How to Preserve Lemons

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How to Preserve Lemons ~ Moroccan preserved lemons is a unique condiment that brightens up a lot of Middle Eastern recipes but can be hard to find in stores ~ I’ll show you how to make them right at home, it’s easy!

preserved lemons in a mason jar

In parts of the country where citrus grows naturally, the trees are practically groaning with fruit right now.  Some trees topple over or lose branches from the weight of so much bounty.  And the fruit has to be picked in order for the trees to set buds for next year’s crop.  Here in California charities will come and pick your fruit for you in exchange for the harvest.  In stores all over the country this will be the last week or two that citrus will take center stage, before the early strawberries and other spring crops start to come in.  Pretty soon the unusual varieties like Meyer lemons, Cara Cara oranges, and pomelos will be a distant memory.

preserved lemons in a jar with spices

There aren’t many foods that match the versatility of citrus—we eat it raw, and use it as an ingredient in sweets, meats, fish, vegetables, drinks, and endless condiments.  Every last part of the citrus fruit is valuable in the culinary world.  Citrus can actually do the ‘cooking’ too—the acids in citrus will transform raw fish in ceviche.  And because of the powerful essential oils in their rinds, citrus fruits are a huge source of flavorings 

As Ina Garten will tell you, a squeeze of lemon adds that special something to just about every dish imaginable.  There are endless recipes I could have chosen for my week long celebration of citrus, but I decided to focus on ones that feature the glorious fruit as the main ingredient.

a salted lemon

Preserved lemons are best known as a Middle Eastern and North African condiment, but the concept of preserving lemons in some sort of brine is an ancient technique in lots of cultures.

Preserved lemons are lemons that are pickled in a brine of salt and their own juice.   You can add a few spices if you want to, or leave them plain.  The fruit ferments at room temperature for a month, and at the end you’ll have an authentic ingredient for Moroccan stews, tagines, salad and couscous.  But, really, you can use them in anywhere you’d normally use lemons. 

What do preserved lemons taste like?

Basically the flavor is like lemon on steroids.  Intensely ‘lemony’, and silky textured.

spices for preserved lemons

The prized part of the preserved lemon is the rind, but you can use the flesh in cooking as well, just remember to remove the seeds.

salting lemons for preserving, Moroccan style

How long do preserved lemons last?

Preserved lemons will last about 6 months to a year in the refrigerator.  Keep them covered in the brine, which is what preserved them.  Traditionally preserved lemons are shelf stable, but I like to err on the safe side and keep them chilled.

a jar of preserved lemons

Your preserved lemons will be ready in a month and you’ll be using them with spring lamb, vegetable couscous, chicken, salads, and anywhere you’d use regular lemons.  They’ll be your new secret ingredient!

How do you use preserved lemons?

  • To use your lemons just remove one from the jar, and rinse it off to remove the salt.  Then you can thinly slice the rind and use it in your recipes.  The flesh is great to use, too, just remove the seeds. 
  • Preserved lemons can be used in Moroccan and Middle Eastern recipes like tagines, couscous, hummus, etc.  
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3.23 from 27 votes

Moroccan Preserved Lemons

How to Preserve Lemons ~ Moroccan preserved lemons is a unique condiment that brightens up a lot of Middle Eastern recipes but can be hard to find in stores ~ I'll show you how to make them right at home, it's easy!
Course condiment
Cuisine Moroccan
Prep Time 20 minutes
Author Sue Moran


  • 1 sterilized qt jar with a wide mouth
  • 6 or 7 Meyer lemons you can use regular lemons, choose small ones
  • kosher salt
  • extra fresh lemon juice if needed (I needed the juice from 2 extra lemons)
  • optional spices:
  • 1 star anise
  • 6 or 7 cardamom pods cracked
  • 3 pieces of cinnamon stick
  • several cloves
  • 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp white peppercorns
  • 3 bay leaves


  • Slice a bit off the stem end of the lemons, and then slice them in half, lengthwise, leaving about 1/2 inch at the bottom, in other words do not slice all the way through to the end. Then slice it in quarters the same way, so the lemon is still whole at the bottom. (see above photos)
  • Sprinkle salt on all the exposed lemon flesh.
  • Coat the bottom of the jar with salt, and put the lemons in,push them down and squish them a bit to fit them in. Layer more salt and the spices in between the lemons.
  • Fit as many lemons as you can into the jar, and then add more lemon juice to insure that all the lemons are covered in juice.
  • Let the jar sit at room temperature for about a month, shaking the jar every day to redistribute the juices. A cupboard is a good place. Then refrigerate. The preserved lemons should keep for a year in the fridge.
  • When you want to use one of the lemons, take it out with clean tongs and rinse the salt off. Scrape off the flesh, seeds and pith and then slice or dice the rinds.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

preserved lemons pin


*If you want to read further about preserved lemons this post from Hunter Angler Gardener Cook is very thorough.


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    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    February 24, 2018 at 1:50 pm

    I made some very basic preserved lemons about 6 months ago. I’m the sole human in the house, so I don’t use them up at a rapid pace. Any advice about how long the keep or when they should be tossed? They’re staring at me every time I open the refrigerator, but I’m a bit wary about using them.
    Also, what exactly do you use in a recipe? Rind only? Rind and pith? Rind, pith and pulp?
    Yours look beautiful, and I can smell them through the screen. I’ll make yours and toss mine anyway, but I would like to know how to keep a batch.

    • Reply
      August 11, 2019 at 3:35 pm

      The lemons should keep about a year, refrigerated, Jennifer. Just be sure they are always covered with brine. The whole lemon can be used, rind and flesh.

  • Reply
    January 7, 2018 at 4:36 pm

    5 stars
    Wow! You are a lady after my own heart. I stumbled across your site after looking for porcini salt recipes and am staying for the preserved lemons, hot pepper honey, and hotpot recipes

    • Reply
      January 7, 2018 at 5:47 pm

      Welcome in!

  • Reply
    August 10, 2016 at 11:53 am

    Is it recommended that you use a canning method to do this? You know, with the boiling water and tongs and all that jazz?

    • Reply
      August 10, 2016 at 11:54 am

      No, I don’t think most people can these, Chrissy.

  • Reply
    March 1, 2016 at 11:48 am

    greta contribution salute !

  • Reply
    Ahulani McAdam
    February 14, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Help! This recipe sounds so great. I have my 7 Meyer lemons in my jar and everything is set. Except I have squeezed five lemons worth of juice into the jar and it is a little less than half full of juice. I can keep squeezing because I am blessed with a tree but I’m wondering if it matters if I add water? I think it will take about 6 more lemons for a total of 11 additional lemons to fill the jar with juice. I hope you can answer soon as soon as I’m standing here in my kitchen scratching my head!

    • Reply
      February 14, 2016 at 7:13 pm

      Oh Ahulani I hope I’m answering in time! I think you can add water to the juice to make up the amount…good luck!

      • Reply
        April 27, 2016 at 7:56 pm

        Thanks, Sue… I just went ahead and added water, but I boiled it just in case. The lemons are just fabulous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
        Will be making more as the divine tree is giving forth another crop right now.

        • Reply
          April 27, 2016 at 8:19 pm


  • Reply
    June 13, 2015 at 7:17 am

    These sound great. I made preserved lemons one other time, but they didn’t have the cardamom and star anise to give those wonderful flavors. Will definitely want to try these, but Meyer lemons will never make it to this litrle island????. These would have been great with the Morrocan meatballs.

  • Reply
    October 15, 2014 at 6:16 am


    • Reply
      October 15, 2014 at 6:19 am

      thanks for visiting, Connie — the lemon on feta sounds great, I’m going to try it, we do a lot of cheese plates in this house!

      • Reply
        October 15, 2014 at 6:35 am

        Everyone I have served it to loves it. The preserved lemon has such an interesting flavor. thank you for sharing your recipies. From now on when anyone asks me how to make preserved lemons I am going to refer them to your site.

        • Reply
          October 15, 2014 at 11:26 am

          I’m so glad everyone loved it, Connie. I love so many Middle Eastern recipes because of the unusual flavors.

  • Reply
    Heidi Roberts
    April 6, 2014 at 11:46 am

    This is something I have always wanted to do and never get around to it. This year will be the year!!

    • Reply
      April 6, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Have fun — and let me know how they turn out for you!

  • Reply
    October 10, 2013 at 8:20 am

    Nowhere in any of the recipes for preserved lemons do I see a caution that there will be fermentation. I opened my jar and there was an explosive amount of gas that escaped. Is there a danger that an unopened jar will explode without a release valve? Or have I done something wrong that causes the fermentation?

    • Reply
      October 10, 2013 at 9:07 am

      Hi Mary— a few recipes suggest covering the jar with muslin so gas can escape, but not all of them suggest that. I had no problem with the closed jar. It sounds like you may have gotten some spoilage going on in your jar, was it sterilized before you began?

  • Reply
    Judy H
    June 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    OK, I’m just going to use all those spices and hope for the best! 🙂 Thanks for the recipe!

  • Reply
    Judy H
    June 17, 2013 at 7:57 pm

    Do you use all the spices you listed? I’m getting ready to try my first jar and I’m not sure what to put in it!

    • Reply
      August 11, 2019 at 3:51 pm

      You can, or you can tailor it to your own personal taste.

  • Reply
    April 7, 2013 at 4:37 pm

    Made these and blogged about it. I hope you don’t mind, I linked you. Thanks for the recipe!

  • Reply
    Ocean Breezes and Country Sneezes
    February 20, 2013 at 5:58 am

    I can’t wait to try this! Here’s a recipe for you too . . .


  • Reply
    shannon weber
    February 19, 2013 at 10:03 pm

    i have yet to try to preserve my own lemons, and i’ve always wanted to. I love all the spices and flavors in this! I’m noting this as a “to do” project.

  • Reply
    Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti
    February 19, 2013 at 6:10 am

    Although I don’t often leave a comment here, I ahve to tell you that you are my favorite food blogger, Sue! I’m always drooling over your recipes on facebook!

    I would LOVE to live in an area where citrus and avocado trees flourished — you are so very lucky!

  • Reply
    Tricia @ saving room for dessert
    February 19, 2013 at 1:56 pm

    Sue I love your writing – groaning fruit trees, lemon on steroids – just as colorful as your gorgeous photos. Your pictures make me pucker! This is fascinating and adore the peak into other cultures. Thanks!

  • Reply
    February 19, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I have to say I do love citrus so I”m majorly excited for citrus week! I had preserved lemons for the first time recently and wasn’t sure how much I truly loved them…maybe homemade is the way to go!

  • Reply
    belleau kitchen
    February 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    I am utterly and entirely jealous of anyone who grows there own lemons… and then to be able to bottle that sunshine like you’ve done so beautifully here… well… I may just have to have a strop!

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      February 19, 2013 at 2:01 am

      I used to have a backyard lemon tree, but not in this house. Imagine walking the dog past houses with citrus trees dripping with fruit and not being able to (legally) pick any??!! It’s torture.

  • Reply
    [email protected] is How I Cook
    February 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm

    I think I must go beg, borrow or steal some Meyer lemons. Your pictures made me smell them! So good.

    • Reply
      Sue/the view from great island
      February 19, 2013 at 1:55 am

      You can absolutely use regular lemons for this, and I read that you can do this with limes and grapefruit, too.

  • Reply
    February 18, 2013 at 11:39 pm

    These are much more beautiful than the ones I made a few years ago.

  • Reply
    Lea Ann
    February 18, 2013 at 10:25 pm

    Beautiful photos! I purchased some preserved lemons for a Moroccan tagine dish. I vowed after that wonderful meal that I’d make my own! Loved them.

  • Reply
    Gerlinde in Dallas
    February 18, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Whenever I have come across preserved lemons as an ingredient, I have just used an extra amount of lemon zest in its place. I hadn’t realised they were so easy to make!

  • Reply
    Jingyi Liu
    February 18, 2013 at 7:36 pm

    Did you know that there’s currently a lemon festival going on in the french riviera? How serendipitous!

  • Reply
    Jingyi Liu
    February 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm

    This comment has been removed by the author.