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Sun-dried tomatoes, either in olive oil, seasoned, or plain, add a gourmet touch and great flavor to many dishes and salads. But the price in the stores is exorbitant! Did you know it is incredibly easy to make your own sun-dried tomatoes at home with no special equipment? The quality can be better than any you've bought and now you have an easy way to use your excess tomatoes, as well as have them for use in the winter. They make excellent gifts, too.
Here's how to do it, in easy steps and completely illustrated. This method is so easy, ANYONE can do this! It's a great thing to do with your kids! And yes, although they're called "sun-dried" tomatoes; almost no one lives in a climate that makes that the best method. According to the USDA, few, if any store-bought "sun dried" tomatoes are actually sun dried (but the regulations allow them to call them that!). Anyway, they will taste the same (or better, actually) using an oven or food dehydrator. For those of you ultra-crunchy granola types (not that there's anything wrong with that, as Seinfeld would say), you can use your car (hybrid, electric, gasoline or diesel) on a hot sunny day - I'll explain below. And see this page for a comparison of the cost of various oven heating methods and oven types.
If you'd rather can your tomatoes, see this page for canning directions for tomatoes!
And one of the following:
It's fun to go pick your own and you can obviously get better quality tomatoes!
At right is a picture of tomatoes from my garden - they are so much better than anything from the grocery store. And if you don't have enough, a pick-your-own farm is the place to go! Below are 4 common varieties that will work, although any variety (even grape and cherry tomatoes) will work, but they might take longer too dry, due to their higher water content:
Top left: Beefsteak
Bottom left: Roma, paste-type
Top right: Lemon Boy, yellow
Bottom right: Better Boy
The picture at right shows the best variety of tomato to use: Roma; also called paste tomatoes. They have fewer sides, thicker, meatier walls, and less water. And that means thicker sauce in less cooking time!
Also, you don't want mushy, bruised or rotten tomatoes!
If you do not want to remove the skins, skip to step 4. This is completely optional; some people prefer them with skins, some without. The type you buy in the stores usually has the skins intact, but skins can become tough and chewy, I think the final result is much better with the skins removed..
Here's a trick you may not know: put the tomatoes, a few at a time in a large pot of boiling water for no more than 1 minute (30 - 45 seconds is usually enough)
Plunge them into a waiting bowl of ice water.
This makes the skins slide right off of the tomatoes!
With a gentle tug, the skins should practically slide off the tomatoes.
Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise.
Cut out the tough part around the stem and any bruised or soft parts.
I usually then cut the tomatoes in half again, so I get four lengthwise quarters from each tomatoes. It just depends how big or small you want the final dried pieces to be. Usually they shrink to 1/4 their original size.
I generally don't bother with Roma-type tomatoes, they have so few seeds, anyway. If I'm using regular Big Boy, beefstake tomatoes, then sometimes I do. Just scoop them out with a spoon or with a nudge from your finger!
As I said at the beginning, you have 3 choices:
Regardless of the drying method you use, you spread the tomato slice out on their trays and you may opt to sprinkle them with salt or dried herbs (basil, thyme and/or oregano are commonly used).
Here are the specific directions for each method:
The amount of time it takes depends on the water content of the tomatoes, the thickness of the slices, and how well the air is able to circulate around them. The USDA says it typically takes 6 to 12 hours. When done, the tomatoes should be in the range of "leathery" to "brittle". I would go more toward the brittle end of the spectrum as removing more water will reduce the potential for spoilage. Ball and USDA describe them as being done with they are at least to the stage of leathery with a deep red color, without free water or a tacky feeling.
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! A vacuum bag is shown at left, but you can use ziploc (or similar) bags, shown below. But be sure to squeeze out the extra air (below left is before, below right is after squeezing out the excess air).
Obviously if you haven't got a vacuum food sealer, just inspect the bags and 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 to freeze foods, place food in a Ziploc bags, zip the top shut but leave enough space to insert the tip of a soda straw. When 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.
The freezer is best, there the dried tomatoes will retain their color and flavor for about 9 to 12 months. A fridge is ok for a few weeks, but if there is much moisture left in them, they WILL start to get moldy in a month or so. The vacuum bag food sealers really help to increase the longevity of dried tomatoes in the fridge (see this page for more information) with their vacuum sealing! I am not paid by them, but these things really work. DO not store this outside of the freezer or fridge. This is a low acid food and sealed up, without air, botulism can grow at temperatures above 40 F.
Dried tomatoes quickly reabsorb moisture, so be sure your containers really are airtight. If they re-absorb moisture, they may then go moldy. If they are still too moist, they will also go moldy.
Check the newly packaged dried tomatoes daily for about a week to make sure there isn't any condensation in the containers. If you see any moisture in the containers, remove the tomatoes immediately, put them back in the food dryer and resume the drying process.
If you like to have your dried tomatoes in a seasoned oil, such as olive oil with basil, thyme, oregano and/or minced or powdered garlic or garlic salt, it is best to do this when you are ready to eat them, or shortly before, and refrigerate them. There aren't many university studies about the safety of home-dried tomatoes packed in oil, but the information that's available suggests that it is best to just do that as you use them or make up small batches and refrigerate them.
From left to right:
Home Canning Kits
This is the same type of standard canner that my grandmother used
to make everything from applesauce to jams and jellies to tomato and
spaghetti sauce. This complete kit includes everything you need and lasts
for years: the canner, jar rack, Jar grabber tongs, lid lifting wand, a
plastic funnel, labels, bubble freer, and the bible of canning, the Ball
Blue Book. It's much cheaper than buying the items separately. you will never need anything else except jars & lids! To see more canners, of different styles, makes and prices, click here!For
more information and current pricing:
Summary - Cost of Making Homemade Sun-Dried Tomatoes - makes 4 cups
|Item||Quantity||Cost in 2023||Source||Subtotal|
|Tomatoes||10 lbs (to make about 4 cups of dried tomato)||free from the garden, or $0.75 cents/lb at a PYO||Garden||$0.00|
|Ziplock type food storage bags||3 or 4 bags||$3.00 for 15||Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores; sometimes Big Lots and even hardware stores||$0.75|
|seasoning||Optional - 1 or 2 tablespoons - See step 6||$0.50?||Grocery stores, like Publix, Kroger and Safeway and local "big box" stores||$0|
or about $0.20 per cup
most recent version of
the Ball Blue Book