Fermented Lemons

Fermented lemons, preserved lemons and pickled lemons are all the same thing. They’re all simply a combination of salt and lemons that results in a special, mellow sourness that improves any recipe it’s used in! 

Fermented Lemons in a clamp jar with lemon balm, on a cutting board

How do you ferment lemons?

Making fermented lemons is really quite simple, it’s a bacterial fermentation process. You begin with several whole, unblemished lemons. 

Cut the lemons lengthwise in an “X” pattern, leaving them attached at the bottoms. Remove any seeds and rub the lemons with most of the salt inside and out, generously covering. Then close up the lemons as if whole. 

To a clean jar, layer salt into the bottom and begin packing the lemons, pressing down with each lemon to release the juice from the lemon. You can do this by hand, or with a pestle or wooden spoon.    

Cover the lemons with fresh lemon juice and salt brine and leave on the counter for three to four weeks to ferment. Once they’ve reached the desired taste, transfer them to the fridge for six months or more to slow the fermentation. 

Want to watch me make fermented lemons?

Ingredients

  • Eight to ten whole lemons
  • 8-10 tablespoons of salt – I like celtic sea salt
  • Fresh lemon balm – optional, but makes it pretty and improves the nutrition
  • Glass jar with a lid
  • Weight, clean rock or plastic bag filled with a bit of water, lemon and salt to keep the lemons under the brine
  • Muddler, pestle or wooden spoon, knife and cutting board
Cut lemons in a quarter, salted on a cutting board

What are fermented lemons used for?

Fermented lemons can be used for both sweet and savory recipes that call for traditional lemon juice. The flavor of fermented lemons is a sweet, sour and salty combination that makes my mouth water and lips pucker! 

  • Add to salsas and marinades for an extra umami flavor
  • Dress pasta primavera to make it out of this world
  • Make my Pesto without Pine Nuts 

The skin, pulp and juice can all be utilized in recipes. 

Are fermented lemons good for you?

Indeed! Lemons themselves contain D-limonene which is a molecule that may have potential to induce weight loss in high doses. Additionally, D-limonene has been shown to improve fatty acid build up in the liver. 

Plus, my fermented lemons recipe suggests adding lemon balm leaves. Lemon balm is an herb that has traditionally been used for a variety of cognitive purposes, such as inducing calmness and relaxation. Improving further cognition hasn’t been fully supported by studies. 

Lemons are also a great source of vitamin C. Plus fermenting creates the probiotics, Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium. Lemons, and citrus fruit peels contain prebiotics as well, those non-digestible oligosaccharides that help feed gut bacteria (AKA pre-biotics). 

Is there a way to make fermented lemons with less salt? 

Sure. But first, if you’re eating a whole foods diet, salt used in this way should fall within the daily recommendations. 

If you have a high blood pressure and are one of those who are genetically salt sensitive, you may err on the side of a lower salt recipe. I’ve seen a recipe with over 25 lemons that used only 4 tablespoons of salt. There isn’t a single way of fermenting lemons. 

Is it okay to hot water bath can fermented lemons?

I don’t recommend it. The heat that’s used in hot water bath canning would kill much, if not all of the probiotics created during fermentation. 

I love fermented lemons but as I use them the fruit is no longer covered by juice. What should I do?

You can simply do nothing. Or you can add more freshly squeezed, or organic lemon juice juice to keep the fruit submerged. Keeping them covered slows lemons from darkening, which is natural as they oxidize with air and light exposure due to opening the jar with each use. 

What jars and lids are best to ferment lemons?

I’ve used both a quart ball jar as well as a pint sized glass jar with a hinge top. Both are shown in this post. Your choice of jar depends on the number of lemons you want to ferment. A quart fits about eight to ten lemons

Pick a jar you have to start with. Jars with glass or plastic tops are best to avoid corroding. 

Then once the jar is packed and the lemons are submerged in their own juice, weigh them down so they don’t float up and get exposed to oxygen. You can do this by using a glass weight, a clean rock or a plastic bag filled with a lemon salt water brine – in case the bag splits open!

Then be sure to release the gas daily or so, by gently unscrewing or barely lifting the top. You want to avoid too much gas exchange.

Lemon preserves, fermented lemons in a mason jar shot overhead.

How long does it take for lemons to ferment?

You can usually see lemons ferment within three to four weeks. Once you achieve the desired taste you can transfer the lemons to the fridge. They keep in the fridge for six to twelve months. 

You’ll know when the lemons are done when their brine becomes a bit cloudy and have more viscosity, the brine becomes more syrup-like. These tasty salted lemons are so rich, and delicious!

How to store preserved lemons

Once the lemons have fermented long enough, about a month, transfer them to the fridge to keep for another six months up to a year. 

Fermented Lemons in a salt brine with lemon balm in a clamp jar
Fermented Lemons in a salt brine with lemon balm in a clamp jar

Fermented Lemons

Fermented lemons are a simple combination of salt and lemons that results in a special, mellow sourness that improves any recipe they're used in!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Sauce
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: Harvest, Make Ahead
Allergen: Dairy Free, Gluten Free
Prep Time: 10 hours
Fermentation Time: 30 days
Total Time: 30 days 10 hours
Servings: 4 cups yield
Calories: 251kcal

Equipment

  • Knife
  • Cutting Board
  • Canning jar or similar glass jar with lid
  • Wooden spoon, or pestle, or muddler
  • Measuring Scoops & Spoons

Ingredients

  • 8-10 Whole, unblemished lemons
  • 8-10 Tbsp Celtic Salt, or other unrefined salt
  • Lemon Balm leaves, optional

Instructions

  • First wash the lemons in warm water and remove any labels
  • Next cut the stem end off of each lemon, only cutting to remove the stem end.
  • Rest the lemons on the cutting board with the stem side down. Cut the lemons lengthwise in an “X” pattern, leaving them attached at the bottoms (the resting stem end).
  • Remove any seeds and rub the lemons with most of the salt inside and out, generously covering. Then close up the lemons as if whole.
  • With a clean canning jar pouring a couple tablespoons of salt to cover the bottom. Next place a lemon on the salt bottom and press down to release its juices.
  • Continue this process, layering and pressing the lemon juice until the jar is full. Being sure to close up the lemons after pressing their juice.
  • If using lemon balm, layer the leaves in as you press lemons.
  • Once all of the lemons are pressed and your jar is nearly full, being sure to submerge your lemons in the lemon juice. You can leave an inch or two of space to accommodate your weight.
  • Next layer on your fermentation weight, a very clean stone, or a bag filled with salt water brine.
  • Finally, seal up your fermented lemons and monitor. Burp your jar daily to release the CO2 build up from the process. Do this by gently releasing the clamp top ever so slightly, or unscrewing a jar lid just barely. You should hear the gas gently escape.
  • Wait three to four weeks, begin to taste around this time. They should be finished and ready to refrigerate for use.
  • When using in recipes, use the fruit, rind and juice as you wish! Enjoy!

Video

Notes

*Nutrition facts vary based on portion of fermented lemons used. 

Nutrition

Calories: 251kcal | Carbohydrates: 81g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 3g | Saturated Fat: 0.3g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 1g | Monounsaturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 55829mg | Potassium: 1204mg | Fiber: 24g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 190IU | Vitamin C: 458mg | Calcium: 259mg | Iron: 6mg

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