14 Helpful Tips for Cooking With Lemons

fresh lemons on wooden chopping board with green check cloth

Every home cook should have at least a couple of lemons on hand in their kitchen. We love cooking with lemons for the burst of bright flavour, but they are also really versatile. You can use all parts of a lemon without wasting any of the fruit. Try these helpful tips to get the most out of your lemons.

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Why are lemons so useful for cooking?

I always have some lemons in my kitchen fruit bowl. They are the quickest way to add some bright, fresh flavour to a salad dressing or a drink. And of course we use lemons for their flavour in cooking and baking too. One of the great things about lemons is that you can use the whole fruit. Zest from the skin is full of flavour and so is the juice. Slices and wedges of lemon not only add flavour but also look amazing, and curls of bright yellow lemon rind also make a great garnish. Lemons are also full of vitamin C.

Tips for juicing lemons

It always help to choose ripe lemons for juicing, but even the ripest lemon can feel hard to touch. If you want to get more juice out of your lemons, there are a few tricks to soften your lemons to make juicing easier.

Bench rolling trick

Before juicing a lemon, try rolling it against your kitchen bench. Using the palm of your hand and applying firm but gentle pressure, roll the lemon back and forward on your counter top. Or use a chopping board, as long as it’s a smooth hard surface.

Applying pressure will loosen some the membranes inside the lemon making it easier to squeeze – and you’ll get more juice.

Microwave magic

Another great way to make sure you get as much juice as possible out of your lemon is to gently heat it in the microwave. Microwaving a lemon works to make it easy to juice because the microwaves heat the centre of the lemon first. This will cause some of the juicy capsules inside the lemon to burst open. Try heating your lemon for around 20 seconds on high before squeezing juice for your next recipe or lemon drink.

We’ve got some useful tips for choosing the right juicer for the job too.

Handy uses for lemon juice

Lemons taste sour and tangy because they contain citric acid. The acidic properties of lemon juice make it very helpful for cooking with lots of other foods.

Lemon juice to stop fruits from going brown

Slicing apples for an apple recipe or just cutting pieces to add to a fruit salad? Tossing slices or cut pieces in lemon juice can help stop apple from going brown too quickly.

green granny apples with fresh lemon halves

The same goes for sliced banana and avocado. The acidic lemon juice will slow down the oxidisation process and help keep the brown at bay. If you have a half an avocado left, just squeeze a little lemon juice over the cut side before covering and placing in the fridge.

Use lemons to tenderise

Another use for the citric acid from lemons is to tenderise meat and chicken. The acid helps to break down collagen and some of the fat in meat to make it more tender and less chewy. This can be really helpful with cheaper cuts of meat. Try marinating your steak or chicken in lemon juice, olive oil and some herbs for around an hour before cooking for great results.

“Cooking” with just lemon juice

In the same way the lemon juice can help tenderise meat, it can also be used to ‘cook’ fish. Citrus juice is used to make delicious ceviche. Tossing small pieces of really fresh fish in lemon juice and leaving it for no more than 5 minutes allows the acidic lemon to alter the fish proteins. This ‘cooking’ process leaves the fish white on the outside, or opaque, and delicious.

Left over lemon juice

Now that you’ve juiced your lemon and carefully measured the required amount, what can you do with the left over lemon juice?

Freezing left over lemon juice

The best way to freeze fresh lemon juice is to use ice cube trays. Simply pour the juice into the ice cube tray, place in the freezer for a few hours, and then pop the cubes out into a freezer safe zip lock bag or container. You’ll have lemon juice on hand whenever you need it.

lemon juice in freezer ice cube tray

I like to measure my lemon juice into Tablespoon measurements first, so that when I have a recipe that calls for one or two Tablespoons of lemon juice I can get exactly the right amount from the freezer.

Did you know you can actually freeze whole lemons too? Our tips for freezing fresh limes also work with lemons.

Using up left over lemon

Storing cut lemons

Sometimes when you are cooking with lemons you’ll only need the juice of half a lemon or have a spare lemon half left over. What is the best way to store left over cut lemons? You could just cover with some cling film and pop in the fridge, but if you are trying to use less plastic there are better ways.

set of 4 food huggers with lemon half on stone background

I personally love BPA free silicone food huggers for storing cut citrus fruits. I have a set of 4, with the smallest one working perfectly for lemons. Cut lemons seem to stay fresh much longer using these too – up to a week. Make sure you still store your cut lemon in the fridge to prevent mould.

Using up a spare lemon half

If you don’t have room in your fridge for left over cut lemon, or just don’t think you’ll use it, there are lots of great ways to put it to use in the kitchen. While you are in the kitchen cooking up a storm, take a minute while you wait for something to finish to give your kitchen a quick refresh.

Clean the microwave

Did you know that you can keep your your microwave fresh and clean using just lemon, water and a soft cloth? Heating slices of lemon in a small microwave safe bowl creates steam which helps dislodge cooked on food and grime and easily wipes away. It’s really easy to do – just follow our step by step instructions for a clean microwave without chemicals.

cleaning microwave with lemon in glass bowl

Clean the kitchen sink

If your metal kitchen sink is looking a little dull, there’s an easy way to bring back the shine. Simply sprinkle some salt in the base of the sink, and then use that left over half of a lemon to scrub the bottom and sides. Rinse when you’ve finished and your sink will thank you.

Clean the waste disposal

For those that have an in-sink waste disposal unit, it can get pretty smelly sometimes. Leftover lemons – or ones that are starting to get too ripe for cooking – are the perfect thing to clean it and leave it smelling fresh.

Squeeze a little lemon juice into the unit, fill with cool water and leave for 5 minutes to let the acidic lemon do its job. Meanwhile rub the cut lemon side around the opening to clean away any grime. After 5 minutes, turn on the waste disposal and add the used chunks of lemon to the unit to be crushed up. This should leave your waste unit smelling much fresher.

Clean your chopping board

That left over half a lemon can also be used to clean and freshen your chopping board. Sprinkle some salt on the board and then use the lemon to scrub the salt across the surface. Gently squeeze the lemon as you go to release more juice. The abrasive salt will remove built up grime. When you’ve finished, scrape all of the wet lemony salt off and rinse thoroughly before drying.

Left over lemon skins

Even if you’ve zested the lemon rind and extracted the lemon juice, there are still things you can do with left over lemon pieces.

Make lemon water

For those of us trying to drink more water, adding some lovely lemon flavour makes it much more enjoyable. Even if you’ve already juiced the inside of your lemon, you can still gets lots of flavour from the outer skin. Just slice and place in a jug or easy to clean pitcher of water and place in the fridge. You can even add some fresh herbs for more flavour – I love adding mint or lemon balm to mine.

lemon water with cucumber and herbs in glass pitcher on wooden board

Can you compost lemon peel?

I love to use every part of a lemon if I can. Rind for zest, juice for cooking or freezing. preserve the rinds or make marmalade. But sometimes having lemon rind to dispose of is inevitable.

Don’t just put lemon rinds in the general waste bin. You can compost lemons just like other organic waste. If you have a green waste collection service, you can add lemon skins to that. For home composting, make sure to cut the lemon skins into smaller pieces to help speed up the process. If you are worried about your compost pH levels getting too low (from the acidic citrus peel), try adding something alkaline to balance it, like some grass cuttings.

More about lemons

If you love cooking with lemons, find out more about which types of lemons are best for cooking. You’ll also love our lemon recipes. If you are buying store bought lemons, make sure to read about fruit wax and whether you need to remove it before you cook.

If your love of lemons goes beyond the kitchen, check out how to decorate a vase with lemon slices or find some beautiful lemon print cushions for your home.

Or you could even try growing your own lemon trees from seed.

And don’t forget to subscribe for more lemon inspiration for kitchen, home and garden.

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