When tomatoes aren’t in season, it’s tough to find those worth buying. Even if gorgeous red ones catch your eye, their taste is often bland. Conversely, sun-dried tomatoes are predictably tasty, nutritious, and always available.
This article profiles the different types of sun-dried tomatoes, the ways your health can benefit, and provides essential tips for cooking and buying these tangy jewels.
Commercial Drying Methods
Since the 1990s, tomato farmers have two drying options. They can either sun-bake their tomatoes or use dehydrating equipment. In the US, most retailers take the dehydrator route, while labeling their products “sun-dried.” This practice is legal, as allowed by the US Department of Agriculture.
Regardless of how tomatoes are dried, they’re equally luscious and nutritious!
Most commonly, the varieties grown for drying are plum, grape, and cherry tomatoes. These types are ideal, having low moisture levels. Many sellers preserve their tomatoes with sulfur dioxide or salt to prolong their shelf-life and vibrant color.
Types of Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Dehydrated tomatoes can be dry-packed, oil-packed, or blended into a paste. Generally, all three kinds have a tart-sweet flavor, more so than fresh tomatoes.
Dry-Packed Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried-tomatoes without oil have a chewy texture, similar to dried fruit. They often come in plastic pouches, cut into halves or “julienned,” meaning sliced into thin strips.
Oil-Packed Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Oil-packed tomatoes are plumper than dry-packed, being steeped in oil and jarred. The oil makes them more caloric. Some retailers flavor their oil with herbs and spices, such as rosemary, garlic, and paprika. Oil-packed tomatoes can be whole, chunky, or julienne-cut.
Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
Sun-dried tomato paste comes in convenient tubes. Some pastes contain natural flavorings, such as spices, salt, vinegar, and olive oil.
Why Dried Tomatoes are Healthy
Drying ripe tomatoes concentrate their nutrients, increasing their food value. Three pieces of dry-packed tomatoes have 40 calories and a trace of fat, on average. This serving size brims with vitamins, minerals, and compounds that excel in disease prevention. Below are four health powers of sun-dried tomatoes.
1. Ward Off Strokes
Tomatoes are packed with lycopene, a type of “antioxidant.” This remarkable class of plant compounds shields cells from damage to their DNA, proteins, and membranes.
You can actually see lycopene! It’s the pigment that colors produce yellow, orange, and red. Drying tomatoes improves lycopene absorption.
In a 12-year study of middle-aged adults, those with the highest lycopene levels were least vulnerable to strokes. It appears that lycopene averts many stroke risk factors, such as blood clots.
Compared with other fruits and vegetables stoked with lycopene, tomatoes have the most. Plus, dried tomatoes contain more lycopene than raw ones! You’ll absorb lycopene best by pairing it with some healthy fat. For this purpose, oil-packed dried tomatoes are ideal.
2. Aid Heart Function
Tomatoes have several nutrients that promote heart health. For starters, their potassium lowers blood pressure. A quarter-cup of sun-dried tomatoes has more potassium than a medium-sized banana. Meanwhile, the magnesium and calcium in tomatoes buddy up to regulate your heart rhythm.
In 2012, Italian researchers discovered that lycopene lowers cholesterol. Furthermore, it protects blood vessel walls from inflammation, which narrows and hardens them. In turn, restricted blood flow overworks the heart. This weakened condition sets the stage for heart failure and heart attack.
Research shows that eating seven servings of tomatoes weekly can reduce the risk of heart disease by 30 percent.
3. Fight Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer results from damage to the DNA of prostate cells. Statistics show this type of cancer is common in men age 55+. A 2014 study found that eating lycopene-rich foods guards against prostate tumors.
4. Thwart Age-Related Vision Loss
A cataract is a protein film that clouds the lens of the eye. People age 60+ often get cataracts. They cause blurry vision, glare, faulty color perception, and hazardous driving, especially at night.
Macular degeneration destroys central vision. It’s most prevalent in people age 50 and over. This disease occurs when the macula, part of the retina, progressively declines. With macular degeneration, straight lines look bent, colors appear dim, words are blurry, and central vision wanes. It becomes increasingly hard to recognize faces.
Thankfully, having sun-dried tomatoes in your diet helps you dodge cataracts and macular degeneration. Credit goes to the Vitamin A and three antioxidants in tomatoes — zeaxanthin, lycopene, and lutein.
Are you a young person reading this? If so, please don’t dismiss the above health benefits, thinking they only apply to seniors. Beginning now, you can hedge against future diseases with regular servings of tomatoes in any wholesome form.
There’s only one drawback to sun-dried tomatoes — their salt content. Still, dry-packed types tend to be lower in salt than oil-packed. For instance, three pieces of oiled tomatoes can have up to 330 milligrams of sodium. That amount speeds you closer to the sodium limit of 2,300 milligrams per day.
Still, you can easily trim the salt level in store-bought dried tomatoes! Just submerge the amount you need in a bowl of warm water for 30 minutes, allowing the salt to release. Then, using a strainer, rinse the tomatoes in cool water. Lastly, pat the pieces dry with paper towels.
Prepping Sun-Dried Tomatoes
If you don’t intend to cook dry-packed tomatoes, they need reconstituting before use. By hydrating the pieces, they’ll get softer and easier to chew. Below are three plumping options, each taking 30 minutes.
- Soak the tomatoes in warm water, as described above for salt removal.
- Steep them in a low-sodium or salt-free broth.
- For salads and cold dishes, submerge tomatoes in a solution of warm water and one tablespoon of vinegar.
Once the tomatoes feel pliable, drain them in a colander. If using a broth for soaking, save it for adding to sauces. Lastly, blot the tomatoes dry with paper towels.
Sun-dried tomatoes in oil don’t require soaking. Simply remove the amount you need from the jar and drain off the oil. Then, blot the pieces to minimize the oily residues. Leave the remaining jarred tomatoes submerged in oil, adding more if necessary for full coverage.
Note that after opening a jar of oil-packed tomatoes, you must refrigerate them to avoid bacterial growth. When the jar is empty, consider saving the oil to flavor salad dressings and sautéed dishes. If the oil contains spices and herbs, taste it first to ensure it doesn’t clash with a given recipe.
Since sun-dried tomatoes have a bold taste, you don’t need many to flavor foods. Some recipes specify whether to use dry-packed or oil-packed tomatoes. If not, the choice is up to you. Just use the right preparation for the type you select. Here are ways to incorporate sun-dried tomatoes in your meals.
- Add them to scrambled eggs and frittatas.
- Tuck them into crepes.
- Chop up tomatoes and stir into muffins.
- Crown pizza with dried tomatoes.
- Add to salads, dressings, pesto, soups, wraps, and sandwiches.
- For a bread dip, puree them and mix with oil and herbs.
- Colorize homemade cornbread with chopped tomatoes.
- Flavor pasta and rice with sun-dried tomatoes.
- Blend them into sauces and hummus.
- As a pretty appetizer, stuffed dried tomatoes with cheese.
- Use as a baked potato topping.
- Mix into macaroni and cheese.
- Pair them with roasted potatoes.
For more serving ideas, here’s a roundup of 20 healthy sun-dried tomato recipes.
How to Store Sun-Dried Tomatoes
To preserve food shelf-life, keep unopened containers away from heat and light. When stored this way, dried tomatoes will stay fresh for six months.
After opening the packages or jars, store the tomatoes in your fridge. Then, eat them within two weeks.
With sun-dried tomatoes in oil, refrigeration solidifies the oil, congealing the tomato pieces. To loosen them, keep the jar at room temperature until the oil liquefies. After removing the tomatoes you need from the jar, promptly return it to your fridge.
Selecting Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Signs of Quality
Dry-packed tomatoes should look somewhat plump and waxy. Pass on brittle ones. Many retailers add sulfur dioxide to preserve the bright color of red tomatoes. Preservative-free tomatoes are typically dark brown.
Avoid buying oil-packed tomatoes in tins, as they’ll likely taste metallic.
Signs of Spoilage
Before using dried tomatoes, sniff them to ensure they’re not spoiled. Rancid oil smells soapy or metallic and feels tacky when rubbed between your fingers.
Top-Quality Brands of Sun-Dried Tomatoes
The links below take you to Amazon sellers.
- Mezzetta Sun-Ripened Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil, All Natural
- Tutto Calabria Sun Dried Tomatoes in Oil
- Traina Foods California Sun Dried Tomatoes Julienne Cut
- Food to Live Organic Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Kosher and Sulfur-Free
- Traina Home Grown California Sun Dried Tomato Halves, Non-GMO, Kosher Certified
- 365 Everyday Value Sundried Tomatoes, Sulfur-Free
- SUNBEST Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Julienne Cut
Sun-Dried Tomato Paste
Shopping for Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Where to Find Sun-Dried Tomatoes in the Store
Supermarkets keep dried tomatoes in various departments and aisles. You may find both dry and oil-packed types near the jars of pasta sauce. In produce departments, look for them by the fresh tomatoes.
Some grocery stores stock jarred brands with canned vegetables. Another possible spot for packaged tomatoes is the aisle for dried fruit and nuts.
Where to Buy Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Currently, the supermarkets where you can buy both types of sun-dried tomatoes include:
- Whole Foods
Your local natural food store may carry them, too.
For sun-dried tomato paste, shop at an Italian market or online, as few stores sell this product.
How to Dehydrate Tomatoes at Home
You can dry tomatoes in your oven, a dehydrator, or the sun. This article details each method. For a demo using a dehydrator, watch the video clip below.
Drying tomatoes deepens their taste and boosts their nutritional value. Since you need little to punch up foods, you get multiple servings from a given jar or package.
Dry-packed tomatoes have fewer calories than those in oil. Plus, they tend to be lower in salt. However, for easy chewing, dry slices need 30 minutes of soaking in a warm liquid. Oil-packed tomatoes are softer than dry, and you can use them straight from the jar. To lower their calories, drain them well, followed by blotting with paper towels.
Try to eat sun-dried tomatoes a few times weekly. Doing so will tighten your defenses against a stroke, heart attack, heart failure, cataracts, and macular degeneration. Plus, if you’re a man, you’ll have a lower risk of prostate cancer.
Sun-dried tomatoes have countless uses. Let your creative juices flow!