Sun-dried tomatoes are ripe tomatoes that are harvested at the right moment of ripening, cut in half, and left to spend the majority of their drying time in the sun. They are often found in antipasti (like bruschetta), pasta dishes, and salads.
Sun-dried tomatoes can be on the expensive side and might be difficult to found. They also have an intense flavor and not everybody enjoys their taste. So here are the best substitutes for sun-dried tomatoes.
The best substitutes for sun-dried tomatoes
Sun-dried tomatoes have a reddish-brown color and can give the taste of fresh tomatoes year-round: the process they undergo in order to dry intensifies and helps preserve the usual rich tomato flavor. They’re tart and sharp in taste and have a chewy texture.
They’re picked at the height of ripeness and then dried slowly in the sun for up to ten days. Sun-dried tomatoes are used in summer salads or pasta dishes, in stews or sauces, they’re very versatile and can be featured in a lot of different recipes. They’re available year-round, and this makes them a fine choice for any dishes that require tomatoes.
Sun-drying is one of humanity’s oldest preservative techniques and can be traced back to ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia. Sun-dried tomatoes were used in cooking by Native Americans, and they were then exported to Europe. This technique has been a staple for preserving foods and for enjoying certain types of food during all seasons.
The sun-drying technique is a traditional Italian way of preserving an abundance of ripe food so that it can be used throughout the rest of the year. Sun-dried tomatoes are particularly popular in southern Italy, especially in Apulia, where they are left to dry on the roof of houses for several days in the hot summer sun.
Sun-dried tomatoes are used in a variety of different recipes: they can be used as a dressing for salads, as the main ingredient in spreads, or cooked with meat or eggs.
1. Canned tomatoes
Canned tomatoes, just like sun-dried tomatoes, are picked at the perfect moment and at peak ripeness and flavor. Because of this, they maintain their usual sweet taste and balanced acidity, and they are one of the best choices to be used year-round.
The most common type of tomatoes grown for canning are plum tomatoes, and almost every variety of this kind of tomatoes is a good substitute for sun-dried tomatoes. Roma tomatoes are grown worldwide and they’re very popular: they have dense, meaty flesh, and a low content of moisture that makes them ideal for sauces.
The other best variety of plum tomatoes is San Marzano: this kind of tomatoes must be cultivated and picked in a specific region of Italy (in the Agro Sarnese-Nocerino, in Campania) to have the D.O.P. mark that confirms their origin.
There are other plum tomatoes grown in other countries that might be called “San Marzano-style” tomatoes: they have a similar sweet taste and few seeds, but they’re not true San Marzano tomatoes.
Canned tomatoes can deliver calcium and iron, and they can be a good source of antioxidants: they usually contain sodium as a preservative, so it’s better to check the label and find some low-sodium varieties.
Canned tomatoes are an excellent substitution for sun-dried tomatoes, especially effective when following recipes for sauces. The taste is pretty similar, even if maybe canned tomatoes are a little less intense than the sun-dried ones. Another possible problem is that canned tomatoes might produce a thinner sauce, but you can easily fix it by adding some tomato puree.
To substitute sun-dried tomatoes with canned tomatoes, replace ¼ cup of sun-dried tomatoes with ¾ cup of the canned ones (once drained.)
2. Fresh tomatoes
Fresh tomatoes are another excellent sun-dried tomato substitute, being the most basic form of the ingredient you want to use. Tomato is an edible berry of a plant that belongs to the Solanaceae family originated in South and Central America and then later exported worldwide.
Tomatoes contain 95% water and are a moderate source of vitamins (mainly vitamin C). There are a lot of different varieties of tomatoes, and the choice of which one you want to use in a dish depends mainly on the recipe and the result you want to achieve.
Grape tomatoes come in a variety of different colors and tastes, from sweet to tangy. They have a thick skin that makes them hold their texture when cooked: they’re perfect if you want to substitute sun-dried tomatoes in a cooked dish with meat.
Red Beefsteak tomatoes and fresh plum tomatoes are large and meaty and contain a lot of juice, so they’re the perfect substitute for sun-dried tomatoes in a recipe that calls for sauces or dips.
Cherry tomatoes are very versatile and come in a variety of different colors: red, orange, yellow, and even purple. They’re a great substitute for sun-dried tomatoes in salads.
If you want to use fresh tomatoes as a replacement for sun-dried tomatoes, keep in mind that they definitely have a milder and tamer taste. This can be a good thing if you don’t enjoy the flavor or the texture of sun-dried tomatoes, but you can always add some lemon juice if you want to boost the acidity and the flavor in your recipe.
3. Tomato puree
Tomato puree is a dense liquid made by cooking and then straining tomatoes similar to tomato paste and tomato sauce, with the only difference being in the consistency: tomato puree is thicker than tomato sauce but less thick than tomato paste. It also has somewhat of a more intense flavor.
This intense tomato flavor makes tomato puree taste similar to sun-dried tomatoes. It’s a good alternative in soups, stews, or any other dish that requires a similar flavor without the texture of whole tomatoes.
You can also add tomato puree to canned tomatoes, in order to thicken the sauce if you feel like it’s too thin to be a good substitute.
4. Tomato paste
Tomato paste is similar to tomato puree, and it’s made by cooking tomatoes for hours to reduce the water. The tomatoes are then strained out to eliminate seeds and skins and then cooked again to reduce the liquid to a thick concentrate. Tomato paste has a thicker consistency than tomato puree and tomato sauce.
Tomato paste is usually added to dishes that require an intense flavor and a thick texture, like sauces and soups. The paste is usually added at the early stages of cooking. Tomato paste was traditionally made in some parts of southern Italy and Malta by spreading out tomato sauce on wooden boards and then left to dry under the sun.
You can use 1 tablespoon of tomato paste for every 5 sun-dried tomatoes. If you want a richer and more intense flavor you can double the quantity of tomato paste. Just like tomato puree, you can add some tomato paste to your sauce if you want to thicken it.
5. Tamarind paste
Another good replacement for sun-dried tomatoes is tamarind paste. Made from a sour fruit that grows in pods on tamarind tree, tamarind paste, it’s mostly used in some cuisines both in savory and sweet dishes. It’s often used in curry and different sauces, and it’s a common ingredient in Indian, Thai, Caribbean, and Mexican cuisines.
Tamarind paste has a sour taste, so if you want to use it you usually have to add some sugar or another kind of sweetener to your dish. When combined with sugar, tamarind paste has a nice sweet-sour taste, similar to the flavor of sun-dried tomatoes.
When cooking with tamarind paste it’s always better to taste-test your recipe to adjust the quantity of the paste or the sweetener. Tamarind paste is high in vitamins (vitamin C and vitamin B), potassium, and iron.
6. Roasted bell peppers
If you want a substitute for chopped sun-dried tomatoes, used on top of bruschetta or another kind of antipasto, roasted bell peppers are a good choice.
Bell pepper is the vegetable of a plant that belongs to the specie Capsicum annuum, which produces fruits in different colors (like red, yellow, green, white, and orange). Bell peppers have a less pungent taste than other peppers, and they’re usually used as a vegetable side dish.
Just like tomatoes, peppers are native to Central and South America and were then imported and spread through all of Europe and Asia. They contain 94% water and are high in vitamins (vitamin C and vitamin B6).
There are a lot of different substitutes for sun-dried tomatoes, but bell peppers can be a really good choice if you want a back-up option for your starters and appetizers.
7. Tomato powder
If you’re looking for a sun-dried tomato powder substitute, the best choice is probably simple tomato powder. Tomato powder is also made of dehydrated tomatoes, so these two ingredients have a lot of similarities in flavor, color, and texture.
Tomato powder can be a nice alternative in any dish that requires tomatoes in sauce or powder form.
8. DIY sun-dried tomatoes
Another alternative to sun-dried tomatoes can be to just dry them yourself! If you really want to use sun-dried tomatoes in a dish but you can’t find them at the supermarket, you could always buy a sweet variety of fresh tomatoes (like grape tomatoes) and then dry them.
You just have to slice each tomato in half, remove the inside seeds and flesh, place them on a baking tray, and then cook them until they become dry. The cooking time (at 135C) varies depending on the size and quality of the tomato, but 20 minutes usually are enough.
How to choose a sun-dried tomato substitute
The best sun-dried tomatoes substitute depends on the recipe you’re following and the dish you’re making: choose the best alternative based on the texture and the flavor.
Going with dried tomatoes made at home can be a good idea if you’re looking for something that resembles the original ingredient in every aspect. The only downside is that you need to have a bit of time at hand.
If you’re making a soup or a sauce you can use canned tomatoes or tomato powder, and you can add some tomato puree or tomato paste to thicken the result if you feel it’s too thin.
If you’re looking for a substitute because you don’t enjoy the taste of sun-dried tomatoes, your best bet is fresh tomatoes, but tamarind paste can also be a nice substitute.