Preserving Tomatoes: How to Make Herb Sun-Dried Tomatoes in 5 Easy Steps
Do you have a garden full of tomatoes that need to be preserved? Were you gifted some from friends or family? Or, perhaps you simply want to take full advantage of tomato season – and snag some local tomatoes from the farmers market while they’re at their prime to save for later? Then making sun-dried tomatoes is a perfect solution!
Read along to see how simple it is to make your own herb sun-dried tomatoes using a dehydrator or oven, in five easy steps! The resulting dried tomatoes are packed with intense flavors of summer, which you can literally bottle to enjoy now – or well into winter! That is, if you can resist eating them all right away… They do taste a lot like pizza, after all. We love to use these chewy, savory herb sun-dried tomatoes in many meals, especially in homemade sourdough bread, frittata, or pesto zoodles! So. Much. Yum.
One of the best things about this recipe is how much it condenses your tomatoes, both in size and flavor! If you have never dehydrated tomatoes before, you may be surprised by how much they shrink. Several pounds of tomatoes can suddenly fit in one modest glass jar! But don’t let this disappoint you. While the size decreases, that wonderful tomato flavor exponentially increases! And I don’t know about you, but any method of preserving a garden harvest that takes up as little space as possible is a winner in my book!
So where does the actual Sun come into play – if they’re “sun-dried” – you ask?
Okay, you’re right… these aren’t truly sun-dried. But it is all good! Did you know that the majority of the “sun-dried” tomatoes you can buy in stores are actually dried in commercial dehydrators, not under the sun? Drying tomatoes in the sun is fairly challenging for most people to do, since it requires really specific conditions (very hot and arid) to be successful.
Here, with our cool, foggy, misty summers, drying tomatoes in the sun simply isn’t an option. They would mold in a heartbeat. Even if you have a hotter climate than we do, any humidity or summer rain would kill the sun-drying process. So let’s hack it, shall we?
- Fresh tomatoes. Small to medium tomatoes are usually best for drying, but any can be used! In this example, we used about 4 pounds of various tomatoes from the garden. The end result was just under one quart of sun-dried tomatoes.
- Fresh herbs. We use a combination of thyme, oregano, and sage from the garden. If you are purchasing them, a small bunch or a few sprigs of each will do. You could skip some or all of the herbs all together, but we personally love when they’re included.
- A large mixing bowl. The more wide and shallow, the better!
- A food dehydrator, or oven. Personally, we prefer to make sun-dried tomatoes in our food dehydrator, rather than hijacking the oven and heating up the house for an entire day, but make do with what you have! We currently have this Excalibur dehydrator, but have used a more basic Nesco model in the past as well.
Step 1) Prepare the Tomatoes
Rinse your tomatoes, then proceed to cut them into smaller portions. If you have cherry or grape tomatoes, cut them in half. That can then serve as your target thickness for the following pieces. As the size of your tomatoes increase, cut them smaller as needed, such as into quarters, sixths, or even into eight pieces. Cut away and compost the tough stem portion. If there are big globs of guts and seeds that naturally detach, leave them aside to compost too.
The goal is to have relatively consistent pieces to promote even drying As opposed to cutting them down their equator, try to cut the tomatoes in a way that leaves a portion of skin on each piece, like you may cut apple slices.
As you go, add the cut tomatoes into a large mixing bowl. If possible, weigh your tomatoes (minus the bowl) so you know about how much you’re working with. This will come in handy when we add the herbs. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, no biggie. It is okay to eyeball it too.
Step 2) Gently Toss with Herbs
Wash your fresh herbs, and remove any woody stems. Allow them to drip dry in a strainer, or gently pat dry. Next, finely chop or mince the herbs. Our choice mixture is oregano, thyme, and sage, but basil would be an excellent addition as well! We like to add about 1 heaping tablespoon of finely chopped herbs for every 2 pounds of tomatoes. Again, this doesn’t need to be exact. Feel free to scale up or down to your liking. I just wanted to give you a ballpark!
Now we are going to add the herbs to the tomatoes. However, I don’t like to simply dump them in all at once! When we toss and mix the tomatoes and herbs, it is best to minimize the amount of mixing that needs to be done, to avoid smashing the tomatoes to smithereens. Therefore, to promote even distribution of the herbs and reduce mixing, I suggest sprinkling half of your herbs over the tomatoes first. Gently toss them – I do so with clean hands. Now add the rest of the herbs and give the tomatoes one more light mix.
This process accomplishes two things. Obviously, it gets our herbs and tomatoes combined. Additionally, the gentle mixing helps to dislodge excess liquid, loose guts, and seeds into your bowl – which helps in the dehydrating process!
Step 3) Dehydrate
It is time to get the tomatoes laid out onto trays to dry. If you are using a food dehydrator, you can either put the herb tomato pieces directly on your slotted trays, or use tray liners if you have them for your machine. We use these silicone tray liners, simply to reduce the mess in the dehydrator. The tomatoes can get a bit sticky, and some of the herbs may get frisky and wander!
Place the tomato pieces skin-down on the tray if possible. To make the most efficient use of space, feel free to squeeze the tomatoes quite close together, but not touching or overlapping. If you are drying your tomatoes in the oven, follow the same process – but on baking sheets lined with parchment paper instead.
Drying sun-dried tomatoes in a food dehydrator:
Load up your dehydrator, and turn it on to 125 to 130°F. The time it takes to dry will vary depending on the dehydrator you use, the moisture content of your tomatoes, and the size of your cuts. This particular batch took around 18-20 hours to dry, but you may find yours dry more quickly! I have a theory that while handy, using tray liners may increase our drying time, since there is a slight reduction in airflow.
Drying sun-dried tomatoes in the oven:
I have to admit, because we’ve had a dehydrator in the house for as long as we’ve been into homesteading and gardening, we have never dried our tomatoes in the oven. Yet I did a little research so I could still provide you some tips on how!
Use a low temperature setting, such as 200 to 225°F. On this heat, folks say that they should theoretically be “done” in about 4 to 5 hours (see notes about assessing doneness below). If your tomatoes are large and juicy, I also saw a recommendation to carefully squish the tomatoes with a spatula about halfway through baking, to expel excess juices and promote further drying. Also, flipping them over halfway through may help.
If you try this variation, please report back and let me know how it goes. Or, if you already dry your tomatoes in the oven and have any additional tips or tricks, please let us all know in the comments!
Step 4) Assess Doneness
As with all dehydrated foods, the more moisture that is removed from the sun-dried tomatoes, the better and longer they’ll last in storage. Therefore, we prefer our finished sun-dried tomatoes to be fairly dry. On the other hand, we don’t want them totally dried to a crisp, like garlic or onions that we intend to grind into powder! We consider our tomatoes “done” and ready for storage when they’re no longer wet or squishy, yet are still chewy and slightly flexible.
After about 12 hours of drying, I start assessing the tomatoes on their progress. This year, I found that the cherry tomatoes (still full of seeds and guts) took longer to dry than the larger sliced tomatoes. In that case, I will often pull the finished ones and leave the wet ones to continue to dry.
If your tomatoes end up a little more crispy than you were expecting, do not fret! Depending on how you use them, sun-dried tomatoes do an excellent job at reabsorbing moisture and plumping back up later. For example, if you add them to sauces, bread dough, quiche, sauteed vegetables, or other meals that have some moisture to spare. That is another reason we err on the drier side for ours.
Step 5) Store
Once the tomatoes have dried to the desired level, transfer them into a container for storage. It is best to store sun-dried tomatoes in an air-tight container, such as a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid. For enhanced freshness, consider using a glass container with a flip-top lid that clamps to seal. We love and use these stainless steel mason jar lids that have an internal silicone gasket, which provides a much better seal than a traditional mason jar lid.
Next, decide where you want to keep that jar or container. Most often, we store our sun-dried tomatoes in the pantry cabinet at room temperature. They have held up for over 6 months (until we ran out!) and we have never experienced any issues with mold or spoilage! However, if you want to play it extra-safe and prolong their shelf life, you could also choose to store them in the fridge. I especially suggest this if your finished tomatoes are more on the wet side. Even more, you could freeze them! To create extra luscious and plump sun-dried tomatoes, pour olive oil over them – but keep that in the refrigerator too.
Step 6) Enjoy!
Well, that was simple, wasn’t it? Now you have your very own homemade sun-dried tomatoes to enjoy for months to come. These babies will bring a bright punch of savory flavor and a welcome chewy (dare I say… “meaty”?) bite to just about any meal.
Try adding your sun-dried tomatoes to pasta (or zoodles!), frittata, quiche, quesadillas, sandwiches, scrambled eggs or omelettes, with sautéed vegetables, on top of pizza, or tucked inside your sourdough bread. To do that last one, simply follow our basic sourdough loaf recipe, and add a handful of sun-dried tomatoes during the first or second “stretch and fold”. Boom. These tomatoes are also killer in a variety of salads, including on top of green salads or in other cold salads – like quinoa, rice, pasta, or potato salad. The options are limitless!
So, how do YOU like to eat your sun-dried tomatoes?
Making sun-dried tomatoes is only one excellent way to preserve your harvest. Another favorite summer tomato recipe of ours is this Simple & Delicious Roasted Tomato Sauce Recipe – which you can easily freeze or can!
If you need a few great recipes to use these with, or are looking for other tutorials for dehydrating your harvests, check out these articles:
- Garden-to-Table Pesto Zucchini Noodles “Zoodles” Recipe
- Cast Iron Whole Wheat & Herb Sourdough Pizza Crust
- How to Make Homemade Garlic Powder
- Preserving Onions: How to Make Onion Powder
- How to Make Homemade Chili Powder in 4 Simple Steps
- How to Make Simple Cinnamon Apple Chips, or Rings!
Thanks for tuning in! I hope you found this tutorial helpful, inspiring, and easy to follow. Feel free to ask questions or simply say hello in the comments below! Please spread the love by pinning or passing this post along.
Herb Sun-Dried Tomatoes, using a dehydrator or oven
- Food Dehydrator, or Oven
- Tomatoes of choice
- Fresh herbs of choice, such as sage, oregano, thyme, and/or rosemary
- Wash and cut the tomatoes into halves, quarters, sixths, or even eighths depending on size, aiming to get similar-sized pieces so the tomatoes will dry evenly.
- Wash and finely chop the fresh herbs. Approximately 1 heaping tablespoon of chopped herbs for every 2 pounds of prepped tomatoes.
- Add cut tomatoes and fresh herbs into a mixing bowl, and lightly mix to thoroughly combine the ingredients.
- Place cut tomatoes skin side down on dehydrator drying racks (or on oven baking sheet). Do not allow the tomato pieces to overlap.
- Using a food dehydrator, dry the tomatoes on 120 to 130 degrees F for about 18-20 hours OR for 4-5 hours in 200 degree oven. Soft, chewy roasted tomatoes are delicious but may not last as long in storage as those more dry and crisp.
- Once dried to your liking, store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for optimum freshness. They should last for several months to a year.
I have been dehydrating tomatoes for years, in fact I have a dehydrator full of them right now. This year I decided to sprinkle them with my new favorite seasoning……Trader Joe’s Everything Bagel Seasoning. They are to die for!
I’m wondering if you have any suggestions or tricks for dehydrating tomatoes regarding the length of time it takes. I’ve done cherry tomatoes before and it takes about 12 hours. I don’t want to leave the dehydrator on overnight, nor get up in the middle of the night to check them. I try to start them early in the morning but sometimes that’s not convenient either. Wondering if you any tips. Thanks!
Aaron (Mr. DeannaCat)
Hi Linda, it really depends on the type of dehydrator you have and how warm of a setting you use to dry them. This batch we made had a variety of sizes and it took about 18 hours. The more flesh the tomato has, the longer it will take to dry. Hope that helps and enjoy!
These things taste great as snacks – little tomato chips.
I will be using this recipe with the herbs and a dehydrator. I plan to fill each jar with high quality olive oil. The recipe says that they would last in the refrigerator for several months to a year. I will be making more jars than I have refrigerator space for. Can I water-can the jars for a longer shelf life? I’ve never water-canned jars filled with oil before. Thank you for any advice!
Hi Paula – No, from what I understand it is not safe to home can oil-encased products like this. The oil and inadequate acidic content makes a perfect environment for botulism. Is there a reason you want to submerge them all in oil? We leave our dried tomatoes in a jar by themselves in the pantry and they do just fine there. Maybe you could do just a couple jars in oil for the fridge, and leave the rest plain out at room temp? Good luck!
Has anyone made these with the instant pot dehydrator? If so, how long and what temp??
Can’t wait for all my tomatoes to ripen so I can try this out! Seems so simple and delicious!
I love these! Do you store them in oil? I have bought some in the store stored in olive oil
Loveeee these! I had tomatoes flowing out of my ears so I decided to give this a try. I used purple sage, basil, and rosemary and the taste is incredible! My dehydrator is quite old and doesn’t have a setting for temp, but I just kept my eye on them and kept rotating the trays and they came out perfect. Going to use them in my bread this week 😍
Awesome! And yes, make do with what you have! Perfect. I am glad they worked out so well for you. Enjoy that bread!
These sun dried tomatoes are delicious and so easy. Love the recipe so much I am trying another batch. Thank you for sharing!
Ok, I tried both ways and here is my report:
First I tried the oven method it took a good 6-7 hrs and when done they look kind of burned. They aren’t “burned” but definitely heading to that side. It seemed to take forever before they were tacky and sun-dried like. They have a very deep, deep red color.
After that, I decided to finally take the plunge and buy a dehydrator. I bought a cheap $40 one- not wanting to break the bank on another appliance just yet. Plus, I’ve wanted one for years and I figure if I’m going to work hard to grow all this stuff, I need to find a way to preserve more of my harvests (thanks for ALL your tips by the way… I’m going to grow so much more next year just to make all your yummy stuff…)
Anyway- the dehydrator was the way to go. Not only were the same tomatoes done in less amount of time, they retained their beautiful red color and seem a lot ‘fresher.’ If I could attach a picture I would. The color difference is amazing.
So to anyone who is tempted to try, if it’s in your budget to get a dehydrator, I say that’s the way to go. Plus, there are so many other uses for it (Deanna has a lot of these recipes!) such as dried apples, onion powder, drying herbs, etc…. I really think it pays for itself. OR if you can’t/don’t want to buy one- borrow someone’s! Ask around, it’s one of those appliances that sit around and people only use every now and then.
Thank again Deanna!!
Hey Sarah! Thanks for being the guinea pig to try both and compare, since that is really the only true way to tell the difference! And I certainly agree – a dehydrator is well worth the investment, for any gardener, or even anyone interested in eating with the seasons and preserving local food. I never want anyone to fell pressured into spending money or needing more “things”, so I always try to provide the oven alternative in this tutorials, but… let’s just say, they make food dehydrators for a reason 🙂 Thanks again for the feedback!