12 Ways to Use and Preserve Citrus Fruits
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There are so many ways to use and preserve lemons, oranges, grapefruits and limes. Learn how to preserve citrus fruits and use them in creative new ways!
When it comes to citrus, we often waste more of it than we actually use. We might squeeze a slice of lemon or lime in our drink or over our food, or it might even just act as decoration on our glass before being discarded. Oranges and grapefruits tend to get eaten, so their flesh is usually not wasted, but most people rarely think to use their peels.
But citrus fruits are surprisingly versatile and easy to preserve. And they can be used in all sorts of creative ways that you may not have discovered yet.
Plus, citrus fruits also contain amazingly beneficial vitamins that can help heal us when we’re feeling sick and rundown. So it never hurts to have some on hand for when we really needs it.
Can’t I just buy fruit from the store when I need it?
While most people run to the store every time they need something, you and I are not most people. Oh no friend… We are modern homesteaders.
We’re a special breed, and one thing that sets us apart is that we are always thinking about preparing for the future and about stocking up when the things are abundant (and cheap!)
When it comes to citrus fruits, if you live in a place where you can grow them yourself, then you’ll probably have more than you can handle fresh when they’re in season. Knowing how to preserve them will help ensure nothing goes to waste.
And if you can’t grow them yourself? Well then you can stock up when they’re in season and on sale and use them all year long!
Always Be Prepared with Citrus On Hand
Now, technically you could run to the store and pay top dollar every time you want a lemon or lime, but then again, what if the store shelves were bare?
I remember one season a few years ago when limes were in very low supply and cost a fortune due to drought in Mexico and wars over who was controlling the lime trade. (Yes, if you rely on grocery-store fruit and vegetables, you are at the mercy of everything from global climate issues to trade deals to gangs and politics).
Knowing how to preserve citrus fruit and always having some on hand means that you won’t be without in your home regardless of what’s happening outside your door. And that is really the ultimate goal when it comes to being prepared.
But I think the best part about using and preserving every part of citrus fruit is that it’s incredibly easy to do and the end products are super versatile and good for use in everything from food and drinks to body products and household cleaners.
So grab your fruit bowl and a few basic kitchen tools and let’s get to work with this list of 12 ways to use and preserve your citrus fruits.
12 Ways to Use & Preserve Citrus Fruits
Before you get started, always try your best to begin with organic fruits (and scrub them clean!) While this isn’t imperative for every recipe or use, it’s especially important when using the peels for consumption. And if you can afford the little bit extra, organic is always the best option.
1. Save the zest
To zest, either grate or thinly peel the outer layer of the peel of the citrus fruit with a fine grater, a pairing knife or a vegetable peeler. Avoid the bitter, white pith. You can either use the fresh zest or preserve it for later by letting it dry.
To dry, spread zest in a thin layer over a baking tray and leave to air dry in an area with low humidity. Once dry, transfer to a jar or other small airtight container and store in a cool, dark place.
Substitute dried zest for fresh zest in any recipe that calls for it or add it to homemade bathroom cleaner.
The zest will keep for a long time, but may begin to lose potency after a few months.
2. Dry the peels
Dried peels can be used in so many ways, from making tea to medicine to bath and body products, so they are definitely worth saving! Just like with the zest, make sure to buy organic and wash well before use. Then, when you peel your citrus fruit to use the flesh, save the peels by breaking them up into smaller pieces and drying them for later use.
You can air dry your peels, use a dehydrator or bake them on the lowest setting in your oven. Once dried, transfer peels to a jar or container and store in a cool, dark, dry place.
3. Make a citrus cleaner
Another super simple way to use up your citrus peels is to make a vinegar infusion that can be used as an all-purpose cleaner. Just take your fresh peels and pop them in a large jar (I use quart-sized Mason jars) and completely cover with white vinegar. I usually have a jar going so that anytime anyone eats an orange or uses a lemon or lime, I just pop the peel (and whatever flesh remains) in the jar.
Let sit for a few weeks (I usually wait at least 6 weeks), then strain the vinegar into a bottle and discard the peels. Store in a cool, dark place. Dilute with an equal amount of water and transfer to a spray bottle when ready to use.
Use on countertops, floors, sinks, tubs and toilets and just about any other surface. Just don’t use it on marble as vinegar can stain marble.
4. Preserve the juice
You can juice citrus fruits and store in the fridge for up to two weeks or in the freezer for several months. If freezing, pour fresh-squeezed juice into ice cube trays and, once frozen, transfer to freezer bags.
While I have read that it’s possible to can lemon and grapefruit juice, orange juice can be bitter when canned and I’ve never seen a recipe for home-canned lime juice. I recommend the freezer method for long-term preservation, but if you do any citrus fruit canning I would love to hear about how it turned out! Let me know in the comments section.
5. Dehydrate sliced citrus
A food dehydrator is great for drying because it significantly speeds up the process over air drying and won’t burn your fruits.
To dehydrate citrus, slice fruit into thin (roughly ¼-inch thick) rounds and discard seeds. Place in a single layer on dehydrator tray and dry at 135ºF for about 6-10 hours (depending on your dehydrator and the thickness of your fruits). Once dry, store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place. Rehydrate slices and add to various dishes (or simply add them as-is to dishes with liquid or sauce and bake), or add dried slices to homemade potpourri.
My favourite way to use dried lemon and orange slices is to grind them up and make this Homemade Vitamin C Powder. I mix it with hot water and a little honey when I’m sick or feeling rundown.
6. Make canned preserves
Turn your extra citrus fruits into marmalade (which uses both the juice and the peels) or make citrus curd (lemon curd is the most popular and it is damn delicious!).
Note: Lemon curd (or any type of curd) needs to be stored in the fridge because of the eggs and dairy. You can water bath can curd and store in the fridge for up to 3 months or simply store in an airtight container in the fridge for 1 to 2 weeks.
Of course, there are lots of other preserves and canning recipes that feature citrus fruits. Check out the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving for tons of great recipes!
7. Candy the peels
Candied citrus peels do use a fair amount of sugar, but they are still more nutritious than store-bought candy. They’re also super easy to make.
First, zest the citrus peel into large chunks using a peeler or a pairing knife. Next, put one cup of peels into a pot and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and then reduce heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.
Drain and then repeat the process two more times. Then, heat a 1/2 cup of sugar with 1/4 cup of water until boiling. Add peel to sugar-water and let simmer for 15 minutes. Remove the peels with a slotted spoon, dust with a little more sugar and let air dry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or dry in a dehydrator.
Once completely dry, transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place for up to 3 months.
8. Make a citrus extract
Make a citrus peel extract by combining fresh or dried citrus peels with vodka. Place peels in a glass jar (I use pint or quart-sized Mason jars), and cover with vodka. Place in a cool, dark place for 4 to 6 weeks, shaking occasionally. The vodka will begin to turn the colour of the citrus peel.
Taste the extract after a few weeks and if you’re happy with the flavour, strain and transfer liquid to an airtight bottle. If you would prefer a stronger extract (or if it still tastes too “boozey”) let it sit for a while longer, checking on it every week or two.
This is very shelf stable as the vodka acts as a preservative. Once you have your extract you can use it in baking, your home medicine cabinet or even use it in place of regular vodka or witch hazel in homemade room spray.
9. Make infused citrus oil
Oil infused with citrus peels can be used to make all sorts of scrumptious body products, including citrus sugar scrub, soaps and body butters. Or use it to add flavour to homemade salsa dressings!
To make, use dried citrus peels (the water content in fresh peels can turn the oil rancid). Place dried peels in a jar and cover with oil. Place in a cool, dark place and let sit for 4-6 weeks or longer. Strain and store in an airtight bottle.
10. Feed citrus fruits to your livestock
Chickens, pigs, goats, sheep and even cows can benefit from a little citrus in their diet. While you should take care not to feed livestock too much citrus, adding a little bit into their diet can be good for them.
Citrus is full of vitamins and the essential oils in the peels contain antimicrobial properties that keep livestock healthy.
11. Add citrus peels to your compost
Citrus peels are a great addition to your compost as they provide beneficial nutrients and their strong smell can help to keep scavengers at bay. The peels do take a little longer than other fruits to break down, so it helps if you break them into smaller pieces first.
While adding citrus to your compost is a wise idea, you may run into some problems if you are vermicomposting. Worms are not fond of citrus, so they won’t eat them. Keep citrus fruits to your traditional compost pile and reap the benefits in nutrient-rich soil for your garden.
12. Freeze citrus fruits whole
If you don’t have the time to deal with processing your citrus fruits, just stick them in the freezer whole! Although you won’t want to use the peels from these fruits when they thaw, they can still be juiced at a later date. You can even heat them up in the microwave for a few seconds at a time until they warm up, and this helps their juices to flow better.
I love that this method requires zero processing, however I personally prefer other methods because I tend to forget about them in the freezer and I try to use the microwave as little as possible, so it takes a bit of forethought if I want to use frozen citrus fruit. But some people swear by using this method. You’ll never know what works for you until you try.
How to Use Preserved Citrus
Once you’ve created a few of the above ingredients, you can use them in your cooking or add them to all sorts of home and body products. Since citrus fruits (especially lemons) cut through grease and grime and have antibacterial properties, they work especially well in homemade cleaners.
So there you have it! Even though citrus fruits are often thought of as being one of the more difficult things to preserve, they are actually quite versatile and can be used in so many different ways.
What do you usually do with your extra citrus fruits? Have you tried any of these preservation methods?
Let me know in the comments below!
Wishing you homemade, homegrown, homestead happiness 🙂