Fruit Leather Troubleshooting Guide: Fixes for 7 Common Problems
Fruit leather is a wonderful way to preserve fruit in a delicious and easy-to-eat form, but if you have made it you know it is not as easy as it first appears. Chances are you have run into one or more of the following problems and that is why I have written this troubleshooting guide, to help you over those hurdles so that you can make big batches of delicious fruit leather easily and efficiently.
We are going to go over 7 common problems you may have encountered with fruit leather:
- Specialized equipment (silicone fruit leather mats and molds)
- Uneven drying
- Crispy, brittle fruit leather
- Flavor too tart or bland and boring
- Too much work to make
- Mold and insect spoilage
- Best ways to store
I have been making batch after batch of fruit leather for my family for decades. I have made all the mistakes. I will show you how to avoid them and produce yummy fruit leather for your family with less work. You might even have to hide it! (I share my silly story on hiding fruit leather from my kids in the video.)
1. Specialized Equipment
For the purposes of this post, I am assuming you have (or are planning to purchase) an electric dehydrator. While fruit leather can be made in a home oven, I will not be addressing that here. If that is something you are interested in, please leave a comment and let me know.
Do you need special mats and trays to make fruit leather? While they may be nice to have (I don’t have them), they are NOT necessary! You can use unbleached parchment paper to line your dehydrator trays. I show just how easy this is in the video.
Parchment paper is readily available in grocery stores next to the plastic wrap and aluminum foil. I recommend using unbleached parchment paper.
2. Uneven Drying
You check on your dehydrator mid-way through drying and notice that some parts are thick and sticky, while the edges are already dry. To counteract this you can do three things:
- Use an offset spatula to spread the puree on square dehydrator trays such as the Excalibur; use an angled pie server for round dehydrator trays or trays with sides such as Nesco.
- Spread the fruit puree about 1/4-inch (a little over .5 cm) thick and – here is the key – spread it slightly thinner in the center and slightly thicker at the edges.
- Rotate the dehydrator trays midway through the drying process. Turn them around front to back and/or swap shelf positions from top or bottom with middle. (If this sounds confusing, it is explained in the video.)
3. Crispy, Brittle Fruit Leather
If you are faced with one or more over-dried sheets of fruit leather, you can almost always rescue them with a clean spray bottle of clean water. Simply spray the sheet evenly with a fine mist of water and let it rest a few minutes. Come back and mist again. Repeat until fruit leather turns pliable.
There are other reasons fruit leather can turn brittle. Using fully ripe or slightly overripe fruit produces a watery puree with too much liquid that easily turns crisp. Here are three ways to reverse this:
- Add applesauce to thicken the fruit puree. Aim for a nice, thick fruit smoothie texture.
- Add bananas. Choose yellow ripe bananas without many freckles to avoid the taste of banana overpowering the other fruit.
- Add instant pectin. 1/2 teaspoon instant pectin per 2 cups of puree lends body and a nice jammy quality to fruit leather. Instant pectin is available with the canning supplies. You’re looking for the type used to make freezer jam.
Another strategy for dealing with crispy fruit leather is to accept it. Simply crumble it into shards and place in a jar – enjoy like candy! (Thank you, Margaret Crow for your experience with this!)
4. Flavor too tart or bland and boring
Taste the puree and adjust the flavor before drying.
Remedies for tart or sour-tasting fruit leather:
- Add applesauce or bananas to sweeten.
- Add a little honey, maple syrup, or sugar (start with 1 teaspoon per cup of fruit puree; taste and adjust)
Remedies for bland or boring flavored fruit leather:
- Add lemon juice or another citrus fruit. Start with 1/2 teaspoon per cup of puree and let your taste buds guide you! Learn how to grow lemon trees from seeds!
- Add ascorbic acid. Ascorbic acid is simply vitamin C in crystalline form. Try 1/4 teaspoon per cup of puree.
5. Too much work to make
I feel this. Most recipes are written for one or two sheets of fruit leather, which hardly seems worth the effort. You end up with so few servings! This is an easy fix: make more! After an experimental batch or two to get the hang of making fruit leather I encourage you to fill your dehydrator whenever possible. If your dehydrator has 5 trays, make 5 trays; if it has 9 trays, make 9 trays. And so on. You get the picture.
Some tips to help you fill your dehydrator:
- Watch my Best Fruit Leather Recipe video. It is loaded with tips and wisdom I learned through experience so that you can make premium quality fruit leather with less effort, waste, and mistakes.
- Know that square dehydrator sheets hold 2 cups of fruit puree, while round trays hold 1 1/2 cups. This will help you calculate how many cups of puree you need to fill your dehydrator. It takes 18 cups to fill a 9-tray Excalibur and 12 cups for an 8-tray Nesco.
Some thoughts on ROI
In regard to ROI (return on investment), you might want to do a price comparison. Check the cost of fruit leather at a store in your area and remember to compare apples for apples. If a serving of commercial fruit leather weighs 1 oz and costs $1.37 and your homemade serving weighs 2 oz., double it for a comparable price of $2.74. Is your product organic? Compare with an organic product. In the video I ask you to estimate/guess the value of a full dehydrator load of fruit leather. You will be shocked!
Fruit leather makes a wonderful gift and in the video I discuss very simple ways to package and present your homemade fruit leather that make it gift-worthy.
6. Mold and Insect Spoilage
These two are sad – but totally preventable.
The reason for mold is that the fruit leather was not dry enough or was dried too slowly. Dehydrator manufacturers recommend drying fruit leather at 135F (57C).
Finished fruit leather should be flexible and dry to the touch. It should not have sticky patches. Once your fruit leather has been removed from the dehydrator and placed in jars for storage, you can prevent mold by conditioning it.
Conditioning helps even out the moisture content between individual pieces. Here’s how to do it:
- Place fruit leather servings in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Place the jar in the cupboard for one week.
- Check the jar daily. If you see condensation forming inside the jar, this means there is excess moisture inside. You will need to put the fruit leather back in the dehydrator for 15-30 minutes to complete drying.
- Once re-dried, let the fruit leather cool completely and then place in the jar and repeat the conditioning process. Put the jar back in the cupboard for several days and check daily for signs of moisture.
- Then you can move the jar to your pantry to store it.
Now let’s talk about insects in fruit leather. How did they get in there? Most likely it is because the fruit leather sat in a turned-off dehydrator for more than a couple of hours and it was not done drying. This is when insects move in. Heat and moving air deter insects. Any time food sits in a dehydrator that is turned off is an open invitation.
Can you circumvent an insect problem if your dehydrator sits unattended for any length of time? As a matter of a fact, yes! Pasteurizing is the answer. Here’s how to pasteurize fruit leather:
- Place fruit leather servings in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
- Place jar in the freezer for 3 days. This will kill any potential insect eggs that may be present.
- Once the 3 days are up, you may remove the fruit leather from the freezer to your pantry for storage. Or store it in the freezer.
7. Best Ways to Store
- Cupboard or pantry. Fruit leather, properly dried, is a shelf-stable food. It will last in excellent quality for a year at 60F (16C) and for 6 months at 80F (27C), according to the National Center for Home Food Preservation (NCHFP). Glass jars with tight-fitting lids are recommended.
- Fridge or freezer. My friend Cindy Williams has conducted informal testing of fridge and freeze storage and found that fruit leather holds its quality very well for several years.
- Remember, fruit leather does not “go bad” after a year. Flavor, color, and nutrients fade with time, but it will still be good to eat.
I sincerely hope this Troubleshooting Guide was helpful to you. If you came here searching for an answer to a fruit leather problem, would you do me the favor of letting me know in the comments? I would appreciate it.