Kitchen Hacks

The Secret to Keeping Lemons Fresher, Longer

Here how to store all your citrus so it doesn't shrivel up or grow weird moldy bits.

May 18, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

At all times of year—be it in the balmy heat of summer or the brutal slog of winter—citrus provides an electric, refreshing respite. Behind a thick peel, sharp and vibrant wedges are seasonal starbursts.

I, for one, never pause to order an orange from an outdoor fruit vendor, its insides made cold and unexpectedly refreshing by icebox temperatures. I always have spare oranges for snacking and lemons/limes for squeezing into salad dressings or bringing light to avocados in my kitchen. They roll around my crisper drawer or across my countertop, and sometimes get lost behind the jars at the top of my fridge. I forget about them and, as if in response to my negligence, they spite me by shriveling up.

A withered lemon is not only quite sad to behold, but pretty much useless. So imagine my delight when I happened upon this hack to keep citrus fresher, for longer. Like any good hack it’s simple, efficient, and proven to work. The hack comes from the folks at Food.com, now Genius Kitchen.

As you might be able to guess, keeping citrus at its peak is all about moisture. So how do you keep that moisture inside the porous fruit before it seeps into the air? To prevent this process, citrus should be kept in an environment with high humidity. Keep citrus in a bowl of water in your fridge, sayeth the hack. This means of storage, they claim, can keep your fruits feeling—and tasting—fresh for up to three months.

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Top Comment:
“I usually try to make sure the fruit is completely dry before sealing, yet often when removing some time later, there's a film of water on the citrus. I've been surprised mold hasn't been part of the picture. I think the key is that the fruit is intact; the unbroken peel seems to be superbly anti-microbal. ”
— kmcm
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This isn’t the only citrus-preserving recommendation the internet has got up its sleeve, however. Other resources suggest keeping your fruits in the fridge in tightly sealed zip-top or silicone bags. This creates a small-scale humid environment and prevents that lemon from losing too much liquid.

If you do choose to leave the fruit out of the refrigerator, make sure you leave them in a cool room without direct sunlight. You'll also want to wash and dry them thoroughly, and take care not to pile them on top of each other, as this causes too much moisture to collect. Combined with the air temperature that's likely warmer than the refrigerator (though I certainly don't know where you live!), the moisture and heat will eventually encourage mold growth all over the lemons. This is perhaps worse than the dried-out specimens!

As none other than Martha Stewart explains, "a lemon's nubby rind is as good a place as any for humidity to collect." To make sure that doesn't happen, she recommends the following: "If you keep your lemons exposed, dry them with a cloth every day or so. It may also be wise to rotate and restack them so each fruit has a chance to get some air."

So there you have it—a few tried and true methods to make all your lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, pomelos, and so much more last a lot longer. All the better to try them in a few recipes: this pantry-friendly, couldn't-be-simpler lemon pasta; the orangiest cake out there; and this foolproof margarita that's never failed us. They're all calling your name.

How do you store your citrus? Let us know your tricks in the comments below.

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Valerio Farris

Written by: Valerio Farris

Former staff writer at Food52. Current anchovy eater.

28 Comments

kelly May 24, 2020
These recipes are nice, but unrealistic, who keeps all of this stuff in their house? Everyone has ingredients you have to run to the store for. If you live 35 miles from town, they do simply not doable. Who can run to the store for Persian cucumbers??
 
Janice L. May 20, 2020
I use my freezer
as soon as a piece begins to look sad I zest & juice
then freeze in ice cube trays, 1 tablespoon zest and fill with juice then it's easy when you need a couple of tablespoons for a recipe (I also free larger qty for drinks...)
I've been known to just thrown the whole piece of fruit it freezer & zested it later
 
Eleanor C. November 24, 2018
I keep lemons in a Debbie Meyer Green container. They keep several months.
 
Sue G. November 24, 2018
Wash, rub skins with a small amount of Vaseline. Store in cool dry spot. Wash before using, of course.
 
Smaug May 18, 2020
That, or coating it with some sort of oil or wax, certainly makes a good deal more sense than starting a mildew farm in your refrigerator.
 
Risottogirl August 24, 2018
I wash meyer lemons in water with white vinegar, dry them and store them in mesh bags in the fridge. Meyers produce year round so I am usually drowning in lemons from my one little tree.
 
abbyarnold June 2, 2018
I live in California. We store them on the tree, where they last for months!
 
Ilona March 18, 2018
I use Ziplock bags to keep lemons fresh. Works great.
 
Monica B. January 14, 2018
Vouching for the ziplock to keep uncut lemons. No mold as long as they are dry when then go in the bag. I have kept lemons for weeks on end that way.
 
Cardie K. January 14, 2018
When it rains it pours here in California with regards to lemons and rain. Do not pick..they last on the tree a long time, leave stem as its removal exposes fruit to bacteria. You can freeze them whole and make the most wonderful slushes with ice and pieces of ginger and a bit of stevia and water. I think this would work with a shriveled lemon too. Moroccan salted lemon sounds is a great way to preserve, candied lemon peel and give to friends if you are lucky to have a tree!
 
Smaug May 18, 2020
It should be noted, however, that lemons will mostly (they are a bit willful) ripen in the winter, and if left on the tree in spring will reduce the formation of new lemons. Not usually a problem, as for most users a tree will produce way more lemons than they can use, but to be noted nevertheless.
 
Nina January 14, 2018
I learned the Ziploc bag trick from America's Test Kitchen. Key, though, is removing all the air. Don't just seal it.
 
Kathy C. January 14, 2018
My OCD brain focused on her lemons rolling around in the fridge. Or was that just written for “color.” My lemons and limes are always in the same place, the flatter fridge drawer, in their own open container, (on the left side) :) Cut lemon halves are just popped upside down into a tiny bowl or plate and they keep
perfectly.
 
Natalie January 10, 2018
:)... The era of "old dogs" (lol sorry ladies speaking for myself as I'm 41 and really excited about finally knowing how to look after my organic lime and oranges!!) being unable to learn new tricks is definitely long gone xx
 
Greenstuff January 10, 2018
My experience is that withered citrus may not be good for zest, but it has great juice. Plastic bags or wraps seem to promote bacteria and mold growth, while just leaving fruits bare dries the peel but preserves the insides. So, first I leave them on the tree, then on the counter, and then finally in the refrigerator, but never with a cover, including and especially if I’ve cut them in half.
 
Cmd May 1, 2018
I always wash my lemons with my 7th Generation Liquid Dish soap, rinse them and allow them to air dry on a dry towel.... this removes any mold spores that they might have picked up on their journey to your kitchen. I then put them into the meat keeper drawer in the fridge and they keep for many weeks....
 
birdseedkitchen.com January 9, 2018
Has anyone tried keeping lemons in a glass jar (like a Mason jar) either with or without water, instead of a plastic bag? I'm trying to reduce not only our rate of molding citrus fruit, but also our use of plastic.

I'm willing to try both and report back on what works. *grabs some lemons*
 
Terry M. January 15, 2018
Yes, I keep mine in a large glass jar in water in the fridge, works great. I also hate using plastic if I don't have to; I've recently started requesting no straw at restaurants when ordering a drink (including water) for this reason. Every bit helps.
 
Sara S. January 9, 2018
One-use plastics are destroying the ocean. The ziplock bag we use today will out live our grandchildren, who will have to survive alongside it.
 
Winifred R. January 9, 2018
So what's wrong with reusing your ziplock until it's no longer decent if all you're doing is keeping lemons? I wash and reuse them for these purposes.
 
kmcm January 9, 2018
Not having read about citrus storage, I stumbled on the ziplock idea a few years back on my own. It works great. I usually try to make sure the fruit is completely dry before sealing, yet often when removing some time later, there's a film of water on the citrus. I've been surprised mold hasn't been part of the picture. I think the key is that the fruit is intact; the unbroken peel seems to be superbly anti-microbal.
 
Gail June 2, 2018
And I wash them first in a vinegar/water bath to kill any unseen mold. Then air dry. Helps, I think
 
Natalie January 9, 2018
Yay! thanks soo much for the tips I can't wait to try them out :). Happy New Year! X
 
delbor January 8, 2018
So, which technique works better? An article just tossing out things from the internet isn't really very helpful. I would prefer an article with some actual information as to which method works.
Shriveling is only one issue. Mold seems to be at least as much a problem for me. The plastic bag seems as if it would be a mold accelerator.
 
LaMar January 13, 2018
I agree! the two links provided are also second hand references (thisisinsider.com and popsugar) and neither seem to have bothered to try it, either. I went searching for a photo to see how the lemons were stored in the water, exactly (do they have to be covered, or what)
 
mela January 14, 2018
I've just come to this article, and you'll be happy to know that the second link now is to America's Test Kitchen. They tried storing in several ways and reported on the best.
 
Cmd May 1, 2018
I wash my lemons with 7th Generation Dish liquid, rinse them well and allow them to air dry on a clean towel. I then put them into the meat keeper drawer in the fridge [no meat in it] and they keep for many weeks... the soap washed any mold spores so they keep longer :)
 
pierino January 8, 2018
I love this idea. My small allocation of meyer lemons is precious and can't be wasted.