How to Freeze Whole Citrus

Written by Beth - Budget Bytes

Okay, I’ve got a quick tip for you today that I hope will as life changing for you as it was for me. Here it is: you can freeze whole citrus. Say whaaaaa? If you’re already privy to the magic that happens when you cook with fresh citrus, but hate paying a dollar or more for just one lemon, this tip may just change your game. If you’re sitting here thinking, “Why on earth would I want to freeze whole citrus fruit??” read on and allow me to explain…

How to Freeze Whole Citrus

Learn how to freeze whole citrus fruit to save money, reduce waste, and always have flavorful citrus zest and juice on hand.

Why Cook with Fresh Citrus?

Between bottled juice and freeze dried citrus peels, there are a lot of ways to add citrus flavor to your food, but none compare to fresh juice and zest. It’s just a whole different beast when fresh. Cooking with fresh citrus is a total game changer and will take any meal up about ten notches. Sure, I will sometimes still use bottled juice when it’s a more secondary ingredient, or just needed to act as an acid in a chemical reaction, but when I’m making a recipe where lemon or lime is the star of the show, fresh is an absolute must.

Here are some of my favorite recipes that feature the awesomeness of fresh citrus:

Freezer Bag Full of Fresh Lemons

Freezer to the Rescue!

The problem is that buying a single lemon or lime can be super pricey. They’re quite a bit less expensive when you buy them by the bag, but I can never seem to go through an entire bag before they shrivel and die. UNTIL, that is, I learned that you can freeze whole citrus fruit. So go ahead and buy a whole bag without worry. Use one or two now, stash the rest in your freezer, and use them as needed.

Frozen lemons and limes are almost easier to zest, and once thawed they’ll release their juice more readily because, as with any fruit or vegetable, freezing and thawing weakens the cell walls. You can thaw the fruit quickly with a brief 15-20 seconds in the microwave, or by running under warm water for a few seconds. Always zest before you thaw because once the fruit is soft post-thawing, zesting can be difficult.

Zesting Limes

Must the Citrus be Frozen Whole?

Nope, you can totally cut or slice the citrus fruit before freezing, or even just freeze your unused leftover peels on their own, but I prefer to freeze the fruit whole. Why? Because I usually use a combination of the juice and the zest in my recipes for extra citrusy flavor, and they are much easier to zest when whole (and frozen solid). Plus, keeping them whole protects the insides from drying out as quickly. Natural protection!

The Method:

  1. Wash and dry your fruit to remove any waxy coating. While the waxy coating will actually help protect them in the freezer, you don’t want to have to worry about the waxes later if you plan on zesting your fruit straight from the freezer.
  2. Place the whole citrus fruit in a heavy duty freezer bag and seal it up tight. Air exposure is the enemy when it comes to freezing food because it sucks out moisture and deadens flavors.
  3. Freeze the citrus. There is no exact cut off date for how long the citrus will last in your freezer. Instead, they will just slowly dry over time. Over a long time. Like months. If and when the peel begins to dry out, the zest may not be as flavorful, but the juice inside will still be quite usable. That being said, I usually try to use up my frozen foods within three months to ensure optimum quality.
  4. To use the frozen fruit, remove it from the freezer bag and zest the fruit while frozen solid. Once zested, thaw the fruit through by either microwaving for 15-20 seconds, or running it under warm water. Once thawed, slice in half and squeeze the juice as usual. The juice should flow from the citrus quite easily.

And that’s it! I hope you get as much use (and FLAVOR) from citrus as possible in the future, without having to pay a premium. :)

Citrus fruit medley - How to Freeze Whole Citrus