Fermented Lemons {Preserved Spiced Lemons}

Fermented lemons are one of those recipes you make on a whim for fun and then fall in love with. For me, they became a permanent pantry staple. And preserved lemons are surprisingly versatile too, and although my version is spiced, you can keep it simple with just the basics: lemons, salt, and water. It’s really that easy.

A large glass jar half full of muddled, smushed sliced meyer lemons and other ingredients like herbs and spices. The jar is getting ready to be fermented and preserved. It is on a wooden table and small white flowers can be seen behind.
A large glass jar completely full to the top with whole meyer lemons which have been quartered but not completely severed. Spices can be seen interspersed with the lemons.

Why You Should Make Fermented Lemons

  • Easy fermentation recipe. Want to start fermenting foods for their all of their benefits? Start with a simple recipe like this.
  • Simple ingredients. You need lemons, salt, and water. My recipe uses additional spices, but yours doesn’t have too. Traditional Moroccan preserved lemons do not use spices but Indian versions do.
  • Extended shelf life. Fermented or preserved lemons have an incredibly long shelf life — at least a year.
  • Probiotic. Fermented foods like these are teeming with gut healthy beneficial bacteria.
  • Versatile. Fermented lemons are a practical pantry staple to have on hand as they can be used in literally countless recipes.
  • Take advantage of food at peak freshness. If lemons are on sale or in season, this is a great way to enjoy them. Fermented foods (and preserving foods in general) are one of my top tips of how you can help prepare for a beat food shortages and inflation.

If you love these fermented lemons with spices, you should try some of my other easy ferments — like beet kvass! Or cultured raw buttersoured milk, and my raw milk kefir smoothie.

My recipe for traditional Irish soda bread also utilizes raw cultured buttermilk.

What Are Fermented Lemons?

Fermented lemons, or preserved lemons, are a condiment made by fermenting whole lemons in salt and their own juices. The process takes at least a month (at room temperature) and the resulting lemons can be stored and used for at least a year, if not more, in a variety of ways.

Preserved lemon are an essential ingredient in many Moroccan and North African dishes such as tagines, but they are also used in Middle Eastern cuisine and many South Asian dishes where they are sometimes called pickled lemons and made with mustard seeds and other ingredients.

What Do They Taste Like?

A unique flavor that can be enjoyed in different ways! Slightly salty and briny, tart, slightly sweet, fruity and bright, deep and complex. The most extraordinary transformation is in the pith and lemon rind which loses all bitterness. The flesh is nice, but the preserved lemon peel is the most flavorful and interesting part. It is a very intense lemony flavor.

How Do You Use Them?

You can use your fermented lemons in savory dishes like tagines, rice dishes, salad dressings, meat dishes like roasted chicken or turkey, smoked turkey, or duck (try them with lamb instead of, or in addition to, fresh lemon), any seafood dishes really, even something like smoked trout.

You can use fermented lemons in most recipes where fresh lemons work. Try a preserved lemon vinaigrette with some olive oil.

Linked below are some of my recipes where these preserved lemons could really shine.

My Recipes:

An overhead ingredient shot of what is needed to make this fermented preserved and spiced lemon recipe.

Ingredients

The first three ingredients are mandatory, everything afterwards is optional, but I think you should just make a jar of each personally.

  • Lemons | Sweet Meyer lemons are the best choice as they are thin-skinned. I recommend sourcing organic lemons as you will be using the entire lemon and eating the rinds. The regular lemons you find in most grocery stores are very thick-skinned and are not the best choice, although they will work in a pinch.
  • Sea Salt | Do not use iodized salt, but otherwise you have options. Fine salt is preferred rather than coarse. Pink Himalayan salt and kosher salt is fine.
  • Water | Do not use tap water that is chlorinated. Leave your tap water out for 24 hours for the chlorine to dissipate first or you may get unpredictable results. This is true of all ferments. You can also use spring, well, or filtered water.
  • Spices | I will be making fermented spiced lemons with the following: Fenugreek, Cinnamon Sticks, Black Peppercorns, Cumin Seeds. You may want to add: mustard seeds, a whole dried spicy chile pepper. All entirely optional.

Equipment

You need a large glass jar (mason jar) with a lid, or several smaller jars. And something to pound the lemons down to release their juice.

A great starter kit for those new to fermentation is this simple one from Masontops that comes with glass weights, a wooden tamper (for pounding things like these lemons or sauerkraut), and fermentation lids that help excess gas escape safely. I started with this kit several years ago and still use everything in it. It comes in wide-mouth or regular mouth.

Unlike most ferments, this one doesn’t require a fermentation weight or require you to “burp” your jar to release excess Co2 or use a special pickle pipe lid.

Instructions (Step-By-Step Photos)

Meyer lemons being quartered on a wooden cutting board with a sharp chef's knife. They are not completely severed but left intact.

Take a whole lemon, slice the little nibs off of both of the ends. Then cut them into quarters as shown in the picture. Do not slice them completely through, leave them whole but sliced open. You can also cut them into wedges but I prefer this way.

The lemons being layered into the jar with sea salt.

Start layering your lemons into the jar and applying a very big pinch of salt over each layer. Do not be concerned about the amount of salt as fermented lemons are rinsed thoroughly before using, and the salt is a crucial requirement that allows good bacteria to flourish while keeping bad bacteria at bay.

A large glass jar completely full to the top with whole meyer lemons which have been quartered but not completely severed. Whole Fenugreek seeds are being added from a large wooden spoon.

Top view of the glass jar as it becomes filled with lwmons and other ingredients.

A large glass jar completely full to the top with whole meyer lemons which have been quartered but not completely severed. Whole black peppercorns are being added from a large wooden spoon.

A large glass jar completely full to the top with whole meyer lemons which have been quartered but not completely severed. Spices can be seen interspersed with the lemons.

A large glass jar completely full to the top with whole meyer lemons which have been quartered but not completely severed. Spices can be seen interspersed with the lemons.

Once your jar is full to the top with your lemons, add any spices you wish to add. Here I’m adding: fenugreek, whole peppercorns, and cumin.

Now it is time to muddle!

Grab your tamper, wooden spoon, or something similar, and begin to mash and smash your lemons into the jar. Keep pounding until as much juice as possible is released.

A close up looking inside the jar of the muddled lemons and spices. Two bay leaves and two cinnamon sticks are resting on top.

Now just close the jar and keep it in a cool, dark place (like your pantry) for a whole month before using.

Every other day, flip the jar upside down and then the next, flip it again so that the briny lemon juice is evenly distributed. The fermentation process takes care of all the work.

Store in the refrigerator or a cold, dark place like your cellar or cold room.

A large glass jar half full of muddled, smushed sliced meyer lemons and other ingredients like herbs and spices. The jar is getting ready to be fermented and preserved. It is on a wooden table.

Storage

Preserved lemons take at least one month in the pantry to come into their full flavors.

Afterwards they can be stored for at least a year (but likely much, much longer) in the refrigerator. Keep away from direct sunlight.

I don’t recommend freezing.

Related Recipes

Looking for more fermented recipes like this one? Try these:

Top Tips

  • Before using the preserved lemons in recipes, rinse each wedge thoroughly under running water! Don’t forget that part!
  • Don’t forget to flip your jar regularly as it ferments to distribute the briny juice.
A large glass jar half full of muddled, smushed sliced meyer lemons and other ingredients like herbs and spices. The jar is getting ready to be fermented and preserved. It is on a wooden table and small white flowers can be seen behind.

Fermented Lemons {Preserved Spiced Lemons}

Fermented preserved lemons infused with optional spices.
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Fermentation Time: 30 days
Course: Condiment
Cuisine: Mediterranean
Keyword: lemons
Servings: 1 litres
Author: Jana Dziak

Ingredients

  • 10 Lemons washed and quartered or halved
  • Sea salt do not use iodized table salt
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon fenugreek
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick

Instructions

  • Slice the little nibs off of both of the ends of your Meyer lemons and then cut them into quarters
  • Start layering your lemons into the jar and applying a very big pinch of salt over each layer. Do not be concerned about the amount of salt as fermented lemons are rinsed thoroughly before using, and the salt is a crucial requirement that allows good bacteria to flourish while keeping bad bacteria at bay.
  • Once your jar is full to the top with your lemons, add any spices you wish to add. I'm adding: fenugreek, whole peppercorns, and cumin.
  • Grab your tamper, wooden spoon, or something similar, and begin to mash and smash your lemons into the jar. Keep pounding until as much juice as possible is released.
  • After muddling, add the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks.
  • Place the jar in a dark corner of your pantry where it will stay for the next 4-weeks.
  • Every other day, flip the jar so that the briny lemon juice is evenly distributed.
  • At the end of 4-weeks, your preserved lemons are ready. They can now be moved into the fridge where they will keep for an excpetionally long time. I have a jar that is older than a year and still going strong.
  • Before using the preserved lemons in recipes, rinse each wedge thoroughly under running water.

Notes

Before using the preserved lemons in recipes, rinse each wedge thoroughly under running water.
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