going to show you how to do this using an oven.
- Tomatoes – Romas work the best, but any variety will do in a pinch. Choose ripe, but not over ripe tomatoes that are still firm. The yield varies considerably depending upon the moisture content of the tomatoes, which depends upon the type of tomato. Paste tomatoes (Roma) typically yield 2 cups of dried tomatoes for each 5 lbs of fresh.
- 1 large pot and large slotted spoon
- An ice water bath to place the tomatoes into after they’ve been blanched.
- Vacuum food sealer or plastic zipper (Ziploc) type bags
Step 1 – Selecting the tomatoes
Head out to the garden and pick your own, and you’re likely to get better quality tomatoes than you would from a grocery store. As I mentioned before, you can use any variety you’d like, but keep in mind that tomatoes with a lot of seeds are higher in water content and will therefore take longer to dehydrate than the varieties with lots of firm flesh and fewer seeds.
The best variety of tomato to use are Romas. They have fewer seeds, thicker, meatier walls, and less water. Stay clear of mushy, bruised or rotten tomatoes!
Step 2 – Blanching and peeling
If you do not want to remove the skins, skip to the next step. This step is completely optional, because some people prefer making sun dried tomatoes with the skins on. The type you buy in the stores usually has the skins on.
To easily peel the skin from the tomatoes, use a paring knife to create an “x” into the bottom of each tomato. You want to pierce the skin, but don’t go into the flesh too deeply. Then place a few at a time into a large pot of boiling water and let them blanch for 45 seconds to 1 minute (45 seconds is usually sufficient). You’ll know they’re ready when the skin starts to split around the area where you created the “x”.
Plunge them quickly into a large bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process. With a gentle tug from the bottom of the tomato (where the score mark is located), the skins should practically slide off the tomatoes. *NOTE: There are two tomatoes in the picture that are the Beefsteak variety. One is at the bottom of the picture. You can visibly see how much excess water is there.
Step 3 – Remove bruises and tough parts, and cut in half
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
Cut out the tough part around the stem, and any bruised or soft parts. Then, cut the tomatoes in half and in half again, so I get four lengthwise quarters from each tomato. It just depends how big or small you want the final dried pieces to be. They usually shrink to 1/4 of their original size.
Step 4 – (Optional) – Remove the seeds
If your tomatoes have lots of seeds, just scoop them out with a spoon or with a nudge from your finger!
Step 5 – Drying
Heat your oven to 150 degrees F. If your oven doesn’t go that low, use the lowest setting you’ve got.
Arrange the tomatoes on cooling racks, making sure they don’t touch one another. Cookie sheets will work if you don’t have cake racks or screens, you’ll need to flip or stir the tomatoes once in a while to expose the other side of them. Sprinkle the tomatoes with a little sea salt and/or Italian spices (like dried oregano or basil) if you want to.
Then, close the oven. It takes 10 to 20 hours, and you’ll need to check them periodically to rotate the shelves and move them up or down to get even heating. If you want to speed up the drying time, you can bump the heat up to as high as 200 degrees F, but you’ll need to watch them much more closely.
Step 5 – How to tell when they’re done
Making sun dried tomatoes takes time, but the time can vary. It depends on the water content of the tomatoes, the thickness of the slices, and how well the air is able to circulate around them. When done, the tomatoes should be flexible, like a raisin from a fresh bag; not brittle. Some people describe them as leathery. They should have a deep red color, without free water or a tacky feeling.
Step 6 – Cool, then place into Ziploc-type bags
Let the tomatoes cool to room temperature (about 20 to 30 minutes), then fill the bags. Don’t overfill the bags; leave a little room for expansion. Do try to avoid leaving any air pockets!
Step 7 – Vacuum seal the bags (if you have a vacuum sealer)
Obviously if you haven’t got a vacuum food sealer, just inspect the bags. You may need to open them and reseal them to eliminate any air pockets! But the rate of spoilage and preservation of flavor is MUCH better with the vacuum-sealed tomatoes. TIP: If you don’t own a vacuum food sealer, place the tomatoes in Ziploc bags, zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When the straw is in place, remove air by sucking the air out. To remove straw, press straw closed where inserted and finish pressing the bag closed as you remove straw.
Step 8 – Store the bags in the fridge or in a very cool, dry place
The freezer is your best bet for storage… The dried tomatoes will retain their color and flavor for about 9 to 12 months when frozen. A fridge is ok for a few weeks, but if there is much moisture left in them, they’ll start to get moldy in a month or so. Needless to say, vacuum sealing works wonderfully, but not all of us can afford to purchase one. This vacuum sealer is pretty affordable and a good value for the money, though.
Dried tomatoes quickly reabsorb moisture, so be sure your containers really are airtight. If they re-absorb moisture or are too moist, the sun dried tomatoes will become moldy.
Check the newly packaged dried tomatoes every day, for about a week, to make sure there isn’t any condensation in the containers. If you see any moisture, remove the tomatoes immediately and put them back into the oven to dry further.
IMPORTANT NOTE: Storage/packing in oils:
To keep food-borne illness far away, please resist the temptation to store these in any type of oil. The only exception to that is if you are knowledgeable in heat preserving (canning). When you purchase sun dried tomatoes at the grocery store, they’re packed in oil, but they have also been processed to eliminate bacteria. If you love the flavor that the oil and spices (like garlic salt, oregano, and basil) bring to the party, just let the tomatoes bathe in it for an hour or so before you are ready to eat them.
See how much fun making sun dried tomatoes is?
Do you think you’ll try making sun dried tomatoes?