I remember the first time I had a sun-dried tomato was on an overseas flight in 2010 coming back from Italy. At the time, I was not a fan of raw tomatoes and was pretty skeptical of one that was dark and wrinkly. I’m not a picky eater what-so-ever but tomatoes are one of the very few things that get to me.
A friend I was sitting next to on the plane loved them and encouraged me to give them a chance. They were served with roasted chicken and pasta so I forked the sun-dried tomato with a bite of chicken and it was like a movie moment from Ratatouille.
Swirls of red danced in my head with that first burst of flavor followed by the chewy mouth-feel of the succulent and tender textures. I was in awe that there was a legitimate form of the tomato that I wouldn’t hesitate to grab another bite of.
It’s strange because when I was little my dad grew tomatoes and I used to eat them like apples. But as I got older and my taste buds changed I found fresh tomatoes disgusting.
So that left me asking, why do sun-dried tomatoes taste different from fresh tomatoes? I’ve got a few answers! But first, let’s address another question.
Why Do Some People Love Sun-Dried But Not Fresh?
The simple answer is chemistry. Tomatoes house around 400 volatile compounds. Each of these compounds is what makes up the tomato’s smell and taste. Though their volatility is somewhat of a mystery because no one really knows which of these many aromatic compounds creates that “tomato flavor”.
Where with a banana, you can taste and smell it and say, “that’s a banana!”, tomatoes are a little more complex.
There are even some people who are assumed to be genetically predisposed to be sensitive to certain compounds in tomatoes and that’s why they can’t stand even the smell of one.
Tomatoes also have a large amount of savory glumatic acid and aromatic sulfur which some people associate with meat making their bite of a fresh tomato taste like blood. These compounds are also what causes tomatoes to smell so bad when they rot.
Another reason why you may not enjoy fresh tomatoes is the way they’re grown. The best place to buy delicious fresh tomatoes are at your local farmers markets or trusty market store. Here you can often find juicy heirlooms, sun gold, yellow pear, brandy wine and green zebra tomatoes. All packed with flavor and beautiful displayed in bright colors.
Whereas commercially grown tomatoes tend to lack flavor. To me they’re bland and too watery compared to a homegrown tomato. Commercial tomatoes are picked when they’re a “mature green”. This means they won’t bruise easily in travel and will still develop off the vine, but because they’re not left to ripen on the vine, they lose a lot of flavor.
This is why you might find yourself adding salt and pepper to eat slice to try to enhance the flavor.
However, you can find some decent tomatoes that are commercially grown in stores. These will often be smaller tomatoes that are allowed to stay on the vine longer and are shipped in packaging like cherry tomatoes, grape, kumato, campari on the vine, beef steak and roma.
For sun-dried tomatoes, I often grab cherry, grape, campari or roma.
How Sun-Dried Tomatoes Are Made
So you’ve got your cherry, grape, campari or roma tomatoes and you’re ready to dry them. Traditionally, tomatoes were sun-dried in Italy on roof tops to be literally dried by the sun. And you can still do this! It just comes with a few challenges.
If you live in a sunny, dry climate this method could work for you. But living in the south where we have a lot of humidity is not ideal. Another factor is mother nature. If you aren’t paying attention and you get a brief rain shower this could slow down your drying process or ruin it altogether. And lastly there’re critters and bugs. To avoid anything messing with your drying process you could alleviate it by covering your tomatoes with a cheesecloth. You would also need to bring them in every night and set them out every morning.
The easiest way to do it is with a dehydrator or in the oven. I don’t have a dehydrator so I always opt for the oven!
So that brings us back to, why do sun-dried tomatoes taste different from fresh tomatoes?
When drying tomatoes the molecules go through a process of concentration which results in an intense flavor. Kind of like what happens to grapes when they’re dried to raisins or fresh coconut when they’re dried to toasted coconut flakes. It all packs a lot more flavor after the drying process.
How to Make Them At Home
Making them at home is easy. Like I mentioned earlier, I typically buy cherry, grape, campari or roma. I’ve tested all of these to see what they results were and I would rank them from best to good with cherry the best, then campari, grape then roma.
Traditionally plum tomatoes are used but I’ve yet to get my hands on them!
Start by preheating your oven to 200F. Then slice all of your tomatoes in half and place them in a mixing bowl. Once that’s done, I like to toss a little olive oil and some fresh chopped oregano.
Then transfer them to a baking sheet lined (or unlined) with foil.
Make sure all of your tomatoes are sliced side up and sprinkle them in kosher salt.
Let them bake/dry for 2 hours at 200F. Then pull them out and press them with the back of a spatula. Be careful not to get splattered!
Then pop them in for another hour checking on them at the 30min mark. After 30min if they look good and dried go ahead and pull them out.
I like to store mine in a mason jar and pour oil in with other fresh herbs and give it a soft shake to make sure all the tomatoes are coated.
These homemade tomatoes should last 3 to 7 days or if you properly can them they can last 3 to 4 months in the fridge before opening.
How to Use Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes are delicious with many dishes and are enhanced with many pairings.
I like to put mine on summer salads, in pesto pasta dishes and definitely with my homemade gnocchi dishes. They’re a great side and topping!
And that’s the run down on sun-dried tomatoes. Do you prefer sun-dried over fresh? Have you ever made your own at home?
Let me know down below in the comments!
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Remember to be brave in trying new things and always cook with a dash of love!
Until next time,
Haley | Creator of Haley’s Kitchen