Sun-dried tomatoes are a delicious, flavor-packed way to enjoy your homegrown tomatoes all year! Here’s how to make your own using your garden grown tomatoes!
Tomatoes are a go-to crop in most gardens – whether you have a teeny tiny garden or a huge one! For us, tomatoes are a year-round staple food. However, we don’t eat any tomatoes except for home-grown, vine ripened tomatoes! Those grocery store knock-offs just don’t do it for us!
The secret to having fresh-tasting, high quality tomatoes all year is to grow them yourself and preserve the harvest! We use a variety of preservation methods to ensure we have enough tomatoes to eat all year. Primarily, we preserve our tomatoes by canning them, freezing them and drying them.
Sun-dried tomatoes have an extra special place in my heart because of their robust flavor! It’s like summertime every time I eat one! Plus, sun-dried tomatoes are extremely versatile! You can pack them in oil for fresh eating and to top pasta dishes or you can use the dried tomatoes in soups and stews. You can even grind them to make your own seasoning mixes!
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What are sun-dried tomatoes?
Traditionally, sun-dried tomatoes are exactly what they sound like: tomatoes dried in the sun. People have been preserving tomatoes using this method for thousands of years! In fact, it’s thought that the Aztecs started sun-drying tomatoes as early as 700 A.D.!
The drying process removes the moisture from the tomatoes, which allows them to last much longer. It also reduces their size, making them easier to store. Best of all, the drying process concentrates the nutrients, which makes the tomatoes extra flavorful!
Sun-dried tomatoes are a healthy snack or addition to any dish – especially during the winter when fresh produce is limited. You can read more about the health benefits of sun-dried tomatoes here.
Using a Dehydrator
Today, most sun-dried tomatoes are made using an oven or dehydrator (which are the methods we will cover in this post). Generally, I prefer to use a dehydrator because it’s more convenient for me. I have several trays for my dehydrator so I can dehydrate large batches at a time. Plus, I can put the dehydrator outside on the porch so it won’t heat up the house during the summertime!
If you don’t own a dehydrator, it’s a homesteading tool that I highly recommend! It’s absolutely worth the investment! I have this Nesco dehydrator which has worked very well for me over the years. Excalibur dehydrators are also amazing dehydrators!
Which tomatoes are best for sun-dried tomatoes?
I grow many different varieties of tomatoes including slicing tomatoes, paste tomatoes and cherry tomatoes. Each type of tomato is best prepared in a certain way. So, while any tomato can be dried, certain varieties will dry better than others.
When drying tomatoes, you want them to all be a consistent size. The smaller the size, the faster the tomatoes will dry. Also, tomatoes that are very juicy will need longer to dry. Because of this, I prefer to grow small, fleshy, flavorful cherry tomatoes for drying.
Cherry tomatoes are tomatoes that are small in size but still big in flavor! They are my favorite tomato variety to use for drying because they are already a perfect stackable size! And, they come in a variety of beautiful colors!
Cherry tomatoes come in all sizes, shapes and colors. My absolute favorite cherry tomatoes to grow for drying are “Baby Romas” (I use Livingston Seeds) and “Galina Yellow Cherry” (from Snake River Seed Co-op). Another variety that I want to try out in the future is the Tiger-Striped Cherry-Roma Mix from Baker Creek!
Both the Baby Romas and Galina Yellows have been easy varieties for me to grow over the years. They have always produced large amounts of fruit consistently in my gardens! I usually grow two of the Galina plants and three of the Baby Roma plants.
Last year’s harvest was so prolific that we had more than we could possibly harvest before the frost came! We had plenty for fresh eating, canning whole, drying and sharing with others! Even as I write this post (a year later), we are still enjoying the cherry tomatoes that we canned and dried from last year’s harvest!
How to make sun-dried tomatoes:
- Wash the tomatoes to remove any dirt or debris.
- Pat dry using a clean towel.
- Slice the tomatoes in half or quarters, if needed. If you are using small cherry tomatoes, you can dry them whole. For larger tomatoes, you may want to remove the core and seeds. The tomatoes should all be consistent sizes for drying. Smaller tomatoes will dry the fastest.
- Dry the tomatoes using a dehydrator or oven.
- Dry using a dehydrator:
- Lay the tomatoes on the dehydrator trays, allowing room for airflow between them.
- Dehydrate on a low temperature (about 130-140F) until done. Time will vary based on the dehydrator and the size and type of tomato. Generally, it takes 8-12 hours for mine. I flip the tomatoes about halfway through so that they dry evenly.
- Dry using an oven:
- Preheat the oven to the lowest temperature (usually around 150F for most ovens).
- Lay tomatoes in a single layer on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- Bake until done, flipping at least once halfway through the cooking process. Baking times will vary based on the oven settings and the size/type of tomatoes that you use. Generally, it takes about 2-5 hours to dry tomatoes in the oven.
- Dry using a dehydrator:
- Test for doneness. Tomatoes should be pliable but not juicy. I test for doneness by bending them. They shouldn’t be brittle enough to snap. I then push my fingernail into them. They should give a little from the pressure but there shouldn’t be any excess moisture that escapes.
Once your tomatoes are dried:
Once you have dried your tomatoes, there are various ways to store them. I use a variety of these methods every year to make sure we always have delicious sun-dried tomatoes on hand!
Leave them dried:
The easiest way to store your sun-dried tomatoes is to just put them in an air-tight glass jar. As long as they are dried correctly and do not have any excess moisture, they will easily keep for a year or more! You can also vacuum-seal your jars for longer storage – here’s how!
I like to keep at least 3-5 quarts of dried tomatoes stored using this method. When I’m ready to use them, I simply drop a handful of them into my soups, stews, chilis or crockpot meals. They rehydrate well and add a big punch of flavor to the dishes!
Pack them in oil:
Sun-dried tomatoes preserved in oil are one of my most treasured tomato creations because they are so flavorful! Not only do they make impressive gifts for friends and family, but they are also an easy way to create a shelf-stable tomato product to enjoy after the growing season has ended!
Before I store our sun-dried tomatoes in oil, I soak the dried tomatoes in red wine vinegar for a few minutes. This increases the acidity (and flavor!) which makes it safer to store the tomatoes in oil. Once the tomatoes have soaked in their vinegar bath for a few minutes, I pack the tomatoes into clean glass jars.
Once they are packed in the jars, I pour olive oil over the tomatoes to completely submerge them. I also pour a teaspoon or two of red wine vinegar into each jar to slightly raise the acidity level. Tighten the lid and store the jars in a cool place out of direct sunlight. Bonus tip: once you eat the tomatoes, you can use the remaining oil mixture for a delicious salad or pasta dressing!
Safety Note: Any food packed in oil has the opportunity to go rancid. Luckily, I have never personally experienced this. But, I only make a few jars of oil-packed tomatoes at a time since they should only be stored this way for a few months. Since I keep dried tomatoes on hand, I can always whip up another batch when I start running low! I also pop any extra jars of oil-packed tomatoes into the fridge if they have been sitting on my shelf for longer than 3-4 months. One can never be too safe after all! (Check out more safety info from the Oregon State Extension Office here).
Use for seasonings:
One of my favorite ways to use sun-dried tomatoes is in homemade seasoning mixes! Dried tomatoes can be ground using a Bullet-style blender and then stored in jars. This way, you can add that delicious sun-dried tomato flavor to anything! Ground sun-dried tomatoes are one of my favorite ways to flavor salad dressings and homemade cheeses!
If you are using your tomatoes for this purpose, I do recommend drying them extra long. They will store better and be less sticky this way! For more info on using your tomatoes in seasoning mixes, check out my recipe for Sun-Dried Tomato & Garlic Seasoning! It’s seriously yum!