Are preserved lemons fermented? Fermenting lemons is one method to preserve them. My fermented lemons recipe requires only two ingredients: fresh lemons and sea salt. They fit most special diets (keto, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, etc.) and are a terrific way to add BIG flavor to dishes. You’ll love how easy this recipe is and enjoying the “fruit” of your labor in meals!
There are different ways to preserve lemons. For example, a jar of lemon curd has likely been canned so it can be stored unopened at room temperature. That said, the term “preserved lemons” usually means salted lemons that are fermented.
In general, there is no difference between pickled lemons vs preserved lemons. In some cases, however, pickled lemons are cooked in vinegar rather than salted.
The difference is similar to cucumber pickles purchased from the store. You can often find both vinegar pickles and pickles fermented with salt only.
I’ve also seen recipes for Korean fermented lemons where the lemons are fermented with added sugar. The lemon syrup created in the process is used to make fermented lemonade and fermented lemon tea. Preserving lemons in honey is another option.
How you use your lemons depends on how they were preserved. I have lots of tips on how to use lemons preserved in salt below. If you’ve never tried fermented lemons, you won’t believe how delicious and versatile they are!
📋 What are the calories, net carbs, and protein?
One serving of these fermented lemons provides 5 calories, 1.3 grams net carbs, and 0 grams protein. (Nutrition information per Cronometer.) Sodium content will vary depending on whether the lemons are rinsed and the brine is used.
Why make fermented lemons? Here are some of the nutritional benefits and other reasons:
- Easy recipe: This is one of the easiest slow food recipes around! After about 5 minutes prep time, the lemons are completely hands-off until they are done. It’s a great way to try out a slow food recipe without making a large time investment.
- Saves money: If you already have a fermentation kit, this recipe will save you money. The fresh lemons and salt used here nearly always cost less than buying a jar of preserved lemons.
- Reduces food waste: Usually we use lemon juice (and maybe a little lemon zest) when using fresh lemons in a recipe. With preserved lemons, you can use the whole lemon, rind, pith, and flesh. It’s a great way to help cut back on food waste in your kitchen.
- Makes the rinds not bitter: The reason we can use the entire lemon is that the preserving process removes bitterness. Preserved lemons taste like everything you might love about lemons without being bitter. You get that wonderful citrus and floral thing going on, with a hit of umami from fermentation.
- Flavor enhancer for most special diets: Are you following a keto, low carb, vegan, gluten free, dairy free, soy free, or other special diet? Fermented lemons are a good fit for most diets, plus they are major allergen-free. A jar of fermented lemons would make a lovely gift for the foodies in your life.
What do you need to make fermented lemons? Here are the ingredients you need:
- Meyer lemons (or another type of fresh lemon)
- Canning salt, pickling salt, or fine grind sea salt
Do NOT use iodized salt or coarse grind salt for this recipe. Iodine can inhibit the fermentation process. Coarsely ground salt does not measure the same as a finely ground and you will use too little.
If you want to be really specific regarding the amount of salt used, weigh the lemons and use 2% of this weight in salt. I find this unnecessarily fussy for lemon ferments and just use the measurements provided below. That said, weighing will get you the minimum amount of salt you need for a safe ferment.
I love, love, love using fresh Meyer lemons in this recipe. I find salted Meyer lemons to be fabulous-tasting and fragrant, and absolutely worth seeking out. If you can’t find them, another type of lemon will work here.
You will need more lemons than what you’ll slice into the jar. That’s because we’re making the brine with fresh lemon juice. Bottled lemon juice is not a good substitute for fresh juice in this recipe.
In short, you only need two ingredients for this recipe that you can find in most major supermarkets. How’s that for simple?
You’re more likely to have success with the fermentation of lemons if you have a few special pieces of kitchen equipment. You need a good kitchen knife to slice the lemons. (This is something every kitchen should have, so probably not accurate to call it special equipment.)
A wide-mouth pint-size glass mason jar is perfect for fermenting. The wide mouth fits most fermentation lids, while the jar’s “shoulders” help keep the lemons down.
I also highly recommend getting a fermentation kit with jar weights and air lock lids. These items go a long way in keeping your lemons submerged in brine and the moisture level in the jar just right.
After getting a fermenting set, I’ve never had a ferment go bad. It was a great investment that has prevented a lot of food waste through the years!
I use this fermenting set, and I really can’t say enough good things about it. I use it to make sauerkraut and other fermented goodies as well.
One more thing I’d have on hand is a lemon squeezer or juicer. I use an inexpensive manual hand squeezer for juicing, though a pricier electric juice extractor also works. We’re not using bottled juice here, and you’ll need to get the juice out of the lemons somehow.
🔪 How to Make Fermented Lemons
Let’s learn how to make fermented lemons! It’s SUPER easy, I promise.
Before you begin, thoroughly clean and sanitize your canning jar in the dishwasher. You do not need to sterilize the equipment since you are not canning your lemon ferment.
Rinse and dry your whole lemons. Juice enough lemons to yield ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice.
Cut off the blossom and stem ends off two of the lemons. Cut the lemons into slices that are ¼-inch thick. Save the lemon ends for another recipe.
The reason we don’t use the ends is that the slices ferment a little more slowly. No need to throw them out though; I like to use them to infuse water.
(BTW, you could also cut the lemons into quarters, leaving them whole by not cutting them entirely through. I prefer to slice them since I generally chop them smaller anyway to use in recipes.)
Rub your lemon slices on all sides with salt. Don’t cut back on the salt in this recipe. The salt helps to prevent bad bacteria growth during fermentation.
Pack the lemon slices tightly into a jar, but don’t overfill! The slices must remain below the lip of the jar. Use fewer lemons than you sliced, if needed.
Cover the sliced lemons in the jar completely with lemon juice. You MUST fully submerge the lemons under the liquid to help prevent mold. You may or may not need all of the lemon juice you squeezed.
Place the jar weight in the jar to help keep the lemons under the liquid. Screw on the air lock lid (adding water to the lid, if necessary, according to the type of lid used).
⏲️ Ferment Time and Temperature
How long to ferment lemons? I recommend fermenting lemons for 4-5 weeks at room temperature (about 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit).
If you are using an air lock lid and jar weight, you should not need to do anything with the lemons while they ferment. The one exception is if you are using an air lock lid with water, and your house is dry. In that case, you may need to add water to the lid periodically.
🌡️ How to Store
Should preserved lemons be refrigerated? Yes, refrigerate these lemons after the fermentation period has ended. They will keep in the fridge for 6-12 months, as long as they remain submerged in the brine.
️🧂 How to Use
Wondering what to do with fermented lemons? I’ve got you! I love to use preserved lemons instead of fresh when I am looking for more complex flavors.
First of all, you can use both the rind and pulp in recipes, though some only use the rind. I always use the entire fermented lemon when I cook.
Keep in mind that this ingredient provides robust flavor and a lot of salt. A little goes a long way in recipes! You can rinse your preserved lemons before adding to a recipe if you find them too salty.
Fermented lemon peel is a popular ingredient in Moroccan cooking, where you will often find it in tagine recipes. This Moroccan Chickpea Tagine by Calm Eats is a really delicious way to use preserved lemons. We all loved it!
You can also use preserved lemons in marinades, dressings, and dips where you’d usually use fresh citrus fruits. Make a preserved lemon aioli. Try blending a slice or two of preserved lemon into this Pink Hummus in place of the orange juice and orange zest.
Preserved lemon is also a welcome addition to soups, lentil salads, and salmon dishes. Try blending a little fermented lemon into a puree and stir it into plain fermented dairy products. You can use lemon kefir or savory lemon yogurt as a condiment in many dishes.
Ottolenghi recipes are a wonderful resource for ideas for preserved lemons. A lot of the flavor combinations used in his recipes would be great with some preserved lemon thrown in. Here’s a link to one of my favorite Ottolenghi cookbooks.
💭 Expert Tips from a Dietitian
This is a level 1 recipe (may help support fat loss). Fermented lemons are a low calorie, low carb, and low-fat condiment. I don’t hesitate to classify this as a level 1 recipe. They are a wonderful addition to a variety of healthy recipes.
The one group that these fermented lemons are not appropriate for are individuals on low sodium diets. If you have a medically-indicated sodium restriction, foods fermented in lots of salt are not the best option. That would include these preserved lemons, as well as traditionally fermented sauerkraut and pickles.
As mentioned previously, the salt is necessary in this recipe for safe fermentation. If you are on a strict low sodium diet, I would stick to using fresh lemons in recipes.
On the flip side, this salty condiment can help if you need to boost your electrolyte intake. Athletes who are salty sweaters and some on keto and very low carb diets may benefit here. Both of these groups may experience large electrolyte losses and this recipe may help with replenishment.
As with most things in nutrition, the determination of whether this recipe is a good choice depends on what you need. The answer is not going to be the same for everyone!
You could (at least in theory) ferment lemons into alcohol. However, you would likely need to adjust the acidity levels and use added sugar to get the process going. The risk that this lemon ferment recipe will become an alcohol ferment is minimal.
Preserved lemons are a low calorie way to add flavor that will enhance a variety of dishes. If you are on a low-sodium diet, however, foods fermented in salt are not a good choice. You can reduce the sodium by rinsing the lemons before using. Sticking with fresh lemons will be a better option if you are on a medically-indicated low sodium diet.
Yes, you can freeze preserved lemons for longer-term storage. However, since they keep for 6 months-1 year in the fridge, I’ve never had a need to freeze them.
Preserved lemons will keep for months in the fridge. The lemons must be kept submerged in the brine or they will become moldy. Use a jar weight when storing fermented lemons in the fridge to keep them from popping up above the liquid level. As always, when in doubt, throw them out if you think the lemons have gone bad.
Yes, preserved lemons are keto friendly! One medium lemon provides 3.8 grams net carbs (per Cronometer). Typically, you use 1-2 fermented lemons in an entire recipe- not one serving. This results in a very low carb count per serving.
👩🏻🍳 Other Fermented Recipes
Looking for other foods to ferment? Here some more recipes for ferments you may enjoy:
- Fermented Red Cabbage Sauerkraut
- Fermented Beets and Turnips
- How to Make Sourdough Bread Starter and Bread
- Instant Pot Yogurt Recipe (Only 2 Ingredients!)
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All recipes on this website may or may not be appropriate for you, depending on your medical needs and personal preferences. Consult with a registered dietitian or your physician if you need help determining the dietary pattern that may be best for you.
The nutrition information is an estimate provided as a courtesy. It will differ depending on the specific brands and ingredients that you use. Calorie information on food labels may be wildly inaccurate, so please don't sweat the numbers too much.
For more information on how the three recipe levels may help with a weight management goal, refer to my overnight oats no sugar post. Let's get cooking!
Fermented Lemons (Preserved Lemons)
- 2 large Meyer lemons (can use other types of lemons; you may need more lemons to fill the jar if they are small)
- ¾ cup lemon juice, fresh squeezed (made from additional fresh lemons)
- 2 tablespoons pickling salt or finely ground sea salt
- Clean and sanitize your canning jar in the dishwasher. Rinse and dry your whole lemons.
- Cut off the blossom and stem ends off two lemons. Cut the lemons into slices that are ¼-inch (0.64 cm) thick. Save the lemon ends for another recipe. (Infused water or candied lemon peels are two possibilities.)
- Juice enough of the remaining lemons to yield ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice.
- Rub your lemon slices on all sides with salt. Don’t cut back on the amount of salt in this recipe. It helps prevent bad bacteria growth during the fermentation process.
- Pack the salted lemon slices tightly into a jar, but don’t overfill. The slices must remain below the lip of the jar. Use fewer lemons than you sliced, if needed.
- Cover the sliced lemons in the jar completely with lemon juice. You may or may not need all of the lemon juice you squeezed.
- Place the jar weight (from the fermentation kit) in the jar to help keep the lemons under the liquid. Screw on the air lock lid. Add water to the lid if necessary, if the lid you have requires it.
- Allow your lemons to ferment for 4-5 weeks at room temperature (about 60-70°F/16-21°C). Compare the pics of fresh to finished lemons in this article for visual indicators of "doneness."
- If you are using an air lock lid and jar weight, you should not need to do anything with the lemons while they ferment. The one exception is if you are using an air lock lid with water, and your house is dry. In that case, you may need to add water to the lid periodically.
- Refrigerate the fermented lemons after the fermentation period has ended. (Use a regular canning jar lid for storage, not the airlock lid.) They will keep in the fridge for 6-12 months, as long as they remain submerged in the brine. Enjoy!