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We’re one day away from Thanksgiving! Are you ready? We’re going to spend ours with family, and of course, I’m bringing my signature sugar-free cranberry sauce. I bought way too many fresh cranberries this year, so it was the perfect opportunity to figure out how to make dried cranberries. There’s no sugar in my version, so if you have extra cranberries too, give these a try.
How To Dry Cranberries without a Dehydrator
I actually bought a dehydrator on a whim last year, because I was curious about making zucchini chips in it. They turned out amazing, but for the most part, I still focus on the oven for recipes to share with you. That way, everyone can make them.
So, when thinking about how to make dried cranberries, I opted for the oven. I’m pretty sure the dehydrator would work but haven’t tried it yet. The oven was faster, anyway!
The key to drying cranberries in the oven is to use a low temperature so that they don’t burn. It’s pretty much the same principle as drying anything else.
Many dried cranberry recipes actually use an even lower temperature, but my goal was the highest I could get away with so that they get done faster. A happy medium was 225 degrees, which required only about 3 1/2 hours to dry.
After that, you can eat the dried cranberries (or use them in a recipe!) right away if you have to. But, for the best results, prop the oven door open and leave them in there for as long as you can. At least a few hours is best, or even overnight.
This technique of propping the door open is the same one I used for lemon meringue cookies. In the same way, that slight air circulation creates the optimal environment for drying cranberries.
Other than that, the main trick is not to boil the berries. More on that below!
Sugar-Free vs. Unsweetened Dried Cranberries
The challenge with creating a sugar-free dried cranberries recipe is, of course, the no sugar part. Have you ever looked at the nutrition panel on a package of store-bought dried cranberries? There’s a ton of sugar in those!
You can certainly make dried cranberries with no sweetener at all, but they will be very, very sour. Even without much of a sweet tooth, completely unsweetened dried cranberries are too tart for most people.
I managed to track down pre-packaged unsweetened dried cranberries a couple of years ago. You can find them here if you really want them. They may be okay for some recipes, but for the most part, I think you need at least some sweetener.
That being said, you can use the recipe below without sweetener too, by just omitting the sugar-free syrup altogether.
Making dried cranberries with no sugar is not as simple as replacing it with a sugar-free sweetener. Sugar-free sweeteners don’t dissolve as well, you can’t easily make a simple syrup, and they tend to crystallize. The exception is liquid stevia, but the taste on its own is a barrier for many people.
In addition, not all techniques for homemade dried cranberries work well. You can’t just dry the whole berries (they won’t get dry!) but when you boil them first, they go from whole berries to cranberry sauce very quickly.
It took me four experiments to find the right technique for drying cranberries – no sugar needed, after all. It was worth it! I was still able to use a sugar-free sweetener, with the right technique.
Tricks to Drying Cranberries
First of all, do not boil the cranberries! I mentioned this above, and it’s probably my #1 tip on how to make dried cranberries at home. If you boil them, you’ll almost certainly end up with cranberry sauce.
Instead, boil the water in a pot, turn off the stove, and then add the berries. The residual heat will make them soften and pop gently.
The second key to making dried cranberries is to make a sugar-free syrup to coat the berries. I got the inspiration for this from my favorite sugar-free maple syrup recipe. After you dissolve the sweetener in water, add a sprinkle of xanthan gum to thicken it and make a syrup.
I made a few attempts at sugar-free dried cranberries without the xanthan gum, but unfortunately, they didn’t work very well. The xanthan gum was needed to create a syrup that would stick to the berries well enough.
I also added a little oil to the syrup, to mimic the ingredients in prepackaged dried cranberries. You can use any kind of oil you like. I opted for avocado oil which has a neutral taste and is high in omega-3 fats.
You can make the syrup while the cranberries are sitting in the hot water, saving time. Once they are soft, drain them and pat dry. Toss them with the sugar-free syrup, then spread out on a lined baking sheet.
At this point, some of the cranberries will be popped and some not. They’ll need a hole in each for moisture to escape, so just gently pop any remaining ones with a knife or toothpick.
Now, all that remains is dehydrating in the oven. I already covered the details of that above.
Uses & Benefits of Dried Cranberries
Making sugar-free dried cranberries takes a little patience as you wait for them to dry, but it’s worth it. They are super delicious and lightly sweet, but not too much. You can snack on them on their own or combine them with other ingredients in recipes.
Best of all, I feel like I get more possible health benefits of dried cranberries when making them myself. Much better than those sugary ones from the store! The fresh cranberries used as a base in this recipe contain antioxidants like vitamin E and vitamin C, plus fiber. And, there’s no sugar added!
I’m really excited to have perfected this method because now I can make low carb recipes with dried cranberries! In fact, I’ll be sharing a cranberry salad recipe with you in a couple of weeks.
In the meantime, if you’re wondering how to store dried cranberries, either the counter or fridge is fine. I’ve had them on the counter with no problem for over a week, but you can keep them in the refrigerator to be on the safe side.
How To Make Dried Cranberries - No Sugar Recipe:
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How To Make Dried Cranberries - No Sugar Recipe
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Preheat the oven to 225 degrees F (107 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Turn off heat and add cranberries (do not boil them). Set aside for 10 minutes. They will soften and start to pop.
In a small saucepan, stir the powdered sweetener with 1/3 cup (79 mL) water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 5 minutes, until dissolved and translucent.
- Pour the mixture from the saucepan into a blender. Sprinkle the xanthan gum on top. (It's important to sprinkle, don't just dump it in!) Blend until combined. Wait for a couple of minutes for the syrup to thicken.
- Add the oil to the blender. Blend again until smooth.
- Drain the water from the pot with cranberries. Pat dry with paper towels.
- Pour the syrup into the pot with the cranberries. Gently toss/stir to coat. Be gentle to avoid smashing the berries. If you want sweeter dried cranberries, you can sprinkle additional powdered sweetener on top very lightly and stir again. (Don't add too much, or it will clump.)
- Spread out the berries on the lined baking sheet. Use the tip of a knife or a toothpick to pop any berries that have not popped yet.
Place the baking sheet into the oven for 3-4 hours, until the cranberries are shriveled and mostly dry.
- When done, they are ready to eat if you're in a hurry but will not be completely dry. For best results, turn off the oven and leave the cranberries in there. Prop the door open with a wooden spoon. Leave like this for several hours or overnight, until completely cool and dry.
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Serving size: 1/4 cup dried cranberries
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