Kitchen Hacks

The Umami-Packed Oil You’re Probably Throwing Away

It's hiding at the bottom of a pantry staple.

February 14, 2020
Photo by Julia Gartland

Look, we get it. The world is divided over how they like their sun-dried tomatoes—dehydrated or oil-packed.

Turns out our team is also split down the middle. Senior Editor Eric Kim, for instance, prefers them dry. “I love rehydrating them myself in a broth or pasta," he tells me, "or just eating them like candy."

Oil that's liquid gold. Photo by Amazon

I’m Team Oil all the way. To me, dry-packed tomatoes have a texture too similar to dried fruit. But soaked in oil (and herbs and garlic if you’re fancy), they’re plump little flavor bombs.

Secretly, there’s another reason I’m on Team Oil: I really, really like the oil. Long after I’ve tossed every last sun-dried tomato into an orzo salad or creamy fettuccine, you’ll find the bottle of oil occupying prime real estate in my refrigerator.

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Top Comment:
“I like to dust the olive powder over hummus, to flavor greens wilted in olive oil or, say, a salad of white beans and chopped parsley and lemon, or to season roast potatoes, or to deepen the flavor of soups, dressings and sauces, or in a compound butter for sandwiches.... ”
— patricia G.

I’d like to say it harks back to my mom, with her capacity to transform “waste” into usefulness. No bottle of tomato sauce was recycled before washing it out with wine or cream. No old towel discarded: It would be cut up and turned into kitchen rags.

But the truth is, the lurking potential of the oil only really hit home a couple years ago, midway through my making a zesty, garlicky tomato jam. The recipe called for extra-virgin olive oil, and as I poured some into the blender, the leftover oil in the sun-dried tomato jar caught my eye. I decided to add a splash of that, as well, to zhuzh things up—which it immediately did.

This made me think: If using the oil as an ingredient worked here, where else could I put it to use?

I began by adding it to salad dressings, then progressed to using it to stir-fry veggies. I’ve used it to make my goat cheese omelets sing, stirred it into my hummus, and drizzled it over my soup. The real question here is: What can’t you do with it?

Over time, rethinking by-product waste has turned into a bit of a game for me, which only accelerated when I learned how much food we waste each year. Olive brine? Salad dressing. Aquafaba? Vegan pancakes. Feta brine? Take Ella Quittner’s advice and turn it into the best pasta sauce ever.

Assistant Editor Coral Lee—firmly Team Oil—says the only thing she values more than finding ways to save time in the kitchen is finding undervalued (read: trashed!) ingredients that do the heavy-lifting for her. “When all the tomatoes are gone," she says, "I plop other things in—like a block of feta or some lackluster olives —and serve it up—oil and all.”

She’s not the only one obsessed with it. Just this week, armed with a few spoonfuls of sun-dried tomato oil, Managing Editor Brinda Ayer riffed on a warm bean salad. How so? “Heat the oil in a cast-iron pan, then fry one sliced shallot, red pepper flakes, and a tablespoon of drained capers," she offers. "Add one can of drained and rinsed cannellini beans, cook to heat through, then season well with salt." After the beans are warmed, she dresses it with a splash of red wine vinegar and high-piles it on toast.

For Food Writer and Recipe Developer Emma Laperruque, it’s often the last-mile supercharge a recipe could use. “You can mix it with balsamic vinegar for an instant salad dressing or use it to dress a pasta,” she tells me. She also puts it toward vinaigrettes (“lot of red wine, little balsamic, done”) and open-faced sandwiches like avocado toast. Then adds, “Now that I’m thinking about it, I bet it would be so good in chickpea salad, too.” Tried it, Emma. And highly recommend it.

I'm pretty sure we're missing a few choice uses here—so let me know in the comments! Meanwhile, I’ll be right here, stockpiling those sun-dried tomatoes.

Now, for using those up

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Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.


Steven W. February 14, 2022
Many great ideas here, I never toss anything, basically, but you've offered new avenues top using this flavorful oil beyond a salad dressing.
lisabraithwaite March 23, 2020
I've been saving the leftover oil from sun-dried tomatoes for ages! I probably use it in salad dressing more than anything, but you've got me thinking of other ways to use it now.
L March 22, 2020
Throw the whole jar in the blender, oil and tomatoes, whirl and stir in nuts and cheese and you have a wonderful pesto for pasta, crackers and cheese, veggies, yum!
Serena March 22, 2020
One of those "why-didn't-I-think-of-that" ideas. Thanks for sharing. I will need to try this with pasta.
Barbara March 22, 2020
I use the oil leftover from anchovies to liven up many dishes. I keep one jar and then add oil from the tins to it. It's totally yum.
wahini February 21, 2021
I always use the oil from anchovies, too. It adds to cooked dishes, marinades, and salad dressings.
Katie C. March 20, 2020
What about the oil from jarred artichokes. Just talking about it makes my mouth water!
Fidelma March 21, 2020
How do use it Katie C?
Dina S. February 20, 2021
Yesss!! It’s delicious in a salad!
Brenda March 20, 2020
Pickle brine is great in Utah fry sauce.
Fidelma March 20, 2020
When I make Labneh, which I do a lot, I use the leftover liquid from the strained greek yogurt as a buttermilk substitute .... awesome :)
Arati M. March 20, 2020
Oooh, great idea, Fidelma.
AngiePanda March 19, 2020
I bet it would really shine in Italian style pasta salad too, that is on my "to try" list ASAP...or white pizza, instead of plain olive oil. Oh man, so many foods so little me!
Arati M. March 20, 2020
"So many foods, so little me" :) :)
patricia G. March 19, 2020
Cook down and evaporate olive brine to dust and use it as a flavoring salt. I used to save jars of olive brine in the fridge, taking up valuable real estate. Now I dry it and store the powder in tiny test tubes. I like to dust the olive powder over hummus, to flavor greens wilted in olive oil or, say, a salad of white beans and chopped parsley and lemon, or to season roast potatoes, or to deepen the flavor of soups, dressings and sauces, or in a compound butter for sandwiches....
Kathy C. March 20, 2020
how exactly do you do that?
Barbara March 22, 2020
Great idea! I'm so trying it. I purchased a relatively cheap dehydrator and use a mandolin to thinly slice onion and garlic to make my own onion and garlic powder. The stuff you buy in the store is mostly chemicals to keep the powder from clumping and to keep it from gaining moisture. I find that thoroughly dehydrating onions and garlic gives me a natural product, in a small container that sits in my 'fridge for 12-18 months. Just remember that the garlic is still raw, and use it accordingly. Once dry I use my spice grinder to make it into a powder, but you can use a manual grinder as well.
Barbara March 22, 2020
patricia G. should weigh-in, but I'd put the olive brine in a clean saucepan and gently heat it over low heat. When it's hot enough that you can see steam rising from the surface, crank the heat up a notch and watch carefully. I would not use a utensil to stir -- lift the pan and swirl if you must. Watch and wait until all the liquid has evaporated. Remove from the heat and let the pan cool. Use a bamboo brush, or any brush similar to this one to remove the dust from the bottom and sides of the pan. Patricia G -- do you agree?
patricia G. March 22, 2020
We are not talking large amounts here -- so I gently cook down the remaining brine from an olive jar in a small (preferably wide) pan. Which takes no time at all, so keep an eye on it. When the brine has cooked down to a dry paste, I cut the heat and let things dry out a while longer in the residual heat. Scrape the dried brine into a little test-tube or other tiny container, breaking it up into dust. Close container, store in a dry place.
Evelyn C. March 19, 2020
Splash pickle juice into hot or cold potato soup. For potato salad pour a generous amount of pickle juice or olive brine over sliced/diced potatoes while still warm, dress with oil or sour cream for a European style salad or mayonnaise for American style. So flavorful!
Serena March 19, 2020
This is tangential to the present topic, but has anyone read An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler? That book is filled with similar ideas about how to use up leftovers to make subsequent meals. It's a perfect, inspirational read for right now while we are all hunkered down.
Kathy C. March 19, 2020
Thanks. I just ordered it from the library...when they open again I will have something waiting for me.
SG March 19, 2020
Funny, some of the best meals I've made came from utilizing leftovers in a way quite differently from the original meal. I'll check out that book!
Arati M. March 20, 2020
This book sounds amazing. I can't wait to pick it up.
rlsalvati March 21, 2020
An Everlasting Meal is one of my favorites, thanks for reminding me of this
Karen G. March 19, 2020
Of course the leftover olive brine goes into martinis.
Brenda March 20, 2020
Heck yeah! And pickle brine also makes a great martini with a little more pucker.
Alnie A. March 19, 2020
This is news? I've never thrown this oil away; I also use pickle juice and olive brine, smh. I payed for every last drop and I'm gonna use it lol!
Uki March 19, 2020
Great use of leftover pickle brine: sliced radishes! They taste delicious after a day or two of marinating in the brine.
Kathy C. March 19, 2020
My jar of sun dried peppers (not tomatoes) is almost empty. After reading this I won’t be throwing it away and will use the oil as suggested. Why didn’t I think of this. Something my mom surely would have done.

Arati M. March 20, 2020
I'm often reminded of all that my mother would do that I don't! And she's probably thinking: "I told you so" :)
Andrea S. March 19, 2020
Love the Food52 Red Beans and Rice recipe that uses pickle juice, I use the whey from Instant Pot yogurt for no-knead bread, overnight yeasted waffles and yummt buttermilk pancakes. Going to start saving anchovy oil and oil from tuna packed in oil for some pandemic experiments.
Deleted A. March 19, 2020
I always save the olive oil from the cans of anchovies I buy. It's a great source of umami and is excellent when added to any pan tomato sauce. I always have a small jar of anchovy olive oil in my fridge long after the anchovies have been eaten and it has saved dinner when I discover I forgot to replenish my anchovy stock in the middle of making a quick puttanesca sauce. Drizzle a bit over a plate of spaghetti and it becomes a different dish.
SG March 19, 2020
Yes, yes, yes!! This!
sam_goldfien March 20, 2020
Yes it is the best!!
Sunny H. March 19, 2020
I've always used the olive oil sundried tomatoes are packed in (although I also stock the dry ones for different recipes)! If a recipe calls for oil along with the tomatoes, I substitute a bit of the tomato oil for part of the oil called for. (A little of the tomato oil in your breakfast scrambled eggs is divine, too!)
SG March 19, 2020
You are so right! I've been doing this for years. Right now I have 3 jars of the oil. I couldn't imagine tossing it. I add it to sauteed vegetables, salads, slather it on sandwiches, add it to sauces. It truly is liquid gold!
abbyarnold March 19, 2020
Read my mind! I added some sundried tomato oil to a pot of beans and it was fabulous.