Drying sweetened cranberries is a great way to preserve their flavor and texture for enjoying year-round. With a few simple steps, you can easily make tasty dried cranberries at home. Here are some common questions and answers about drying sweetened cranberries:
What ingredients do you need to dry sweetened cranberries?
The main ingredients you need are fresh or frozen cranberries, sugar or other sweetener, and a food dehydrator or oven. The basic steps are:
- Wash and pick through fresh cranberries, removing any soft or blemished berries.
- Bring water, sugar, and cranberries to a boil in a pot. Use a 1:1 ratio of sugar to cranberries. Let cool.
- Drain the sweetened cranberries and spread in a single layer on dehydrator trays or baking sheets.
- Dry at 135-140°F in a dehydrator or 170-200°F oven for 6-12 hours until desired texture is reached.
Why do you need to sweeten the cranberries before drying them?
Sweetening the cranberries before drying helps them retain their flavor and improves their texture. Cranberries are naturally quite tart, with a very low sugar content. If dried plain, they can end up extremely sour and tough once all the moisture is removed.
Adding sugar syrup before dehydration helps counteract the tartness. As the cranberries dry, the sugar concentrates and crystallizes, helping maintain a softer, chewier texture. The sweetness balances out the tart taste, creating delicious dried cranberries that are like candy!
What types of sugar can you use for sweetening?
White granulated sugar is the most common type used for sweetening cranberries before drying. However, you can experiment with these other sugars:
- Brown sugar – Adds extra molasses flavor
- Maple syrup – Provides a hint of maple taste
- Honey – Infuses a floral, earthy flavor
- Agave nectar – Sweeter than sugar, with minimal impact on flavor
When substituting other sugars, adjust the quantity to equal the sweetness of regular granulated sugar. Also, larger crystals like turbinado or demerara sugar may not dissolve fully into the cranberries.
Do you need to add any other ingredients besides sugar?
No other ingredients are necessary to simply sweeten and dry cranberries. But you can add complementary flavors if you like:
- Spices – Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, allspice
- Citrus zest – Orange, lemon, lime
- Vanilla – Extract or a split vanilla bean
- Alcohol – Brandy, rum, bourbon
Experiment with small amounts like 1 teaspoon of spice or 1-2 teaspoons of zest per 12 oz. of cranberries. Citrus juices can make the berries too wet.
What is the ideal oven temperature and time for drying sweetened cranberries?
Drying times can vary based on humidity and other factors. But in general, these oven guidelines work well:
- 170°-200°F oven temperature
- 6-12 hours drying time
- Rotate trays and stir berries every 1-2 hours
Keep a close eye on the cranberries in the last few hours to avoid scorching or over-drying. They should be evenly shriveled, dry to the touch but still pliable enough to not crumble.
How do you know when the sweetened cranberries are fully dried?
Here are some ways to test dried cranberries for doneness:
- No visible moisture or stickiness on the outside
- Interior should be shriveled but still somewhat chewy/pliable
- Should not feel squishy or spongy
- Cranberries should not stick together and should separate easily
- Should have a concentrated, intensely sweet-tart cranberry flavor
Under-dried berries will be sticky and prone to mold growth in storage. Over-dried berries will be hard, brittle and less flavorful.
How do you store dried sweetened cranberries?
For best quality and shelf life, store dried cranberries in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Properly dried and stored, they will keep for up to 1 year at room temperature. For maximum freshness and flavor, aim to use within 3-6 months if possible.
You can also refrigerate or freeze the dried cranberries. Refrigeration will help retain flavor and texture for up to 18 months. Frozen berries will last for 2-3 years.
Keep dried cranberries away from direct sunlight, heat, and humidity, which can cause them to deteriorate more quickly.
Can you dry sweetened cranberries in a food dehydrator?
Yes, a food dehydrator provides an easy, foolproof way to dry sweetened cranberries. Follow the same initial steps for sweetening the berries.
Set the dehydrator temperature between 135-140°F. Arrange cranberries in a single layer on the trays. Most dehydrators include timer settings, so you can program for 6-12 hours until the desired consistency is reached. Stir or rotate trays midway through.
The constant low heat circulation of a dehydrator dries berries more evenly than an oven. Just keep an eye on them in the last hour or so to prevent over-drying.
Can you add sweetened dried cranberries to trail mixes and granola?
Absolutely! Dried cranberries are a great addition to homemade or store-bought granola and trail mixes. Their sweet-tart flavor provides a nice contrast to nuts, seeds, grains and other dried fruits.
For homemade trail mixes, aim for roughly 40% nuts/seeds, 40% dried fruit (cranberries, raisins, apricots, etc.), and 20% crunchy grains like cereal squares or pretzels. You can customize with any add-ins you like.
Store cranberry trail mixes and granola in an airtight container for 1-2 months at room temperature. For maximum shelf life up to 6 months, refrigerate or freeze instead.
What are some other ways to use dried cranberries?
Beyond snacking, you can use dried sweetened cranberries in many other ways:
- Add to oatmeal, yogurt parfaits, and breakfast cereals
- Mix into muffin, pancake, waffle and bread batters
- Blend into smoothies for flavor and nutrition
- Toss into salads – fruit, green, chicken, etc.
- Simmer in sauces for meats like turkey or chicken
- Mix with roasted veggies like sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots
- Stir into rice dishes and grain salads
- Bake into energy bars, cookies, cakes and quick breads
Sprinkle dried cranberries over anything you want to add festive color and flavor to! Their sweet-tart pop enhances both savory and sweet foods.
Can you rehydrate dried sweetened cranberries?
Yes, you can plump up dried cranberries by soaking them in water, juice or alcohol. This can be useful for baking or adding to sauces.
Soak times will vary based on the thickness of the berries. In general, plan for at least 30 minutes up to overnight. Use enough liquid to just cover the cranberries.
Bring liquid to a brief boil first for hot rehydration methods. Or simply soak in cold liquids for slower rehydration. Drain before using rehydrated cranberries.
Tip: For a quick cranberry sauce, simmer rehydrated cranberries with extra sugar and orange juice to taste.
With just cranberries, sugar and a dehydrator or oven, you can easily make sweet, flavorful dried cranberries anytime. They make a healthy, homemade snack and can be used to add a touch of tart sweetness to all kinds of recipes. Adjust the ingredients and drying technique until you achieve the perfect chewy, candy-like consistency you love.