Food and Nutrition

This Is How To Keep Lemons Fresh for Months—Seriously

Photo: Getty Images/ Juanma Hache
Whether you’ve lugged home a large haul from the supermarket or you have more lemons than you know what to do with, keeping lemons fresh can be a challenge. Lemons risk losing freshness if they aren’t put to immediate use—or worse, spoil before you’re able to add them to a recipe. So how to keep lemons fresh? For advice, we asked experts for their best tips on prolonging the life of lemons. Here are their recommendations.

How to keep whole lemons fresh

If you purchased whole lemons in bulk and want to keep them fresh, store them in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer. “Fruits naturally ripen slower in the fridge as the cooler temperature slows everything down,” Natalie Alibrandi, food scientist and CEO of Nali Consulting, previously told Well+Good. When sealed in a plastic bag or container, lemons can stay fresh for about a month. Just be careful not to store them with produce that releases ethylene, such as apples and bananas, as it can hasten the lemons’ ripening process.

How to keep cut lemons fresh

Once you’ve cut into a lemon, they’ll only stay fresh for up to a week in the fridge, according to celebrity chef and nutritionist Serena Poon. That’s because when the fruit is exposed, they quickly lose moisture and are left susceptible to bacteria, as opposed to whole lemons that have the rind fully intact to serve as a protective barrier for the fruit’s edible insides. With this in mind, Poon recommends storing them in the same way you would whole lemons—in a plastic bag or container in your refrigerator’s crisper drawer to protect from oxidation and rotting.

Can you freeze lemons?

Kristen Carli, MS, RD, founder of Camelback Nutrition & Wellness, says yes, adding that lemons can stay fresh for several months in the freezer, regardless of whether they’re whole or cut. “I’d recommend freezing them in the form you plan on using them,” says Carli. Keep in mind that while lemons won’t lose their flavor when frozen, they might turn soft or soggy when thawed. Still, they would make a fine addition to your dishes. When storing in the freezer, use a freezer-safe bag to safeguard against freezer burn, and if you plan on storing cut lemons, consider freezing them solid on a plate or pan before transferring them to a bag to prevent them from sticking together. When you’re ready to use your lemons, simply let them thaw at room temperature or submerge them in a bowl of water to speed up the process.

Additional tips on how to keep lemons fresh

Abbey Thiel, PhD, a food scientist and the founder of the Abbey The Food Scientist blog, says there are three main things to consider when it comes to keeping lemons fresh without sacrificing their flavor or texture.

The right temperature

First, you want to think about the temperature at which you store lemons. She says that ideally, the fruit should be stored at about 48°F—which is warmer than a fridge’s typical internal temperature but cooler than a room-temperature environment. To hit that sweet spot, Dr. Thiel, along with other experts, reiterates the importance of sealing fresh lemons in an airtight container if you’ll be storing them in the fridge. She says that this method helps keep the lemons insulated and prevents chilling injury, which happens when the fruit is stored in too cold of an environment for a prolonged time. When it comes to storing lemons in the freezer, Dr. Thiel says chilling injury isn’t an issue, but freezer burn is—either way, storing them in a container can help mitigate these risks.

Relativity high humidity

Dr. Thiel also says that it’s important to store lemons in an environment with relatively high humidity. “If there’s more water in the air, then the water will not leave the fruit, which would cause the fruit to wilt or soften,” she says. Storing lemons in an airtight container can help foster a more humid environment because it helps prevent the water from escaping into the surrounding air.

Limited oxygen exposure

Lastly, Dr. Thiel recommends limiting lemons’ exposure to oxygen. “You want to seal it to keep air out,” she says. Dr. Thiel also recommends adding a paper towel to the bottom of an airtight container you’ll be using for lemons. “Sometimes, if the fruit respirates too much, water is produced,” she says, “and you don’t want the water to condensate on the fruit.” Too much water can be a breeding ground for microbes—and adding a paper towel will help absorb excess wetness. If using a paper towel, just be sure to replace it when it becomes damp.

3 products that help keep lemons fresh

Whether you plan on chilling or freezing your lemons, they stay fresh longer when sealed, be it in a zip-top plastic bag, or if you want to avoid using single-use plastics, a reusable silicone pouch or airtight container. They can all help extend produce’s life by retaining moisture and protecting sensitive fruits and veggies from the quick-ripening effects of ethylene gas. Plus, these containers can also help keep your fridge or freezer organized and tidy.

A pair of airtight containers with snap-on lids

A pair of transparent airtight containers from Rubbermaid
Rubbermaid, Leak-Proof Brilliance Food Storage Set (2-Pack) — $25.00

Featuring silicone linings and snap-on lids, this pair of BPA-free plastic containers are airtight, leak-proof, and safe to use in the fridge or freezer. They have a modular design that neatly stacks together, making it ideal if you want to save on precious real estate in your kitchen. When it comes time to clean, they’re easy to wash by hand or throw into the dishwasher. Each of the large-sized containers featured above can hold almost 10 cups’ worth of produce, but they also come in small- and medium-sized options and in sets of four and five to suit your needs.

A reusable silicone pouch that’s fridge and freezer safe

A see-through reusable pouch with a press-close lock from Stasher
Stasher, Silicone Reusable Storage Bag — $16.00

If you’re on the market for a sustainable alternative to zip-top plastic bags, the Stasher silicone pouch is a popular option that’s beloved by Amazon reviewers. It boasts a near-perfect 4.7-star overall rating after more than 30,000 reviewers weighed in. Made from food-grade silicone, this fridge- and freezer-safe pouch features a simple press-close lock that prevents leaks and will keep your lemons fresh. Between uses, you can throw it into the dishwasher for easy cleaning. The version pictured above holds half a gallon’s worth of food, but Stasher also makes bags in a wide range of sizes, shapes, and colors, plus sell multipacks for those who want to stock up on their pouches.

Food huggers to prolong the freshness of cut lemons

A set of four green and yellow food huggers from Hoan
Hoan, Silicone Food Huggers (Set Of 4) — $15.00

If you want to save half of a lemon, these food huggers will come in handy. They serve as a protective barrier between the exposed fruit and air, which can suck the lemon of moisture and leave it susceptible to spoilage. To use it, simply stretch the food hugger over the exposed fruit to create a leak-proof seal. The huggers are made from BPA-free silicone and come in a set of four in various sizes. As a bonus, they’re dishwasher-safe, making them a cinch to clean.

Frequently asked questions

How long do lemons last?

Lemons will usually last anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on where you store them. Keeping them in the fridge instead of on your kitchen counter can often prolong their freshness. Their shelf-life can also vary according to whether a lemon is whole or cut—and typically, whole lemons will last longer than already-sliced lemons.

How to tell if lemons are bad?

There are several ways to tell if a lemon has gone bad. For one, it will have visible mold, either on the peel or the fruit itself. Another indicator of a rotten lemon is if it’s particularly squishy or bruised. And if you’re still unsure, give it a whiff—and if it smells “off” or downright rancid, it may be time to toss it.

How to keep lemons fresh for months?

If you want to keep lemons fresh for months, consider freezing them. As mentioned, however, lemons lose their texture after a long stint in the freezer, turning soft and soggy—a trade-off for those who want to prolong the fruit’s shelf-life. With that said, they’re still perfectly edible, if a little less firm than you’re used to.

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