There’s nothing quite like citrus fruits. Vibrant, fresh and zesty, they add a splash of colour and fun to everything they touch, from the simplest glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, to that hint of lemon zest in a perfectly-spiced curry. Life would be so much duller without key lime pie, sweet mandarins to snack on, or your slice of breakfast grapefruit.
And the world of citrus fruit is much wider than your old favourites. In fact, citrus trees interbreed pretty easily, and there are a huge number of hybrid citrus fruits to try. Perhaps you’ve heard of the kumquat or the yuzu, but have you heard of the blood lime, or the Buddha’s hand? To discover more about the variety of different citrus fruits available, take a look at our list of 10 unusual citrus fruits worth experimenting with in your kitchen.
There are so many recipes that call for a squeeze of citrus juice, a pinch of grated rind, or a few juicy segments, so it’s always frustrating to go to the fruit bowl and find that the key ingredient in that delicious lunch you had planned has shrivelled up and died. To avoid situations like this, we’ve come up with a handy guide to the best way to store citrus fruit, keeping it fresher and juicier for longer.
Ways to store citrus fruit
The mistake most people make when storing citrus fruits is to assume they’re still ripening when you put them in your fruit bowl. We all know you should buy bananas when they’re still slightly green so they can ripen at home, and people tend to think the same is true of citrus fruit. But unlike bananas, citrus fruits actually stop ripening and begin decomposing as soon as they are picked. Because the decomposition process is quite slow compared to other fruits, it's not always easy to tell it's happening, but it could mean you’re not enjoying the fruit at its freshest.
Oranges, in particular, are often stored in fruit bowls, and while they do make an attractive display, citrus fruits will only keep for around four days at room temperature, compared to up to four weeks in a refrigerator. Use your fruit bowl to display citrus fruits you’re going to eat in the next couple of days, but anything beyond that should be stored in a refrigerator.
While we know that citrus fruit is best stored in the refrigerator, there seems to be some disagreement over the correct container. Some people prefer using a sealed Ziploc® bag, while others recommend using the loose mesh bags in which citrus fruits are often sold, to allow air to circulate. But a recent experiment into different methods of storing lemons, carried out by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, seems to have found in favour of Team Ziploc®. Ripe lemons were stored at room temperature, loose in the fridge, or sealed in a Ziploc® bag, and checked for freshness over a period of several weeks. Results showed that the room temperature lemons had completely hardened after a week, and even the loose refrigerated lemons, while still edible, began to lose some of their freshness after the first week. The lemons stored in the Ziploc® bags, however, didn’t begin to dehydrate until four weeks after they were first stored.
If you want to keep citrus fruits for even longer, you can try freezing them, but this can be a risky strategy. Unfortunately, citrus fruit doesn’t always react well to freezing. The fruit is delicate and can bruise, get cold spots, or lose it’s structure and become pulpy. To give them the best chance, slice into segments and remove any seeds or white membrane, then store in a thick, multi-ply bag or a container.
One way around this is to freeze the juice, rather than the entire fruit. Fresh orange juice can be made into healthy popsicles, packed with vitamin C, while lemon or lime juice can be frozen in ice cube trays, ready to be added to recipes that call for some added zest. You can also freeze thin slices of citrus to flavour water, tea or cocktails by placing them in the freezer on a cookie tray, then transferring them to a Ziploc® bag when frozen.
If you don’t want to risk freezing your citrus fruit, you can always try out a more old-fashioned method, like pickling or canning. Pickling citrus fruits is actually fairly straightforward. Simply make a few deep incisions with a sharp knife, and stuff each incision with sea salt, then place inside an airtight mason jar and cover with water. Add some herbs and spices to enhance the flavour, then seal the jar and leave in a cool dry place for at least three weeks before reopening. Pickled citrus fruits can be eaten with fish, salads or rice, and should keep for up to six months.
Canning citrus fruits is also surprisingly simple, and will keep for up to nine months. Peel the fruit, remove the seeds and membrane, separate into segments, and place inside a clean jar. Next, boil six cups of sugar and water and pour over the fruit while still hot. To seal the can, submerge in boiling water for 10 minutes, then remove and leave to cool.
But perhaps the simplest way to make your fruit keep for longer is to choose the right fruit to begin with, and with citrus fruit this means buying it at its ripest. Remember that citrus fruit doesn’t ripen once picked, so don’t be tempted to buy something to ripen up at home. The ripest fruits will be those with the most vibrant colouring. Anything with a dull skin has already passed its best, while large areas of green may indicate the fruit is still unripe - unless you’re shopping for limes, of course. You can also test the freshness of the fruit by squeezing it very lightly, so as not to bruise the fruit. The juiciest fruit will be firm, but with a small amount of give.
Where you buy your fruit could also have an impact on how fresh it is. If you buy from a large store, the fruit may already have spent several days in transit. Fruit from a local farmers’ market is likely to be fresher, or even better, try to find a place where you can pick your own.
Now you know how to keep your citrus fruit at its best, you can celebrate your zesty bounty with this citrus fruit and berry punch, a mouthwatering medley of oranges, lemons and lime, with sweet berries and passion fruit. The perfect, cool, refreshing drink on a hot day.
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