Jul 06, 2023

A Microwave Is The Only Thing You Need For Delicious Tomato Powder

Some of the best ingredients in the cooking world are byproducts of a waste-not, want-not mentality of using or reusing scraps. Think about stock, for example: veggie scraps and leftover bones are coaxed into the backbone of good cooking. Parmesan rinds add a depth of flavor and complexity to soups. Citrus peels get candied. Pineapple trimmings become tepache. Stale bread becomes either croutons or bread crumbs. So what do you do when you're making fresh tomato soup or canning tomatoes and have a pile of tomato skins left over? One handy solution is to make tomato powder.

There are a few ways you can do this. If you have a food dehydrator, pop them onto the trays and let the machine do its thing. You can do it in the oven at a low heat over the course of a few hours. Or, as we learn in a unique approach from former Serious Eats Editor-in-Chief Niki Achitoff-Gray, you can zap them in the microwave and accomplish this in mere minutes. A quick blitz in a blender or grinder and you have tomato powder.

Microwaves work by vibrating water molecules. Heat is created by these vibrations, which in turn cooks the food. The more water and the less density something has, the faster it cooks in the microwave. Now, you may be aware of this, but tomatoes are generally pretty watery (which is going to come in handy). Thanks to their water content, did you know you can even peel your tomatoes with the microwave? The appliance really is the star of this show. To crisp up your peeled tomato skins, place a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate. Arrange them in a single, flat layer. Put another paper towel on top and microwave until thoroughly dry, usually four to five minutes.

Once the skins are papery and dry, it's time to pulverize. Give them a spin in a spice grinder, toss them in your blender, or put a little elbow grease into a mortar and pestle situation. Niki Achitoff-Gray recommends grinding the peels with a pinch of salt and of sugar, which will serve to heighten the tomato flavor of the powder. Don't know what to do with your new ingredient just yet? Stored properly, tomato powder basically lasts forever.

Okay, so you've made the tomato powder. You've saved the tomato skins from the garbage. Now what? Use it to amp up the tomato flavor anywhere you see fit, especially in situations where you don't want to add (or have to cook out) extra water. It's like a tomato shortcut. Throw some into tomato sauce or chili, of course. Sprinkle it on top of your focaccia or sourdough before it goes into the oven, or use it in the dough for even more tomato flavor (and color). Make tomato-flavored crackers or crispy breadsticks. Use it in spice blends — Asheville, North Carolina spice brand Spicewalla, for instance, includes tomato powder in its Kansas City BBQ Rub.

You can also rehydrate it and use it as an on-demand tomato paste. Depending on the consistency desired, you can use equal parts tomato powder and water, or a 2:1 ratio of tomato powder to water if you'd like a thicker paste. Just like with store-bought tomato paste, make sure to cook it down in a dry pan to get those sugars to caramelize.

And, if you haven't heard, 2023 is the year of the savory cocktail. Use tomato powder to amp up bloody marys, then add some to a seasoning mix to salt the rim with. Garnish a Jac's on Bond-style Caprese Martini with a sprinkle or two of the stuff. Go wild — and raise a glass to your trusty microwave.