Sun-dried tomatoes in oil are one of the more expensive items on store shelves. But amazingly easy to prepare at home. Here's the way I make them for my clients and my family. It's a great technique for improving the flavor of bland, store-bought tomatoes. Or a fun way to preserve your homegrown bounty. The process is simple and well worth the effort!
Sun-dried tomatoes are a traditional way to preserve summer crops for winter enjoyment. But the natural sun-drying process is for the birds (literally). You can't control the weather. Or the insects, critters, and pets who roam your backyard, patio, or porch.
However, drying out tomato halves in a low-heat oven, dehydrator, or air fryer is an easy way to concentrate all that umami. It allows you to control the process and the seasoning. And prevents any and all fly-by fruit thefts (with the exception of hungry tiny humans).
This very low and slow drying technique is one I learned working in award-winning restaurant kitchens. You truly don't want to rush the process if your dreams are made of chewy, rich, deeply-hued, delicious sun-dried tomatoes. But it's incredibly approachable. And simply requires patience and a little know-how.
Ingredients matter (mutters every chef, all day long). And in this case, it's an incredibly important point to make. Because whatever flavor your tomatoes start with will be multiplied ten-fold by the drying process.
So of course, drying tomatoes from your vegetable garden will give you more flavorful results than conventional tomatoes from the store. Store-bought tomatoes are picked green, and then exposed to ethylene gas so they turn red and soften (I know, hard to believe, but I wouldn't lie to you).
To split the difference when you crave homemade sun-dried tomatoes but don't grow your own, seek out heirloom tomatoes. Or whatever vine-ripened variety your favorite store stocks. Your next pasta alla vodka and your taste buds will thank you.
- Roma, grape, or heirloom tomatoes, vine-ripened recommended
- Fresh or dried herbs such as basil, oregano, and Italian parsley
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt, kosher, flake, or sea salt recommended
- Garlic cloves, for storage, optional
The most accessible way to make sun-dried tomatoes at home is with your oven. But if you happen to own an air fryer, the convection will get the drying done with great results. A dehydrator is of course made for this very purpose. But can be a superfluous and expensive appliance if you don't use it often.
Since old habits die hard, I tend to use my oven and get wonderful dried tomatoes. But an air fryer (or dehydrator) is an incredibly efficient, reliable, and hands-off way to dehydrate any fresh food.
At Bouchon, we'd slice and prep the tomatoes at the end of dinner service and place them on sheet pans lined with racks. Then we slid them into a very low-heat oven before we left (around midnight, on most nights). The following morning, the first chefs in the kitchen would take them out. And truly, they were absolutely delicious on anything. Or simply smothered in olive oil.
You can certainly bake or air fry your tomatoes at higher temperatures for a speedier finish. However, you run the risk of burning the edges of the tomatoes before the centers are completely dried out. So if you're after that textbook sun-dried tomato flavor and texture, I don't recommend going above 180° F with either the oven or 150° F with an air fryer (mine auto-programs dehydrating at 130° F).
And keep in mind, size matters. So if you dry larger varieties at the recommended temperature, expect drying to take between five and six hours. But less with smaller tomatoes like cherry and grape. I always begin checking their progress after a couple of hours.
For slicing the tomatoes, a serrated knife makes the work easier unless you own an incredibly sharp chef's knife. I like to use a small paring knife to carve the stem out of the tops of larger tomatoes.
- Preheat the oven or air fryer. Preheat your oven to 180° F. If you'd like to make them in a shorter time span, heat your oven to a maximum of 200° F (but keep a close eye on them if you do). For an air fryer, set the temperature to 130° F or choose the "Dehydrate" setting (or set it to a maximum of 150° F for speedier drying).
- Remove the stems and slice the tomatoes. Use a small paring knife to cut away the stems from the tomatoes. This is easier to do on smaller varieties after slicing the tomatoes in half. If you are drying larger tomatoes like Roma or heirloom slicing varieties, cut them into quarters. Or even eighths for heftier heirlooms.
- Clean the tomatoes. The jelly in the center of a tomato is where all the umami lives. So I remove most of the seeds and jelly, but not all. The moisture from it will evaporate away and its rich flavors will permeate through the rest of the tomato as it dries. If you do leave the seeds and jelly in, it can be helpful to press down on the tomatoes with a spatula or fork halfway through drying.
- Place the tomatoes skin-side down. On a large baking pan with a rack set inside, or in your air fryer basket, line the tomatoes up skin-side down. Then drizzle them with a little bit of olive oil, if you like, and sprinkle with fresh or dried herbs.
- Dry low and slow.
Oven: Dry the tomatoes in the oven for about five or six hours. Begin checking the tomatoes after two hours to gauge how fast they're drying. If the edges of larger slices are drying faster than the middle, press down on the tomatoes with a fork or slotted spatula to force away any excess jelly and seeds.
Air Fryer: If you choose the "Dehydrate" setting on your air fryer, many brands have a preset timer for the right amount of time. At 130° F in the air fryer, begin checking the tomatoes for doneness after about five or six hours (but it may take up to eight or nine).
Dehydrator: Always check the brand's recommended time frame and settings for what you are drying. Many dehydrators recommend drying between 125° and 140° for 10 to 14 hours.
- Remove and cool. The tomatoes are done when they're completely dry, chewy, leathery, and bend easily without breaking. Let the tomatoes cool to room temperature before storing them.
- Store in olive oil. Submerge your dried tomatoes in olive oil in a glass jar or air-tight container. Then store them in the refrigerator. I find I can keep mine for several weeks, if not more. But use your best judgment regarding any off smells, sights, or flavors. And always follow the USDA guidelines when canning.
- Give the tomatoes space on the pan. You'll see photos of sun-dried tomato recipes where the slices are all squished onto the pan without room between them. But I don't recommend this! Crowding the slices will prevent their moisture from escaping easily. And the tomatoes will take longer to dry or dry unevenly. For best results, leave a little space between each tomato.
- Use a rack. If you have an oven-safe cooling rack, set it inside your pan and place the tomatoes on top of it. Since the slices will be elevated they can receive heat from all sides. And will dry more evenly and quicker. The air fryer is great for this as the tray or basket is perforated.
- Save the tomato flesh and jelly. If you clean your tomatoes by removing the white flesh, jelly, and seeds, save it all! You can blend it all together to add to your next tomato sauce. It's an incredibly flavorful part of the tomato that often just ends up as food waste.
- Add fresh herbs. Lay or sprinkle fresh herbs on top and around the tomatoes before you dry them. Basil adds classic Italian flavor and so does oregano. Italian parsley and thyme are herbal and nice and subtle. You can add dried herbs to the oil you store them in, but the flavor won't infuse as well.
- Whole garlic cloves. Add fresh garlic to the oil for its antibacterial and flavor properties. Peel fresh cloves of garlic and add one or two for every small jar of sun-dried tomatoes in oil.
Frequently Asked Questions
Homemade sun-dried tomatoes will certainly go bad at some point. Storing the tomatoes in oil, well-sealed in the refrigerator with fresh garlic cloves can help them last a little longer. I keep homemade sun-dried tomatoes in the refrigerator for a couple of weeks or freeze them. Always check the date stamped on the container for store-bought sun-dried tomatoes.
You can rehydrate sun-dried tomatoes by soaking them in the hottest water your tap will give, no more than thirty minutes to an hour. Sun-dried tomatoes can also be sliced and added right to the dish. They will soak up moisture, so you may need to adjust the liquid in the recipe (or add a little).
Sun-dried tomatoes are wonderful in a variety of recipes, including pasta and potato dishes, chopped small to mix in with quinoa or rice, or added to vegetable side dishes. You can add them to your favorite bread recipe, or blend the tomatoes with herbs and olive oil for sun-dried tomato pesto. As a garnish, sun-dried tomatoes add bright color, fruity flavor, and tons of umami or deliciousness.
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil are an easy kitchen project with big flavor benefits! The key is to go low and slow.
Vine-ripened varieties will offer more exciting subtleties. But you can truly use any variety of tomato. They're great to keep on hand for adding loads of flavor to last-minute meals.
- 6 vine-ripened Roma tomatoes (or however many of whatever variety tomato you choose)
- Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling and storing
- Fresh herbs such as basil, oregano, Italian parsley, and thyme
- Fresh garlic cloves, peeled
- Preheat your oven to 180° F (or up to 200° F for faster drying). For an air fryer, set the temperature to 130° F, or choose the "Dehydrate" setting if yours has one. If you have a dehydrator, consult the manufacturer's recommendations for temperature setting and drying time.
- Use a small paring knife or similar to cut away the stems.
- Slice smaller tomatoes in half, or cut larger varieties into quarters or eighths. Aim for slices that are all about the same size. Remove as many seeds as you can, but don't worry about cleaning away all of the jelly (it's where the umami is in a tomato).
- On a large baking pan with a rack set inside of it, or in your air fryer basket, line the tomatoes up skin-side down with space between them. Leaving space will allow for air circulation and more efficient drying. Then drizzle the tomatoes with a little bit of olive oil. Scatter fresh herbs around the tomatoes, if you like.
- Place the tomatoes in the oven, air fryer, or dehydrator. Begin checking the tomatoes after two or three hours to gauge how fast they're drying (sooner if you set the temperature higher). If the edges seem to be drying much faster than the middle of the tomatoes, press down on them with a fork or slotted spatula to force away the excess moisture.
- The tomatoes are done when they're dry, chewy, and bend easily without breaking.
- Store the dried tomatoes submerged in olive oil in the refrigerator. Add one or two peeled, whole garlic cloves to each jar, if desired. I find my sun-dried tomatoes keep for several weeks. But use your best judgment regarding any bad smells, sights, or flavors. And always follow the USDA guidelines when canning.
- To rehydrate sun-dried tomatoes, soak them in the hottest water your tap will give until they plump and soften a little. Or warm them in their oil in a small pot on the stove.
On Drying Times
You can certainly bake or air fry your tomatoes at higher temperatures for a speedier finish. However, if you're after that textbook sun-dried tomato flavor and texture, I wouldn't recommend going above 180° F with the oven. Or 150° F with an air fryer. Also, the smaller the tomato, the faster the drying time.
So if you dry larger varieties like Romas low and slow in the oven (at 180° F) expect drying to take between five and six hours (or more). Many air fryers have a programmed "Dehydrate" setting that will automatically load a recommended drying time when you select it. If you raise the temperature slightly on either appliance, drying will take less time, so keep a close eye on the tomatoes during cooking.
The bottom line is that every oven cooks differently. And drying times will vary (our ovens also lie to us about their temperature). So on the first time out with your oven, check the tomatoes fairly often for the best results.
Give the tomatoes space on the pan. You'll see photos of sun-dried tomato recipes where the slices are all squished onto the pan without room between them. But I don't recommend this! Crowding the slices will prevent their moisture from escaping easily. And the tomatoes will take longer to dry or dry unevenly. For best results, leave a little space between each tomato.
Use a rack. If you have an oven-safe cooling rack, set it inside your pan and place the tomatoes on it. Since the slices will be elevated they can receive heat from all sides. And will dry more evenly and quicker. The air fryer is great for this purpose as the tray or basket is perforated.
Save the tomato flesh and jelly. If you clean your tomatoes by removing the white flesh, jelly, and seeds, save it all! You can blend it all together to add to your next tomato sauce. It's an incredibly flavorful part of the tomato that often just ends up as food waste.
Keywords: sun dried tomatoes, oven dried tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes in oil, how to make sun dried tomatoes
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