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:
“The oil in Trader Joe's grilled artichoke hearts (other stores like Sprouts private label the same product) is also quite nice. I use it for simple herb / feta frittatas. Another one that is absolutely to-die-for is the oil left over from frying onions for Ottolenghi's mejadra. I guess you could say I'm on Team Oil, too. ;o)”
— AntoniaJames

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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Cuocopazzo
  • Bambi
  • EmilyC
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • AntoniaJames
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.


Cuocopazzo February 17, 2020
I sniff a little reference booklet ( perhaps "Old stuff, new stuff"?) that home cooks like me will dog-ear instantly. Who doesn't love using every last drop of a jar's contents? Who hasn't made dirty martinis? More, please...
Author Comment
Arati M. February 17, 2020
Ooooh I love this idea!!
Bambi February 17, 2020
I never throw away the juice left over from pickles and olives. I find this is a great brine for chicken and pork. Also can be used to spice up potato and egg salads. The back of my fridge is always littered with empty pickle jars.
EmilyC February 16, 2020
Team Oil all the way!! I love using the oil to roast vegetables. I'll never understand why some people sneer at sun-dried tomatoes -- they're so delicious!
Author Comment
Arati M. February 16, 2020
100% agree—to me they have such a vibrance, and they're a great reminder of the summer. Also, go Team (Oil)!
Emma L. February 16, 2020
Mmmm I wanna try Brinda's warm bean salad!
Author Comment
Arati M. February 16, 2020
That makes two of us.
AntoniaJames February 14, 2020
The oil in Trader Joe's grilled artichoke hearts (other stores like Sprouts private label the same product) is also quite nice. I use it for simple herb / feta frittatas. Another one that is absolutely to-die-for is the oil left over from frying onions for Ottolenghi's mejadra. I guess you could say I'm on Team Oil, too. ;o)
AntoniaJames February 14, 2020
P.S. I always make my own sun-dried tomatoes in oil. I don't care for the flavors in the oil-packed ones from the store, so I buy the dry kind and pack my own, adding fresh parsley, and finely chopped shallots that I've briefly sauteed with an anchovy. ;o)
Author Comment
Arati M. February 14, 2020
Ah, all of this sounds so delicious. And just like you, I always strain and use the leftover oil from frying onions. Thank you from Team Oil/Brine/Any By-Product.
Author Comment
Arati M. February 14, 2020
The shallots sautéed with anchovy is a genius idea, by the way.