Fruit leather, better known as ‘fruit roll-ups’ can be made with nearly any fresh fruit for a healthy snack or dessert that any ‘kid’ will love!
Growing your own vegetables and fruits is rewarding until the plants produce too much. Such is the case for me this year with strawberries and raspberries. While I love eating them fresh, preparing them in as many ways as I can think of, juicing, freezing, and making jams, there comes a time when too much is too much and something new has to be tried. When I reached my limit this year, I turned to making fruit leathers (dehydrating fruit pulp and juice to preserve them) rather than let my harvest spoil and end up in the compost pile. In addition, the finished fruit roll-ups are a convenient, portable, light-weight treat I could share with my kids and grandkids near and far.
Fruit leather gets the name “leather” from the fact that when pureed fruit is dried, it is shiny and has the texture of leather. Fruit leather is one of the easiest ways you can use leftover fruits or take advantage of abundant fruit crops to create tasty and healthy snacks for your family without preservatives, MSG, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, and salt found in many store-bought varieties; if using your own fruit, it is also a cost saver. Only fresh fruit is needed; sugar or sweetener is not generally needed as most fruit is sweet enough on its own. A touch of honey can be added if the fruit is too tart. Diabetics can eat fruit leathers as part of their diets when no sugar has been added using a regular fruit exchange for keeping track of dietary sugars. Aspartame should not be used as it loses its sweetness in the drying process.
Besides fresh fruit, a blender or food processor is needed to puree the fruit completely. Drying can be done in a food dehydrator or oven. A dehydrator is preferred as it is a quicker and more energy efficient process. Dehydrating is an easy and relatively unintimidating way to preserve any harvest for storage or to create tasty snacks year round. DIY fruit leathers are also an easy project for ‘kids in the kitchen.’
When properly dried, the fruit puree, now leather, should have a pliable texture. It is then cut into strips and rolled but can also be cut into fun shapes. Fruit leathers, usually aimed at children to make eating fruit fun, are nutritious, high-energy snacks for anyone. They are portable, making them convenient additions to school lunchboxes or back packs and travel easily for camping and hiking; they are also easy to mail. For more detailed information on making fruit leathers, check out Fruit Preservation: Making Fruit Leathers, by North Dakota Extension Service. Also from that site, there is a download version (upper left green button), Making Fruit Leathers, for additional information, recipes, and printing.
Here’s some additional tips that I learned while making several batches of fruit leathers:
- Spread out the mixture to about 1/8 inch with no thin spots or holes; if possible, make it thicker on the edges as it dries from the outside first.
- A sharp sissors or pizza cutter can be used to cut the leather into strips.
- While plastic wrap or parchment paper can be used to line trays or baking sheets, an investment in the flexible, reusable dehydrator sheets is well worth the cost for anyone making fruit leathers repeatedly. The dried fruit leather peels off easily and cleaning up consists of rinsing the dehydrator sheets with warm soapy water and then placing them back into the dehydrator to dry. They can also be used on for baking.
- Use wax paper, plastic wrap, or parchment paper to ‘roll them up’ and keep them separated. Parchment paper seems to work the best. Tie or tape to close.
- If the puree mixture is too thin add some banana or a tablespoon of ground chia or flax seed to help thicken.
- Spices or flavorings can be added to the puree. Use them sparingly because flavors intensify with drying. Start with 1/16 to 1/8 tsp.
- Use applesauce as an extender if the blend is too thick. It also helps reduce tartness.
- Dry fruits at 130-140F in the dehydrator for 6-8 hours, and in the oven on the lowest temp with the door propped open with a wooden spoon. Check both after about 4 hours and continue to check frequently thereafter to make sure the leather does not over dry.
- Allow the leather to sit for a short time before cutting and rolling.