Ideas for Preserving Citrus Fruit

Reader Contribution by Tammy Kimbler

We are huge fans of citrus fruit at our house. My partner devours grapefruits. We can’t keep my daughter stocked in blood oranges. Me? I love it all. Key limes, Meyer lemons, kumquats, pumelos, Seville oranges, mandarines, kaffir limes, citrons – the list of citrus is truly long.  I have yet to meet a fruit that I didn’t like.

December thru March is citrus season in the United States. From California, across the southern states to Florida, the citrus fruit harvest is well underway. Ironically, although we associate citrus trees with warm weather, the signature bright colors actual require a cool winter (but not freezing) for their skin to turn. The maturity of the fruit, however, is independent from their color. Green-skinned citrus is often found in tropical climates.

Originating somewhere between Australia and New Guinea [1], citrus has spread and hybridized repeatedly around the world. While we often think of citrus for eating out of hand, many citrus varieties are grown specifically for their zest, oil, leaves and of course, vitamin C (citric acid). Kafir limes, for example, are primarily grown for the flavor their leaves impart in Southeast Asian curries. Citrus is also grown as an ornamental shrub (I have one on my porch) both indoors and out. During the Renaissance many famous royal gardens featured “Orangeries” [2] in greenhouses. Our own George Washington had an expansive Orangery at Mount Vernon that even Thomas Jefferson envied. [3]

With such a short season, we try to preserve as much citrus as we can for the rest of the year. Although you can still get grapefruit, lemons and oranges in July, they’ve usually been in cold storage or been shipped from South America. Preserving citrus is pretty easy. Here are some flexible techniques you can try with almost any type of citrus, recipe links included. Challenge yourself to change out the types fruit in these recipes and create flavors all your own.

Preserving Citrus with Salt

Salt and citrus may seem at odds, but bitter, sour, sweet and salty make up four of the five legs of balanced flavors (the other being umami.) Preserved lemons are probably the best known salt-preserved citrus, but there is the also the lesser known Indian lime pickles. Each technique uses the whole fruit, cut up and packed in salt. The juice comes out and makes a salty brine, softening the fruit. Indian lime pickles go further and add aromatics and spices to the mixture. Both can be used to liven up dressings, sauces, curries, rice (preserved lemons are traditional in Morocan tagines), fish and poultry. I like to add preserved lemon to apple pie. Lime pickle goes into my Indian curried potatoes. Another salt preservations technique is citrus salt. It’s amazing in cooking and baking, and so easy to make. You’ll smack yourself if you’ve purchased it at the store. Consisting of nothing more than citrus zest and kosher or sea salt, I use citrus salt as a finisher sprinkled on salads, meats, popcorn and roasted vegetables as well as in salted desserts like ice cream, chocolates and cookies.

Citrus Salts at the Local Kitchen Blog
Keylime Lime Pickle at One tomato, two tomato
Preserved Lemons at The Farmers Feast

Preserving Citrus with Acid

Isn’t citrus already acidic? From sweet pickles to shrubs, citrus only seems to be enhanced by vinegar. The methods are a snap. For pickles, simply replace small whole citrus like kumquats, key limes or clementines for the fruit in your sweet pickled recipe. Think pickled peaches. I think I’ll replace my martini olive with a pickled kumquat. For shrubs, which are a delicious drinking vinegar, the citrus juice and/or peel may be used. You simply make a simple syrup with the juice and sugar, then add an equal amount of vinegar to syrup. Toss in the peel if desired for extra kick. The result is a delicious liquid that can be mixed with water, soda water, sparkling wine, or in other cocktails. I love it mixed with champaign. Yum.

Pickled Kumquats at Vanilla Garlic
Blood Orange Shrub at Food in Jars

Preserving Citrus with Alcohol

This is a classic technique. The number of citrus infusions, liqueurs and fermented concoctions is prolific! Search the internet and you will find numerous recipes. The easiest of these are citrus infusions and liqueurs, which require little to no cooking. Mixing citrus juice and peel with spirits and/or wine and sometimes with added sugar, results in complex, often deeply flavored libations. Let sit for a month or so, strain and drink. Annually I make a bunch alcoholic citrus recipes to use throughout the year, including orange triple sec, grapefruit gin and lemon limoncello.

Grapefruit Infused Gin at One Tomato, Two Tomato
Vin d’Orange at The Kitchn
Limoncello at Food Preservation

Preserving Citrus with Sugar

A natural partner to the sour and bitter citrus, sugar preserves citrus beautifully. From jams and candying to citrus sugars, every part of the fruit can be preserved with sugar. While all the techniques are fairly simple to do, they take can range from an hour to a week to make. Marmalade is probably the best know of sugar preservation methods, where peel and juice are turned into bitter sweet jeweled citrus jam. Then there are citrus curds, where juice, sugar and egg yolks merge to create a luscious, creamy spread. Classic candied citrus includes thin orange and grapefruits peels, whole clementines and thick fragrant citron wedges. Citrus sugar, like citrus salt is just the zest blitzed with sugar. Your sugar cookies and sugar dusted scones will never be the same. Use course raw sugar for better texture.

Glazed Citron at David Lebovitz
Seville Blood Orange Marmalade at One tomato, two tomato
Kaffir Lime and Lemon Curd at Vanillyn
Meyer Lemon Sugar at Cravings of a Lunatic 

Preserving Citrus with Dehydrating

Dehydrating is an excellent way to preserve citrus flavors. While you’re never going to get back the juicy goodness of an orange, dehydrating keeps all the flavor. Fantastic in seasoning mixes, soups, dressings, dried teas and sauces, dried citrus will last a year or longer. The conventional drying technique is to simply slice the fruit across the grain into circles, lay them on a mat and dry in your dehydrator. I prefer a low drying temp so that the fruit does not cook, as heat can destroy the citric acid. Each citrus fruit will give you a different flavor to use.

Dehydrated Citrus Wheels at Spoon Fork Bacon
Tangy Orange Powder at Just Making Noise

Preserving Citrus with Canning

Finally we have canned citrus, which will rival any insipid, store-bought variety, hands down. Because citrus is a high acid food, you can can both citrus juice and fruit, with or without added sugar. Canned juice is pretty amazing, as you actually pasteurize it at 190 degrees for a 5 minutes, hot pack it into jars, then boiling water can them for 15 minutes. Any type of juice will work. For canned citrus segments, like oranges, tangerines or grapefruits, it’s recommended that you remove the membrane around the segments before canning. I don’t bother with the tangerines-way to much work! For the big fruit I cut the peel off and then “supreme” (su-PREM – it’s French, ooh la la) them by cutting out just the flesh between the membranes. Then you have a few choices for canning: sugar syrup, water, juice, plus or minus flavorings. I think plain water is a little leaching and draws out a lot of flavor, so I prefer a bit of a light syrup. But it’s totally up to you. You can also use the fruit juice to can in – just replace the water-canned version with juice. The work is in the prep, but canning only takes 15 minutes.

How to Can Citrus Juice at The Survival Mom
Canned Supreme Oranges at Hitch Hiking to Heaven 
No-Sugar Canned Mandarin Oranges at Righteous Bacon


[1] Origins of Citrus – Liu, Y.,Heying, E., Tanumihardjo, S. 2012 “History, Global Distribution, and Nutritional Importance of Citrus Fruits” Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety 11:6
[2] Renaissance Orangeries
[3] George Washington Orangery

Tammy Kimbler grows, forages, cans, dries, pickles, ferments, brews, ages, cooks and eats from her Minneapolis, Minn., backyard. At One Tomato, Two Tomato, she aims to show how easy, accessible, healthful and delicious gaining control of your personal food system can be. Connect with Tammy on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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