How to Make Preserved Lemons

How to Make Preserved Lemons with Salt - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori Avey

Ancient techniques of food preservation were greatly important before the days of modern refrigeration, particularly in countries with extended periods of hot weather and limited access to fresh produce. For centuries lemons have been preserved with salt, one of the simplest and most ancient preservation ingredients. Salt-preserved lemons originated in the Middle East, though they are now used in cooking all over the world. The process of storing the lemons with salt draws out their juices and causes them to soften over time, removing bitterness from the peel and giving the lemons a wider variety of culinary purposes.

I love cooking with preserved lemons; they have a unique flavor that is distinctly lemon, while their pucker-inducing tartness is greatly reduced. I add them to braises, fish dishes, sauces and tagines. They brighten the flavor of many dishes. My husband, who adores lemons, eats them straight out of the jar! They pair really well with olives. I also sometimes use the salty, lemony liquid from the jar in salad dressings and sauces (the liquid is quite salty and can veer towards bitter– taste first and add with care!).

Preserved lemons are super easy to make. I always have a jar on hand, just in case I want to add a special flavor to a new dish. You can preserve the lemons sliced whole (the peel still attached in one place) or quarter them; it really doesn’t make a difference how they are sliced. I prefer quartering them because it makes handling them easier, allowing me to stuff the jar with more slices. Generally only the peels are used in cooking, as the lemon flesh soaks up a lot of salt from the preserving liquid, rendering it mushy.

For a delish recipe using preserved lemons, try my Moroccan Lemon Chicken with Olives.

How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori Avey

Preserved Lemons


  • 6-8 whole lemons
  • 4-5 tbsp salt

You will also need

  • Quart jar, sharp knife, pestle or wooden spoon
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Servings: Varies
Kosher Key: Pareve
  • Start by cleaning your quart jar in hot soapy water. Dry with a clean towel. Clean the outsides of the lemons, rinse and pat dry. Slice the ends from the lemons to create a flat top and bottom.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyStand the lemon on one of the flat ends. To preserve the lemons whole, cut an "x" in the lemon and stop when you are about 1/2 inch from cutting all the way through.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyThe quarters of the lemon remain attached at the base.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyOpen the lemon and pour in 1/2 tbsp of salt. Don't worry if some of the salt spills out.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyOnce you salt the lemons, pack them into the jar as tightly as possible. You can use a pestle or a wooden spoon to push them in.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyOnce all of the lemons are in the jar, add an additional 1 tbsp of salt. Press on the lemons one more time to extract as much juice as possible.
  • If the lemons are submerged in juice you can secure the lid, if not you may need to add additional fresh lemon juice to top them off.
  • Alternatively, after slicing off the ends from the lemons, you can simply quarter them into four separate pieces; the quarters do not need to remain attached at the base. If you use this method, pour 1/2 tbsp salt into the bottom of the jar, place four lemon quarters in the jar, and sprinkle 1/2 tbsp salt evenly on top of the for slices. Repeat with each quartered lemon, alternating layers of 4 slices and 1/2 salt, till the jar is tightly packed with lemon slices. Sprinkle 1 tbsp on top of the final layer of slices.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyUse a pestle to press on the lemons and extract as much juice as possible. Top off the jar with fresh lemon juice if needed.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveySeal the jar and store the lemons in a cool dry place for at least 1 week. Give them a shake every once in a while to disperse the juice and salt.
  • After 1 week, move your lemons to refrigerator. When the peels become translucent, you will know they are soft and ready for use.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons with Salt - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyWhen you are ready to use a lemon, remove it from the jar and rinse to remove excess salt.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons with Salt - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyCut all of the remaining lemon flesh and pith away from the rind and discard.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons with Salt - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyChop the preserved lemon peel according to your recipe, or whichever way you prefer.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons with Salt - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori AveyYou can store the lemons in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.
  • How to Make Preserved Lemons - Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial by Tori Avey

Comments (55)Post a Comment

    1. T.j. and Marianne, I have never tried this with limes or oranges. Theoretically it should probably work, but I’m not sure what the resulting flavor would be like. Might be a fun experiment to try! :)

    2. Oranges may not be acid enough. Limes certainly work but they do not stay green. These make a great gift too. They are expensive in the shops and so easy to make. I also add a bay leaf, a couple of peppercorns and a couple of coriander seeds to each jar. About a month before they are ready and I don’t keep them in the fridge until they are opened.

    1. Hi Nancy, I give the jars a good cleanse in hot soapy water, no need to boil sterilize (though you can if you prefer). The salt and acid from the lemon juice ward off bacteria growth.

  1. Thanks for the recipe I’ve always wanted to make them-one question though-what kind of salt should I use-table salt or kosher salt? Does it even matter? Thanks in advance:)

  2. I don’t get it Canning lemons to use only the rinds for cooking? The rinds are also used to put in Hot or Cold tea? If you cut the rinds into a salad are they not bitter any more because of the added salt? Just how are they used a receipt? Can they be used in baking I love to can It is wonderful way to use in seasons and on sale foods to help save with your food bill for further use Plus, It is there when you need it Not having to stop and run to the store Sounds like another good thing to have on hand There are many foods one would be happy to have canned and ready to use Thanks I sure would like to try lemons

    1. Hi Gransma SQ– the rinds are traditionally used in savory cooked dishes likes stews, braises and tagines. They impart a lemony flavor to slowly cooked sauces. The rinds become less bitter after they are preserved, however they are not really suitable for using in hot or cold tea because they are a bit salty (even after rinsing). Think about it this way– if you had a braised chicken dish with a sauce that you wanted to make lemony, you would add the rinds to that sauce at the beginning of cooking and let the sauce simmer with the rinds to give it a nice lemony lift. Hope that makes sense!

    2. I once gave some to a friend who did not know what to do with them, so she sliced them up and ate them as a beer food. I have done the same they are nice like that. In roast lamb gravy, with peas and in anything Moroccan.

  3. I make preserved lemons with allspice, coriander and a cinnamon stick packed into the mix. You can buy preserved lemons, but nothing comes close to homemade! The tiniest bit added to soups, stews, even ice cream brightens the flavor.

  4. This Lemon Pickle can be made by using used lemons ( after lemon juice have been used by you ). Keep a cleaned 400-500 grams glass jar handy in your kitchen. As and when you use fresh lemon juice in your dishes, just put the left over skins of lemon into the jar with half level teaspoon of salt. Keep putting lemon skins of at least 7-8 lemons. Always shake the jar after every top up of lemon skins. Now remember, you just put half teaspoon of salt, after every 7-8 lemon skins. Please try and keep the jar with lid tight out in the Sun, for at least 4-5 hours every day. In case you live in a cold climate country, then you can keep it at a warm place having light. Your lemon pickle should mature in 2 to 3 weeks time. This pickle can be used in any manner (with flesh or only peel) according to your recipe.

  5. ….one week?! If anyone else likes a very tangy, pungent, fermented flavor from their preserved lemons, I can wholeheartedly recommend letting them go two, three, and four weeks for a more developed flavor. The method I learned in Morocco asserts “at least a month.”

  6. I live in a warm country. Can I ferment the lemons in the fridge? Someone said to just cover the jar with Saran Wrap, to allow the gasses from fermentation to escape. Should I do this? Or can I seal the mason jar? Thank you so much for this wonderful recipe!

    1. Hi Sylvia, I always seal the mason jar with preserved lemons. Very little gas builds up during the process, but you can loosen the cap of the jar once a week or so to release gasses if you like. If your home is warm you can keep them in the refrigerator, but the lemons will take much longer to soften and become translucent. I would suggest keeping them in the pantry for best results– even if your home is on the warmer side, as long as you keep them in a dark, shaded area (not a window with full sun) they should be fine. Enjoy!

    1. Hi Cynthia, the insides of the lemons turn super salty and somewhat bitter. I’ve never found a good use for them, unfortunately, so I discard them. My husband, however, will eat them from time to time– he loves strong flavors. Personally, I find them far too salty! But if you like the flavor feel free to eat them.

    2. I always use everything. No need to throw anything away. When you use them in a recipe, simply adjust the amount of salt accordingly. In other words, when I use preserved lemons in a dish, I don’t generally add any other salt. The flavor of the flesh is amazing.

    3. Mike, I actually find the flesh somewhat bitter. I am pretty sensitive to bitter flavors though. My husband, like you, enjoys the flavor. I would not add the flesh to a recipe that specifically omits it, unless you are confident that the whole lemons will work, as it may result in a different flavor than the recipe author intended.

  7. I have just made my first preserved lemons and one of the jars is a little bit short of lemon juice, can I open it to add more juice?

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