Here’s a concise guide to dried fruits and their varieties. Concentrated sources of natural sweetness, they deserve a more prominent role in the plant-based pantry.
Dried fruits enhance hot and cold cereals, trail mixes, baked goods, savory dishes, and much more. And of course, they’re the perfect food to eat out of hand.
Most of us keep raisins in on hand, but consider other fruits available in dried form, including dates, prunes, apples, peaches, pears, papayas, mangos, bananas, figs, cranberries, cherries, and pineapple. Let’s start with this some frequently asked questions about dried fruits.
Dried fruit FAQ
Why are dried fruits are good for you?
Dried fruits are high in fiber, and most supply good amounts of iron and calcium. Some are rich in potassium and magnesium. Vitamin A is the standout vitamin, and many have significant amounts of vitamin C, depending on the fruit. They’re also a great source of antioxidants.
What about the natural sugar content?
Sugar is sugar, even when it naturally occurs in fruit. So the key is moderation. Dried fruits shrink up to 75% of their original size, so it’s not hard to overeat. You wouldn’t sit and eat 10 peaches or pears in one go, would you? One mitigating factor with dried fruit is its outstanding fiber content. Read more about the topic of sugar content in dried fruits.
What’s the best way to store dried fruit?
Store dried fruits in tightly lidded jars or BPA-free plastic storage containers away from heat and light. In many cases, they’ll keep for several months in a cool kitchen. However, dried fruits will be more moist and retain more nutrients the fresher they are.
Long storage time causes deterioration of vitamin C. In addition, if dried fruits are stored in a place that’s too warm, they may ferment and become unpalatable, or even become moldy. If you’ll be away for while, or don’t plan to use your dried fruits in a reasonable amount of time, it never hurts to refrigerate them.
Is it better to buy organic?
Just is it’s preferable to use organic fresh fruit as much as possible, it’s also better to use organic dried fruits when available. Some varieties might be hard to come by in organic form, especially the more exotic fruits.
What about the sulfur process?
Many dried fruits available in supermarkets have been treated with sulfur dioxide, which helps them retain their color. Some of the fruits that commonly undergo this process are apricots and other orange-y fruits and golden raisins.
This preservative is defined as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) by the FDA, but the process is done primarily for cosmetic purposes. If you prefer unsulfured dried fruits, purchase them in natural foods stores, where bulk dried fruits are labeled as such.
Are other preservatives used in dried fruits?
Aside from sulfur dioxide, commercially processed dried fruits may undergo other treatments. These include the addition of preservatives like potassium sorbate so they look glossier and retain their moisture. It’s often used on prunes and figs, for example. This preservative, broken down in digestion, is also GRAS. Read more about its use here.
Another form of preservation is dipping dried fruits in a sugar solution. If your dried fruit looks like it has a coating of sugar on it, chances are, that’s exactly what it is.
Though boxes or containers in which dried fruits have been packaged will sometimes indicate which preservative process, if any, they’ve been treated with, it’s not as clear when you buy in bulk. However, given the modest amounts that dried fruits are consumed in, none of these preservative processes seem to be anything to worry about.
One notable exception: Sulfur dioxide is not recommended for those who have asthma. Read more about that here.
Can you make your own dried fruit at home?
Absolutely! You’ll find some specific recipes in the last section of this post for dried fruit made in the oven. or dehydrator. Here are a few good general guides:
- Make your own dried fruit — it’s so easy!
- How to make your own dried fruit using just an oven
- Drying fruit in a dehydrator
What are some easy ways to use dried fruits?
As a snack: Dried fruits are excellent as a naturally sweet snack eaten out of hand, for children and adults alike, on their own or mixed with nuts.
In baked goods: Raisins, dates, and currants are commonly used in muffins and quick breads; for a change of pace, try using chopped apricots, peaches, pears, or prunes.
In trail mixes and cereals: Combine whole or chopped dried fruits with nuts and seeds to make high-energy snacks. Go beyond raisins and use other dried fruits, chopped into small bits, to dress up both hot and cold cereals.
Liquid sweetener: Cover pitted dates with hot water, let stand for a half hour or so, then blend to make a naturally sweet substitute for agave nectar, maple syrup, and the like. That’s what we call date syrup!
Embellished fruit and veggie salads: Add any kind of dried fruit (chopped or sliced if large) to fresh fruit salads for variety and texture. Dried cranberries and raisins are delicious in carrot salads and slaws.
Sweet side dishes: Combine dried fruits with sweet vegetables like carrots, butternut squash, and sweet potato). Chopped pitted prunes, mission figs, cranberries, and raisins are especially good for this purpose.
In savory dishes and salads: Dried fruits are a lovely addition to grain pilafs and fresh salads. I love them in kale salads and slaws.
Stewed fruit: To plump dried fruits, cover them with hot or cold water or fruit juice and let stand overnight. Try combining several types to make a nice winter fruit compote. Serve with a dollop of vegan yogurt and top with granola for a good breakfast or dessert.
Recipes using dried fruits
Dried fruits are the type of food that don’t necessarily need recipes as a way to make good use of them; still, in the listing of common dried fruits below you’ll find a variety of plant-based recipes to try.
See the difference between sulfured apricots, above, and unsulfured apricots, below.
Figs (Turkish, Smyrna, Calimyrna, Mission)
In general, you can use dried peaches in any way you’d use dried apricots, for which you’ll find a lot more recipes.
Raisins (Thompson, golden, sultana, monukka, etc.)