Tomatoes are one of the highlights of summer produce — I stuff myself with as many tomatoes as possible while they're at the peak of ripeness, juicy, and that perfect balance of sweet and tart. But what about the rest of the year when good tomatoes aren't available?
Sun-dried tomatoes are a great way to preserve summer tomatoes so they can be used any time of the year when you want a nice punch of tomato flavor. How are they made, and what's the difference between the ones sold like dried fruit and the ones packed in oil?
How Sun-Dried Tomatoes Are Made
The process of making sun-dried tomatoes is really no different than how other dried fruits are made. Ripe tomatoes (sometimes treated with sulfur dioxide first to help preserve color and quality) are left in the sun to dry for a few days, where they can lose around 93% of their weight in the process. You can also achieve the same results by drying out the tomatoes in a dehydrator or oven.
Plum tomatoes are usually the ones turned into sun-dried tomatoes, although you may be able to find other varietals and colors. Sun-dried tomatoes retain a lot of their vitamins and antioxidants.
What's the Difference Between Regular and Oil-Packed Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
Sun-dried tomatoes can be found in two forms:
Dry-packed tomatoes have a texture similar to dried fruit and are sold in packages or in the bulk bins.
Oil-packed tomatoes are dried in the same way as the dry-packed tomatoes, but after drying the tomatoes are submerged in oil and sometimes flavorings like herbs and garlic. They are sold in jars — sometimes as whole tomatoes or large pieces, or cut more finely into julienne pieces (little strips).
How Do You Use Sun-Dried Tomatoes?
Sun-dried tomatoes have an intense sweet-tart flavor that's much more potent than fresh tomatoes, so a little goes a long way. They also have a chewier texture, so hydrating the regular ones before using them is important if you're not planning to cook them in any liquid, like for a salad.
Oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes can be used straight from the jar, and the flavorful oil is a great base for salad dressings! Drain the oil from the tomatoes and pat off any excess oil with paper towels before using them.
Store regular sun-dried tomatoes in an airtight container away from heat and light so they stay moist. Store opened jars of oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes in the refrigerator. The oil will solidify around the tomatoes, but if you let the jar come back to room temperature, the oil will turn to a liquid state again so you can pull the tomatoes out.
Which Kind of Sun-Dried Tomatoes Should I Use?
If a recipe doesn't specify which type of sun-dried tomatoes to use, they are quite interchangeable. It's just a matter of how you prep them for your recipe.
The regular ones don't have as much moisture, so hydrate them in some warm water or other liquid first to plump them up.
If using the oil-packed tomatoes, simply drain them of oil before using (but reserve the oil for other uses). And remember to check if your oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes have other flavorings in them to make sure they will work well in the recipe you're making.