Canning, Freezing & More Preserving / Recipes

Freezing Fresh Lemon Slices, Lemon Juice and Lemon Zest

Lemon slices

Remember my hefty harvest of lemons from the other week? Of those 60-plus lemons, I put up over half of them in less than an hour and none of it involved a jar (well, just one jar, but not in the way you think).

The trick to preserving all those lemons in a flash? Freeze them!

Lemons are indispensable in the kitchen, but rarely do I ever use a whole lemon at once. How many times have you wanted just a slice of lemon in your water, or found a recipe that calls for just a tablespoon of lemon juice? After a slice or a squeeze, I’m usually dismayed to find a forgotten, puckered-up lemon wedge in my fridge a week later.

But no more. No more shriveled-up half-lemons in the crisper bin. No more running to the store for just one lemon. No more lemon-shaped plastic bottles of artificial lemon juice. You can freeze a steady supply of fresh lemon slices, lemon juice and lemon zest to use all year long!

To freeze lemon slices that you can drop into drinks, lay them out on a cookie sheet and set them in the freezer for a few hours. Once they’re solid, collect them into a zip-top storage bag, where they’ll stay frozen individually (and not clumped together into a yellow iceberg if you were to freeze all the slices together in the bag).

I like to add a slice or two for a little zip to iced tea, or to cool down a too-hot tea.

Lemon slices

Lay lemon slices on a cookie sheet

Frozen lemon slices

Frozen lemon slices

To freeze lemon zest, I use a Microplane to quickly and finely grate the peel. The zest is stored in a glass jar in the freezer and one little pint jar lasts quite a long time. Whenever a recipe calls for that random teaspoon of zest, it’s easy to scoop out as needed.

Zested lemon

Lemon zest

The rest of that zested lemon is juiced and poured into an ice cube tray. The frozen cubes then go into another zip-top bag to save space; I usually keep a few bags of lemon slices and lemon cubes in the freezer at all times.

Each lemon cube (about a tablespoon’s worth) is the perfect serving size to brighten up dishes or drinks.

Juicing lemons

Lemon juice poured into an ice cube tray for freezing

Lemon zest and lemon juice ready for the freezer

The leftover lemon rind can be used to polish a stainless steel sink or chrome faucet; sprinkled with salt to scrub a counter clean; and finally, ground in the garbage disposal to freshen the drain.

At the end of all this, you’re left with lots of lemons, a spruced-up space and a lovely smelling kitchen!

About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »

52 Comments

  • Pam
    March 2, 2020 at 2:50 am

    Thanks for the great tips. If you have a lemon tree, do yourself a favor and buy the juicer attachment for your electric mixer. Ours is on its 3rd year, and going strong. We juice over 8 gallons or juice each year and keep looking for new lemon recipes.

    Reply
  • Carol
    February 23, 2020 at 10:23 pm

    I have a tree-full of Meyer lemons I need to pick. I want to preserve the zest, but the last time I tried with regular lemon zest after a few weeks I had unrecognizable black goo in a bag. I am thinking this time I will try putting the zest in ice trays and covering them with juice to freeze.

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      February 27, 2020 at 1:52 am

      You found black goo after freezing the lemon zest? That doesn’t sound right. The lemons should be scrubbed/washed clean before zesting, if you hadn’t done that.

      Reply
  • Heather Huston
    February 22, 2019 at 10:50 pm

    Thank you Garden Betty! What a great post. I already freeze cubes and slices but never thought the zest would work well. Going to zest now.

    Reply
    • Linda from Garden Betty
      June 10, 2019 at 1:24 am

      It’s so handy to have around when I need just a pinch or two of zest!

      Reply
  • Larisa Afanasew from Melbourne
    May 16, 2017 at 10:32 am

    I rub lemon juice with sugar onto my hands eg exfoliate then wash it off. It’s amazing how beautiful and soft the skin becomes.

    Reply
  • Stellapuppy
    January 15, 2016 at 11:07 am

    Thanks. Our Meyer lemon knocks out over 100 lemons a year and we need to find ways to save them.

    Reply
    • David N Cook
      February 18, 2017 at 11:10 pm

      We must have your tree’s twin – I picked 2 Doz just now, so ripe they have that almost orange color to them. One doz+ gave me almost 2qts juice.
      Oxnard Shores, CA

      Reply
  • Carole
    October 24, 2015 at 9:25 am

    Does the lemon zest need to be frozen in a single layer first, just as the lemon slices do? I’m thinking that if I just zest the lemon and put it into a small jar, it will become one hard lump when frozen.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly of Garden Betty
      October 31, 2015 at 7:26 pm

      I usually don’t have a problem with the zest clumping together, since I don’t pack the zest tightly into a jar and I just scrape out what I need with a spoon once it’s frozen. However if that’s a concern, you can spread them out to dry slightly (at room temp or in the fridge) before storing them.

      Reply
  • Cherryl
    July 22, 2015 at 7:04 am

    I love the tips for storing an abundance of lemon parts for later use. I try to do that whenever lemons are on sale.

    Another tip for using the rind of a squeezed lemon is to rub it on your face and elbows as a fruit acid treatment. Leave it on for at least 15 minutes before wiping off with a damp cloth. My dermatologist from my teen years told me this trick, and it has kept dark spots and wrinkles at bay. I’m 60 and very happy with the results. Of course, her prescription also included consuming the juice of half a lemon in lots of water daily. That may also be part of the treatment!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      August 5, 2015 at 8:07 pm

      Interesting! I haven’t tried that, but I do use lemon to treat stains and clean my kitchen from time to time.

      Reply
  • AH
    February 8, 2015 at 1:44 am

    i have some lemons that i want to zest and juice for a specific recipe, but i know i’ll have some leftover zest and juice.
    most of the spice jars i find these days are plastic, not glass. will those work? i do have several of the plastic ones, but i’m concerned that they won’t keep the zest properly in the freezer.
    thanks so much for the tips!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 8, 2015 at 2:12 pm

      If your plastic containers are freezer-proof, they should be fine. If you mean plastic spice jars that you’ve recycled, the plastic might be a little thin so you should use up your zest sooner before it gets freezer burn.

      Just a tip: I save a bunch of the little glass jars that my olives, capers, jams, etc. come in, specifically for storing stuff like this.

      Reply
      • AH
        February 10, 2015 at 8:43 pm

        thanks, linda. i think i do have a couple of glass jars left. (i used to recycle my empty glass jars, but they’re getting so hard to find these days that i’ve started saving all i can.)

        Reply
        • Barbara Karr
          October 29, 2017 at 2:29 am

          I was thinking and griping about the lack of glass jars just yesterday. Here we are recycling plastic and a lot of people and places don’t even bother. Glass is becoming more scarce by the day and they are reusable. While we are finding out their plastic repacements are not always safe to use, Plus I am getting tired of industry using my family as lab rats. Teflon pans are bad for us, plastic storage containers are not safe (Tupperware!), and we never find out util our families have been exposed for sometimes years, Maybe we women should start a back to glass movement. It’s cheaper to ship and use plastic and we are paying the price in more ways than one! B.K.

          Reply
      • Wanda Carroll
        July 17, 2017 at 6:18 am

        Thanks for the tip! I’ve just started hoarding lemons since I found a good deal on bulk!

        Reply
  • Seaslug
    January 11, 2015 at 9:49 am

    Doesn’t lemon juice acid break down the plastic leeching out dioxin?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      January 11, 2015 at 11:04 pm

      Are you referring to the plastic bag or the plastic ice cube tray? The lemons are already frozen by the time they’re bagged (you can store them in a glass container, if you wish) and the juice doesn’t take that long to freeze once it’s in the tray. I’d say the chances of the juice breaking down the plastic in that short amount of time would be highly unlikely. I suppose you could use a silicone or stainless steel tray instead, but those would have their own drawbacks.

      Reply
  • Dotswords
    December 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm

    Thank you thank you!!!! geat pics too!!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      December 7, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      You’re welcome!

      Reply
  • Annie
    July 17, 2014 at 6:02 pm

    My mom is grating and juicing a ton of lemons for 4 separate lemon desserts and we’re going to try this out afterwards. I’ll let you know how this works for those who are curious when we’re done.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      July 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      Wonderful, keep us posted!

      Reply
  • lolita
    May 11, 2014 at 6:54 am

    Thank you for this article. I, too, was tired of getting around to using the last lemon, only to find it dried out. I just finished putting lemon slices and lemon zest in the freezer. Then it was time for a chore I shun – cleaning the grater. I usually seem to grate one or two of my knuckles in the process. Then I had an idea. When I buy toothbrushes, I usually buy a pack of 5 or 6 (Dollar store for $1) so I can use a new one every couple of months (good hygiene). I thought why not use one of the new ones now? It worked great/grate in two ways: 1) brush out all the lemon zest out of the grater so none was wasted, and 2) use the brush to scrub the grater. Win/win.

    Reply
  • Mishmosh
    April 19, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    I have three freshly zest’d lemons which i am going to juice right now so that i can cube the juice! Great hints – thank you!

    Reply
  • Sheryl
    January 31, 2014 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you. Exactly the information I was looking for on a great looking page. Going to zest some lemons now….

    Reply
  • julie
    November 23, 2013 at 11:30 pm

    Great info. I’ve been freezing little cubes of fresh lemon to make lemon water but the idea of zesting them first is perfect – especially the organic ones. I had not thought of freezing the slices though- perfect for my infusion pitcher.

    Reply
  • Doris Rollins Meador
    November 12, 2013 at 9:37 am

    how cold to freeze the lemons on a tree

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      November 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm

      I’m not quite following? This post is about freezing lemons once they’re harvested.

      Reply
  • Consuelo
    June 3, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    You made me curious as to why frozen citrus slices are not on the market so I asked Sunkist. This is their reply.

    “We appreciate your interest in Sunkist. When citrus
    freezes, the juice sacs burst, so when it is thawed out the fruit is dry.”

    Sunkist Growers
    Good to know before going to all the work!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      June 3, 2013 at 6:36 pm

      My frozen slices have never thawed out into a dry fruit; in fact they’re still as juicy as my fresh slices, but just more soggy (as expected of anything thawed out).

      If you use ripe fruit, you should not have a problem. I’m guessing Sunkist (like most food producers) pick their fruits while still green and then start the ripening process with ethylene gas before shipment. They could never wait until their fruits ripened naturally in order to freeze them for packaging.

      Reply
  • Laura
    May 30, 2013 at 12:04 am

    Thank you Betty! Lovely photos and easy to see how to freeze my lemons for popping into drinks for a party this weekend!

    Reply
  • John Res
    May 27, 2013 at 10:59 am

    Nice lemons you got there!

    Reply
  • Donna
    April 13, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I have been hearing great things about lemon water which I have been drinking for detoxing in general. I think I will also try to zest oranges and lemons together and see how that goes. I LOVE orange juice but it has a lot of sugar so maybe I’ll give this zesting a try to add to my water. And thanks for the freezing ideas.

    Reply
  • Sally
    December 20, 2012 at 11:05 am

    Another idea.  I zested 2 lemons and added in 2 ts fresh rosemary that I diced and 1/2 C of sea salt or kosher salt.  It fills 2 small spice jars.  Great with chicken or pork.  Now I’m juicing the lemons and freezing the juice.  

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      December 23, 2012 at 10:53 pm

      Great idea!

      Reply
  • Queen8211
    November 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    Do u ever freeze them whole?

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      November 20, 2012 at 5:58 pm

      I do not, since I rarely ever use a whole lemon. I’m also not sure how well it would thaw out.

      Reply
    • MarJanB
      December 31, 2019 at 8:21 pm

      I do- wash them and put into zip top freezer bags, remove however many you need. If you want the zest, grate them while they are still mostly frozen. These are actually easier to juice than fresh ones because the freezing has broken the little juice sacks inside the lemon. They do not dry out in the freezer bag. I have used them almost year later to make lemon meringue pies with and everyone is just as pleased with those pies as ever. Several of my neighbors and friends have begun to do the same and have been satisfied with results- try it with a couple and see for yourself. I planted a Meyer lemon tree just for making my lemon pies- although of course now that I have one, I used them for lots of other things (including gifts since you can’t buy them in stores usually) and get a huge crop each year.

      Reply
  • jaytee
    November 2, 2012 at 8:13 pm

      THANK YOU!    (UPPER CASE – LEGALLY BLIND!)  I AM ADDING LEMON ZEST TO  BOUGHT VANILLA  FROSTING.  I GOUGE A HOLE IN THE MIDDLE WITH A WARM (HOT  WATER TAP) BUTTER KNIFE, AND FOLD THE LEMON ZEST IN THE FROSTING AND REFRIGERATE IT.  I ALSO LIKE RUM FLAVOR ADDED THE SAME WAY.
    BOTH OF THESE ARE EXCELLENT ON LEMON POPPY SEED CUPCAKES. 

    JAYTEE  

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      November 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

      That all sounds amazing!

      Reply
  • dee
    October 26, 2012 at 5:25 pm

    thanks girl! You totally solved my question of whether or not i can freeze lemons and you’ve also given me the bonus tip of how to lay them out!
    Also great picture instructions 🙂 for a person who is not very good with food, you really made it clear
    -Dee

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      October 26, 2012 at 9:03 pm

      Awesome!

      Reply
    • Linda Ly
      October 26, 2012 at 10:04 pm

      Yay! Enjoy!

      Reply
  • LJBizz
    October 1, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank YOU!! I knew this would be a great way to save the lemons before they get old. Can’t tell you how many I wasted before actually trying this. Thanks for your post.  PINNED!!!

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      October 1, 2012 at 12:45 pm

      Awesome! You’re welcome!

      Reply
  • Chelle
    March 20, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    So awesome. I just pinned this 🙂 I hate those little plastic lemons/limes. Many a lumpy, dried up lemon I have met in my fridge. This totally fixes that problem. Too bad I never find myself with too many lemons or limes. Sigh.

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      March 20, 2012 at 8:27 pm

      This makes stocking up on a whole bag at the farmers’ market worth it!

      Reply
  • Wildoakdesigns (Nancy)
    February 28, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Thanks! Yeah, last year I had a huge harvest of Limes (we call them Limones because they actually get crossed with the lemon right next to it). I did the same thing….
    Have you tried lemon confit? It is a preserving of lemon quarters between layers of sugar and salt. Find it on google…great way to preserve lemons too!
    Nancy
    wildoakdesigns.blogspot.com
    wildoakdesigns@gmail:disqus .com

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 28, 2012 at 2:28 pm

      Lemon confit sounds delicious, I’ll have to look that up!

      Reply
  • travelingchi
    February 28, 2012 at 10:31 am

    brilliant! i like how the photos make the instructions dummy proof. 😉

    Reply
    • Linda Ly
      February 28, 2012 at 2:17 pm

      LOL! This post actually needs no visuals, but I just love taking pictures of these bright and sunshiny lemons!

      Reply

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