At this time of year, the produce aisle is overflowing with different citrus fruit varieties. There are plenty of lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, tangerines and pomelos to choose from between January to April.
To help you make the most of citrus season and determine whether you should buy that low priced, 3 or 5lb bag, here’s some information on how to select and store citrus fruit.
How to Select the Best Citrus Fruit
It’s important to understand that citrus fruit will NOT continue to ripen or sweeten after it is picked. As a result, the citrus fruit in grocery stores should be fully ripe, after all, it would be bad business for the grower and grocer if it’s not! You may see some green on the rinds, but this coloring is more a function of growing conditions than ripeness.
Knowing that ripeness is not the issue, your goal when selecting citrus should be to find the freshest, sweetest and juiciest fruit. Here are some tips to help you achieve that goal:
1. Look for clear, blemish free rinds.
2. Choose citrus that feels heavy compared to the fruits around it. The heavier, the juicier!
3. Choose fruit with a finely textured peel versus a thick, heavily dimpled peel. You’ll get more fruit and juice. In the photo below for example, choose the lime on the left.
3. Avoid citrus with soft, tender spots or with wrinkled skin. The rind should be evenly firm around the entire fruit. Only mandarins including tangerines and clementines should have a looser peel – that’s what makes them so easy to peel.
4. Smell the citrus and choose the ones with a strong, sweet smell.
How to Store Citrus Fruit
The good news is that citrus fruit stores quite well, if done properly. If you like citrus – go ahead and buy that big bag. To store it well, keep some on the counter and the rest in the fridge. The flavor of room temperature citrus fruit will be a little more pronounced, so it’s always good to have some in the fruit bowl, but for longer storage, keeping them in the fridge will make them last much longer.
On the Counter
Citrus will keep at room temperature for about a week. A handful of oranges, tangerines and grapefruits in the fruit basket is great way to encourage healthy snacking. I find room temperature citrus is sweeter and juicier, so I always like to keep some in the fruit bowl, but I know that if I buy a big bag, I’m better off to store extras in the fridge.
In the Fridge
To keep fresh citrus fruit longer, store it in the refrigerator. Place in bags that allow for airflow, ie. they have a few holes in them or aren’t sealed tightly. Airflow is important to prevent condensation which could lead to mold growth. Stored like this, citrus can last 2 to 3 weeks.
In the Freezer
Freezing whole citrus or citrus segments is not recommended for long term preserving as they tend to get bitter if stored too long (3 months or more). Here are some freezing options:
- Peel, segment and place citrus in freezer bags and use within 3 months – pretty awesome in smoothies!
- Cover segmented citrus fruit in a simple syrup (water and sugar solution) as outlined by the National Center of Home Food Preservation.
- Freeze sliced or quartered citrus in ice cube trays and cover with water. These citrus ice cubes are great for punch, Gin and Tonic, Sangria or even a cup of hot tea.
- Lemon & lime wedges leftover from a party can be tossed in a freezer bag and used within 3 months for future beverages or tonics. Frozen lemon in boiling hot water with a little ginger and honey does wonders for colds and sore throats.
For longer storage and greater versatility, freezing the juice and zest of citrus fruit separately is a great way to preserve that fresh citrus flavor.
- Wash and scrub the outside of the citrus fruit very well.
- Remove the zest (leaving the white, bitter pith behind) with a lemon zester or a microplane.
- Place zest in a small container or bag, label and freeze. Use in place of fresh zest called for in any recipe.
- Cut the citrus in half and juice using your favorite juicing tool. For tips on getting the most juice out of citrus read my previous post 4 Tips to Get More Juice from Citrus.
- Pour juice into ice cube tray and freeze. Once cubes are frozen store in a well sealed freezer bag or container. One cube is equivalent to about 1 Tablespoon.
Favorite Citrus Recipes
Now that you’ve selected the tastiest citrus fruit, here are some tasty ways to use them.
Thanks to the Canadian Home Economics Foundation for its support in helping me share this information and test these recipes.
Getty Stewart is an engaging speaker and writer providing tasty recipes, time-saving tips, and helpful kitchen ideas to make home cooking easy and enjoyable. She is a Professional Home Economist, author of Manitoba’s best-selling Prairie Fruit Cookbook, Founder of Fruit Share, mom and veggie gardener.