The Journey of Sun-Dried Tomatoes in The USA

Sun-Dried Tomatoes

For over two decades, semi-dried tomatoes were famously used in American cooking. The sun-dried tomatoes that had a preserved wrinkly texture with the umami of the fruit packed within were extremely popular, and the popularity seemed to be growing in no bounds. 

Not only were they extensively worked into pizza, but even mainstream high-end luxury restaurants too started using semi-dried tomatoes far too much. The use of this ingredient in cooling made the restaurant seem hip and trendy.

The ingredient kept getting incorporated into far too many recipes, calling to attention the overuse of semi-dried tomatoes or those sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, preserved to excite one’s senses the moment it touches one’s palette. 

All of a sudden, ‘BOOM’ – out of nowhere, they were excluded from many major places and no longer available on the menu. 

Here’s what happened?

What are sun-dried tomatoes?

Essentially, sun-dried tomatoes are a Mediterranean product that was mainly used in Southern Italy. Tomatoes, however, originated in Spain and came to Italy via the Spanish explorers from the South of America. Soon those in the Mediterranean’s realized the wondrous flavor of tomatoes and also saw how well tomatoes flourished in the Mediterranean. The climate in the Mediterranean was ideal for the growth of tomatoes, and thus, they started to grow tomatoes in exceeding amounts. Today, Italian cuisine is synonymous with tomatoes and the different items made using tomatoes at the center of its recipe. 

These ripe tomatoes were gorgeous and tasty – needing to be preserved for harsher and colder climates of the Mediterranean in the winter. This need gave birth to tomatoes being dried out in the sun during summers on rooftops and then being preserved in olive oil. The process of drying brought out the sour, pungent, and intense taste of the tomatoes. They were both sweet and tart in flavor. This process soon became a widespread event across Italy, and many more started to dry out their tomatoes for use in chillier winter months.

Import to the USA & other nations

The answer to where to buy sun-dried tomatoes? Soon became – import them from Italy. Back in the 1980s, many specialty food stores in the USA started to import products and ingredients from the Mediterranean as there were a major shift and awakening in the West, wherein the Mediterranean diet was sought after and gaining popularity. It was shown around in magazines and even cooking shows. This demand for the Mediterranean diet ushered in many home cooking tutorials on TV shows that celebrated Mediterranean diets such as capers, anchovies, olives, and semi dried tomatoes. In order to preserve semi-dried tomatoes, these sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil were entirely submerged to retain their umami and absorb the pungency of olive oil. 

The Growth of Semi-Dried Tomatoes

Soon enough, the exotic nature of these tomatoes called for massive growth and demand for semi-dried tomatoes in the USA. All major restaurants began to make servings of recipes that included semi-dried tomatoes. They could be used in almost anything and put anywhere, and people enjoyed how it tasted. This started an era of increasing demand for the product. 

The Almost Death of Semi-Dried Tomatoes

As a result of this sudden boom in the market for semi-dried tomatoes, the trend began to overtake, and indigenous farmers saw the profit in trying to take a piece of the profit from this demand. They began to make their version of semi-dried tomatoes that stripped the tomatoes of its entire flesh with no flavor left to taste. This influx of demand created, then, was flooded in the supermarkets with these American made semi-dried tomatoes that didn’t taste one quarter as close to the original Italian taste.  In order to avoid such a case of experiencing sub-standard semi-dried tomatoes, always purchase them from authentically Italian sourced online stores. Those are the best sun-dried tomatoes you could ever wish for unless, of course, you make the trip to the Mediterranean yourself.