COLUMN: Fruit leather rolls up flavor in a portable snack

By Candace Nelson - 6:25 AM

Here's my latest column for the Charleston Gazette-Mail: If you’re a ‘90s kid like me, your first exposure to “fruit leather” may have come in the form of the brightly colored Fruit Roll-Ups.

The General Mills snack hit grocery stores in 1983, and it came in the form of a flat sheet rolled up with a cellophane backing. Sometimes they featured shapes that could be punched out or tattoos that could transfer to your tongue. Also of note are the sister snacks: Fruit by the Foot and Gushers.

These sweet, fruity snacks are derived from a more natural version called fruit leather. Fruit leather is a chewy, dried fruit product that is made from pouring puréed fruit onto a flat surface and allowing it to dry. It likely originated in the Middle East but has been found in various forms across the world.

The preserved fruit snack allows for fresh fruits to be enjoyed months later - especially important for those who have historically lived in Appalachia and experienced harsh winter seasons when fresh fruit was scarce.

Appalachia’s diverse climate allows for the growth of a wide variety of fruit - like apples, peaches and berries - which can be made into fruit leather. It can be made using traditional methods or modern dehydrators and can be flavored with a wide variety of fruits, spices, and sweeteners.

The healthy and nutritious snack has a long history in the region and continues to be a popular snack today. And many of the same reasons that made fruit leather popular in the region historically are reasons it remains popular today: It’s made with easy-to-find ingredients, it’s versatile and it is the perfect snack to take hiking or on road trips because it is preserved and doesn’t require refrigeration.

It’s just a bonus that fruit leather has a historical connection to Appalachia. Using local foraged or farmed fruits can strengthen that connection and provide a tie to the land. Whether you use a Golden Delicious apple or peaches from your back yard, fruit leather can give you a taste of home - all year round.

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