It isn’t easy to buy only a few lemons when you see those bright and aromatic fruits displayed on the market shelves. But the problem is, lemons eventually go bad no matter where you store them.
How do you tell if a lemon is bad? Lots of browning and green or white fuzzy spots are signs of a bad lemon. If there are such texture changes as mushy spots or wrinkled and dried-up skin, then your lemon has most likely gone bad. Discard the lemon if it has lost its refreshing acidic taste and aroma.
In this article, we’ll discuss the storage conditions and shelf life of lemons, signs of bad lemons, and ways to use them up if they are about to go bad.
Do Lemons Go Bad?
Lemons have a limited shelf life. If not stored properly, they can grow mold and go bad very quickly. You only need to buy a few lemons at a time to keep them at their best before you use them.
Additionally, a lot depends on storage conditions.
How to Store Lemons
Lemons in a bowl placed on the counter can brighten up any kitchen. But is it the best way to store lemons? Keeping lemons at room temperature is a good idea only if you know you will be using them within a few days.
Even in this case, however, you should be careful not to leave the lemons under direct sunlight. You should also be careful not to get water or excess moisture in the lemon bowl.
Storing lemons in a cool, dry place, such as the pantry or a kitchen cabinet is a better option.
The best way to store lemons, however, is in the fridge. Put the lemons in a plastic bag, regular or zip-top, push out the excess air, and seal the bag.
Put the lemons in the crisper drawer or on the fridge shelf. Leftover lemon wedges or slices should be refrigerated in an airtight container.
If you’d like to save them for even longer, you also have the option to freeze your lemons and take them out whenever you need them.
How Long Do Lemons Last?
The shelf life of lemons depends on two things. First, you need to buy good ones. Buying firm lemons with unblemished skin is the key to making these fruits last long. Second, you need to provide proper storage conditions.
So long as you pick good lemons and store them properly, lemons will last up to 7 days on the kitchen counter. Lemons stored in the pantry will keep well for up to 14 days.
If you have a lot of lemons and need to keep them fresh longer, the fridge is the best place to store them. It extends the shelf life of lemons up to 1 month and even longer. Freezing your lemons will extend their shelf life up to 3-4 months.
Sliced or cut lemons, on the other hand, should be used within 3 to 4 days.
How Can You Tell If a Lemon Is Bad?
You can tell if a lemon is bad just by looking at it and touching it, as there are many signs to indicate that it is high time you discarded your lemons.
Here are the signs you should look out for.
1. Color Changes
A good lemon has an even, bright yellow color. Spots, be they light or dark, indicate that your fruits have started to go bad.
Dark green and brown spots that are also fuzzy are a sign of the lemons getting moldy. Sometimes mold appears on lemons in the form of a fine powder. This is penicillium, a type of mold that affects citrus fruits.
You may also notice the lemons going bright green in some areas, making the lemons resemble limes.
This is not a sign of bad lemons, but rather a signal that you have been exposing the lemons to drastic temperature changes.
So long as your lemons are not dusty and moldy and have only undertaken a vibrant green appearance, you can use them.
2. Texture Changes
As we have told you earlier in this article, good lemons are the ones that are firm and plump-looking. The longer you keep the lemons, be it at room temperature, in the pantry, or the fridge, the less firm they will become.
While this is natural, there are a few signs to tell you that it is time to get rid of your lemons.
First off, if the skin is wrinkled, it is time to toss out the lemons, as there is little moisture left in them.
You may still cut the lemons to see if you can get some juice. Lemons that have lost all their moisture may become very firm and even shrink in size.
Secondly, discard the lemons if there are too many soft spots on them and the skin has become slimy.
If there is a small soft spot on the lemon, you can cut it off and use the rest if it smells and tastes good. But if the whole fruit has become squishy and soft, err on the safe side and discard it.
And lastly, lemons that feel powdery to the touch need to go, as this is an indication of the fact there is mold growing on them.
3. Flavor Changes
If a lemon looks and feels good, it is most likely suitable for use. However, the longer you keep the lemons the more their aroma and citrusy taste will deteriorate.
If you want to make sure that your lemon still tastes good and is intense enough to use in a dish, slice it and give it a taste test.
4. Off-Putting Smell
Everyone loves the fresh smell of lemons. It’s hard to confuse with any other smell. As soon as your lemons start smelling fermented or rancid, discard them.
What to Do with Lemons That Are Going Bad?
There is a lot you can do with lemons that have started to go bad. As soon as you notice the lemons getting spotty, it is time to think of a way to use them.
This will only work with ones where you can cut the soft spots off and safely use the rest of the fruit.
If you have only a couple of lemons that are on the verge of going bad, you can find numerous ways to use them up, from baking to making salad dressings.
You can also use lemons for cleaning purposes, from cleaning the microwave and wooden cutting boards to removing stains from the containers.
But what if you have too many lemons? You can’t just sit and wait for your lemons to go bad. Instead, remove the dark spots, make sure the rest of the fruit feels and tastes good, and get to work.
Here is what you can do with lemons that are going bad:
- Freeze – As we mentioned previously, freezing will extend the shelf life of lemons to up to 4 months. If the skin of the lemons is still good and you need to get the job done fast, freeze the lemons whole. In other cases, when you need to remove some spots from the skin, divide the lemons into wedges or freeze them sliced.
- Dehydrate – If you have too many lemons that you don’t know what to do with, slice them and dehydrate them using the oven or a dehydrator, if you happen to have one. Dehydrated lemon slices, so long as they are not exposed to moisture, can last over 2 years. You can use dried lemon wheels to make lemon-infused water or flavorful lemon powder to season everything from baked goods to salad dressings.
- Juice – Many recipes call for lemon juice. If you have too many lemons and are worried about them drying out before you get a chance to use them, juice them. Preserve the freshly-squeezed lemons juice in the fridge and use it within two weeks. You can also freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays. Frozen lemon juice cubes maintain their best quality for around 4 months. They can be easily defrosted and used for salad dressing, marinades, baking, etc.
- Make Jam – For lemons that are still firm and have no dark or soft spots, making jam is a great option. And it is not as difficult as you may think. You only need lemons, a lemon juicer or squeezer, sugar, water, and time for preparation and cooking.
- Make Lemonade – When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Cliché, we know, but there is no better way to use lemons than making a refreshing lemonade for an entire week. You can customize your lemonade by adding other fruits to it or even make pink lemonade. Use regular or sparkling water, add fruits, use granulated sugar or sugar-free sweeteners, and do whatever you want to make your lemonade fit your preferences.
What Happens If You Eat a Bad Lemon?
It is always good to practice food safety and not eat products that have gone bad. If, for whatever reason, you have eaten a slice of bad lemon, you probably won’t experience any symptoms.
Even with moldy lemons, if consumed in a small amount, there are no major health risks involved. You’d have to eat lots of moldy lemons to get sick, if you’re not allergic, but we can guarantee the experience will be pretty awful.
In any case, if you are not sure that your lemons are good, it is best to toss them out.