When life gives you lemons…

She picked up the lemons that Fate had sent her and started a mediocre food blog

– Elbert Hubbard, with some minor edits by me

Lets talk about preserved lemon; how it is made and is it worth the effort. I have my from-scratch batch at the ready as well as a jar that I purchased from the supermarket, for the purpose of comparison. I am now the proud owner of more pickled citrus than even the most die-hard fan could hope to consume. Let’s hope its edible

What is preserved lemon?

Preserved lemon is a staple of both North African and South Asian cuisine and has recently been popularised in the UK by the hipster food community. I’m politely dismissive of the alternative grains brigade, which is probably why I’ve avoided this foodstuff so far. In fact prior to today I had never actually tasted preserved lemon, unless you count nibbling on the odd wedge that I’ve fished out of a G&T (Gin is a form of preservation right? Self-preservation maybe).

Jar of preserved lemons, with chili, star anise and cinnamon
Sea salt is a photographers dream


Preserved lemon can be used as an ingredient in tagines, soups and rice dishes, or as a treatment for enlarged spleens, apparently. Please don’t hold me to that.

The process

  1. Chop up your lemons. 5-6 fruit
  2. Pack layers of lemon wedges and salt (~100g) into a sterilised 500ml jar. When you think you’ve run out of space just keep ramming those lemons in
  3. Poke in spices of your choice (cinnamon sticks, star annise, dried chilli, coriander seed etc.)
  4. Top up with water if needed
  5. Seal jar and forget about it for a month
  6. Serve to large spleened friends
Kitchen and chopping board with lemons
More lemons. Don’t they look lovely, like a parcel of sunshine

If you need more comprehensive guidance use an internet search engine and some initiative.

Is it worth making?

The cost

After some quick calculation I arbitrarily estimate that I have paid £2.75 to produce a 500ml jar of preserve. Taking into account the size of the batch, I have therefore saved a grand total of £1.50. Or at least I would have done, if I hadn’t also bought a jar from Sainsbury’s.

The effort

The exertion was minimal to be honest. I spent longer posing the lemons for their photoshoot than I did making the pickle.

The taste

And now for the acid test. I will taste mine first.
Imagine a lemon, unsurprisingly that’s the flavour of this preserved lemon. There is an intense sour tang which lingers in the mouth. The preservation process has taken the edge off that lip-pursing acidity associated with the raw fruit, highlighting its bright fresh qualites. After the salt and citrus has faded a more aromatic flavour comes through. But yeah, basically it’s lemony.

This is not an endorsment.

And how does it compare to Sainsbury’s best? Hmmm…this supermarket stuff has a much milder flavour. Its more of a tickle than a punch. Perhaps because the taste is more subtle the fragrance and earthiness are really coming through. I wouldn’t say it’s better, but it is disappointingly good. Why didn’t I buy own brand?

The verdict

The homemade product might not have a particular taste advantage but it’s so easy to make and saves some pennies. It also makes your cupboard look pretty. 6/10.

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