Kitchen Hacks

The Secret to Storing Lemons to Keep Them Fresher, Longer

Here's 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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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 is a freelance food writer, editor, researcher and cook. He grew up in his parent's Italian restaurants covered in pizza flour and drinking a Shirley Temple a day. Since, he's worked as a cheesemonger in New York City and a paella instructor in Barcelona. He now lives in Berlin, Germany where he's most likely to be found eating shawarma.

60 Comments

Don K. April 10, 2021
Any writer or column that uses the word, “hack,” is a writer or column that I do not want to read.
 
MoMoWack April 10, 2021
I agree 100%. Over "hack"....enough!
 
Cynthia March 25, 2021
Yep zip lock bag works I could keep them for three months if I didn’t use them all the time. But all kidding aside I have gotten to 2 months (when I ran out). Trick with the zip lock is....squish all the air out and then store in a crisper drawer, trust me I have been doing this for 4 years now and no more shriveled moldy lemons.
 
J September 4, 2020
A HACK is putting a police car (lights flashing, box of Dunkin’ Donuts inside) atop the Great Dome of MIT. An idea for how to store lemons is a TIP.
 
FS September 13, 2020
That's a very strange example of a hack ...
 
Erika H. December 22, 2020
*eyeroll*
 
Marilyn G. May 31, 2020
Don't know about lemons but to keep limes fresh and green i wrap them individually in a paper towel and then put them in a zip lock bag. Works like a charm.
 
Marilyn R. May 30, 2020
yes, saving lemons to be good and fresh will be great and I'll for sure try some of these methods! Thanks for a great post!
 
Anne J. May 29, 2020
Well keeping it in a ziplock guarantees moisture, but moisture is bad. Methinks there is some talking out of both sides of the mouth here.
Perhaps squeezing and freezing, and peeling or grating and freezing, for cooking. And just go get some more if you need fresh ones. What could be so difficult?
 
maritoni May 28, 2020
I've been able to keep lemons for over half a year in the ref. I put it in a thick brown paper bag, fold it, put it in a plastic bag and knot it. I change the paper bag when it's absorbed a lot of moisture, which is about 2 months. Ziplock doesn't keep the lemons as long as the plastic bag that's knotted. The peel stays crisp and I am able to grate it on the zester.
 
Lauren B. May 28, 2020
We get bags of lemons from Aldi, and we use ‘em up, no problem.
 
Carolyn F. May 28, 2020
Just freeze them whole. Use as needed, peel and juice.
 
Carla L. May 28, 2020
I am very fortunate to have a Lemon tree in my yard,but the fruit is seasonal and seems to come all at once in Summer. I keep 2 Lemons frozen whole, to grate over my cooked meals that require a little zip. Use in soups,curries,pasta sauce,anything really! Grate it,zest and all,just put it back in the freezer again for next time. These last a whole year. I also freeze the juice,in ice cube trays and then bag em up when frozen. Last Summer I used a dozen Lemons,the rind only,to make Limoncello (found recipe online!) And those 12 Lemons were juiced to freeze afterwards. I also cut a few in slices and froze them to add 1 to a mixed drink it chills as well! I love my Lemons!
 
tastysweet May 29, 2020
Carla L: when you freeze your lemons for that length of time, are you only using the outside for the zest or are you able to defrost it use the whole lemon?
 
Jessie May 28, 2020
Martha Stewart, get real! “Dry the lemons with a cloth every day or so”. You’ve got to be kidding me. Yeah, I’m really gonna do that every day! 😂
 
Lauren B. May 28, 2020
Ha ha ha
 
Karla May 29, 2020
😂
 
SueEllen R. May 29, 2020
Bet she even has fine linen cloths specially handmade, just for this purpose. Livin' the life, eh?! 😂 😂😂
 
Allison W. May 31, 2020
No, she has a member of her staff for just that purpose!
 
Mary M. May 28, 2020
https://medium.com/@marymacvean/cooking-and-covid-19-we-can-all-be-like-beyoncé-663446007df7
 
Foodist May 28, 2020
Buy about 12 at a time. Wash & dry. Keep 6 in crisper drawer in tightly closed ziploc bag. Will keep fresh for about 3 weeks for zesting, juicing & slicing. Juice the other 6; remove seeds and freeze juice in ice cube trays, then remove & transfer to a ziploc bag stored in freezer. Use cubes as needed. My lemons never spoil & are always ready when Ineed them!
 
Carter C. May 28, 2020
Lemons and lime freeze very well. I always have a small ziplock of slices and another of wedges. Add to them your partially used fruit cut appropriately. They defrost in a minute or two and take up a lot less room than when in their original rolly polly shape.
 
NancyJ May 28, 2020
I tried something new to combat the dreaded green mold. Wash the lemons/limes in a bowl of cool water with a large handful of baking soda. Then let dry on a clean cotton towel and put in a zipper bag. The cool water keeps any paraffin intact and that keeps in some moisture. Tried a vinegar rinse, which works beautifully for berries but did not get long-lasting results - so figured, use a base with an acid and see if that cuts the bacteria that thrives on highly acidic fruit. I have been able to keep lemons and limes fresh for over a month!
 
Lynda W. May 28, 2020
Re: zesting frozen lemons - run fruit under warm water for a minute or two. Now, zest the fruit while it is still frozen inside. This gives a solid core to push against while grating zest. Works perfectly for me.
Then, you can put the whole lemon back in the freezer until next time, or allow to thaw for the most complete juicing ever.
 
MoMoWack May 28, 2020
I buy lemons and limes in big bags from Costco and freeze whole with peels as soon as I bring them home, except for about 4 of each that I keep in fridge. Can't really get any zest off of them once they've been frozen, but one minute on high in the microwave (from frozen) will yield more juice than you could get before they're frozen. I can still slice in wedges to serve with a meal,...they're just not as pretty.
My microwave heats from the bottom, and I flip the fruit after 30 seconds. (one at a time from frozen- do not defrost at room temp) My micro is 1000 watts, so you may want to adjust your micro to a lower speed if you have a more powerful micro or decrease the time. (or fruit could explode) They keep for nearly a year in the freezer. The peels protect them. I just throw the bag they came in into the freezer. No fuss! Super economical and very handy.
 
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.
 
Toni E. May 28, 2020
I certainly wouldn't recommend using any petroleum product, such as vaseline on anything you will ingest.
 
jane D. May 28, 2020
whenever i got a cold as a kid, my father would put about a Tbl of vick's vapo-rub (mentholated vaseline) on the back of my tongue and tell me to let it melt... don't swallow it!
i'm still around at almost 70!
 
Smaug May 28, 2020
Wikipedia mentions that "historically, it (petroleum jelly) was also consumed for internal use and even promoted as "Vaseline confection", but details aren't offered and no one seems to be recommending it now. Shellac or carnauba wax, which are widely used on fruits and vegetables, might be safer. Then again, I've always found that lemons keep extremely well without any help beyond their own oil, either on or off the tree.
 
FS September 13, 2020
Rubbing a lemon (or really any kind of fruit) with vaseline sounds disgusting, to be honest. I already dislike waxed fruit, why would I want to put another coating on?