Preserved lemon

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Lemon pickle
Preserved lemons drying
Pickled lemons are a Moroccan delicacy

Preserved lemon or lemon pickle is a condiment that is common in South Asian and North African cuisine. It is also known as "country lemon" and leems. Diced, quartered, halved, or whole, lemons are pickled in a brine of water, lemon juice, and salt; occasionally spices are included as well.[1] The pickle is allowed to ferment at room temperature for weeks or months before it is used. The pulp of the preserved lemon can be used in stews and sauces, but it is the peel (zest and pith together) that is most valued. The flavor is mildly tart but intensely lemony.


Pieces of pickled lemon may be washed before using to remove any surface salt, or blanched to remove more of the salt and bring out the natural mild sweetness. They may then be sliced, chopped, or minced as needed for the texture of the dish. The rind may be used with or without the pulp.

Preserved lemon is the key ingredient in many Moroccan dishes such as tagines. In Cambodian cuisine, it is used in dishes such as Ngam nguv, a chicken soup with whole preserved lemons. They are often combined in various ways with olives, artichokes, seafood, veal, chicken, and rice.

The pickled pulp and liquid can be used in Bloody Marys and other beverages where lemon and salt are used.[2] The flavor also combines well with horseradish, as in American-style cocktail sauce.

In Ayurvedic cuisine, lemon pickle is a home remedy for stomach disorders, and its value is said to increase as it matures.[3] In East African folk medicine, lemon pickle is given for excessive growth of the spleen.[4]


Lime and grapefruit also are pickled in this manner.


Historically, pickling was an affordable and practical method of preserving lemons for use long after their season and far away from where they are grown. Early 19th-century English, American, and (in translation) Indian cookbooks give recipes for lemon pickle and mention its use in sauces for salmon, veal, etc.;[5][6][7][8] dishes where today fresh lemon zest and/or juice would be used.

An early 19th century recipe is as follows, taken from A New System of Domestic Cookery:

They should be small, and with thick rinds: rub them with a piece of flannel; then slit them half down in four quarters, but not through to the pulp; fill the slits with salt hard pressed in, set them upright in a pan for four or five days, until the salt melts; turn them thrice a day in their own liquor, until tender; make enough pickle to cover them, of rape-vinegar, the brine of the lemons, Jamaica pepper, and ginger; boil and skim it; when cold, put it to the lemons, with two ounces of mustard-seed, and two cloves of garlic to six lemons. When the lemons are used, the pickle will be useful in fish or other sauces.

— A Lady[6]

A similar recipe appears in Mary Randolph's 1824 cookbook.[9] Similar recipes also appear in earlier cookbooks, such as the 18th century cookbook by English housekeeper Elizabeth Raffald.[10] Some recipes include grating or thinly peeling the lemons, and preserving the peels (zest) which were dried for later use.[6]


Fermentation is a mechanism which requires the use of microorganisms such as bacteria and yeast in order to break down carbohydrates into other by-products such as alcohol and organic acids. Also proteins and lipids can be broken down through fermentation.[11]

Fermentation is typically accomplished in environments in which oxygen is absent (anaerobic). The two methods of fermentation are lactic acid fermentation and alcoholic fermentation, which have been used for centuries. Through fermentation, products such as wine, cheese, yogurt, pickles and preserved lemons are produced. Several health benefits are associated with fermented foods such as an increase in the production of B-vitamins. Through fermentation B-vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics are made.[12] B-vitamins have shown to be good for the gut.[13] Additionally, food that is normally indigestible can be digested once the food has been fermented due to bacterial synthesis which allows the digestive tract to absorb more nutrients from the food (increased bioavailability). [14]

Nutritional Value[edit]

In contrast to the unpeeled lemon, the amount of vitamins within the preserved lemons is reduced, along with a loss of minerals and simple carbohydrates such as sugar and starch. It can be concluded that due to the preservation procedure of fermentation, the nutritional value of the preserved lemons is reduced.

Preserved Lemon
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy100 kJ (24 kcal)
13.33 g
Starch0 g
Dietary fiber6.7 g
6.67 g
Saturated1.330 g
0 g
VitaminsQuantity %DV
Vitamin A0 IU
Vitamin C
0 mg
MineralsQuantity %DV
0 mg
0 mg
72 mg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

Physical and Chemical Changes[edit]

Lemon, raw, without peel
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy121 kJ (29 kcal)
9.32 g
Sugars2.5 g
Dietary fiber2.8 g
0.3 g
1.1 g
VitaminsQuantity %DV
Thiamine (B1)
0.04 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.02 mg
Niacin (B3)
0.1 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)
0.19 mg
Vitamin B6
0.08 mg
Folate (B9)
11 μg
5.1 mg
Vitamin C
53 mg
MineralsQuantity %DV
26 mg
0.6 mg
8 mg
0.03 mg
16 mg
138 mg
0.06 mg

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

The process of fermentation is a complex one and causes a multitude of changes at the exterior and interior levels of the lemon. All of the known exterior changes are observable with the human eye. These changes include a wrinkling of the skin along with a slight browning of the interior portion of the lemon (if sliced), due to oxidation.

Although there is not much research on the chemical reactions that take place within lemons during the preservation process of fermentation, using research based on other fruits and through observation, conclusions can be made with supporting evidence. With the definition above we can be concluded that the sugar and starch within the lemons are chemically broken down during the fermentation process. Based on the nutritional value, it can also be theorized that protein is broken down or hydrolyzed during the fermentation process as there is an absence of the macronutrient post-fermentation.

There are also a number of factors that can influence the success rate and level of safety in regards to fermentation. Fermentation can be heavily affected by compositional factors within the fruit such as pH, buffer capacity and initial sugar content.[15] All of these factors can be altered depending on the size of the fruit as the larger the fruit, the more nutritional value the fruit will hold. [15]Additionally, pesticides can have a huge effect on fermentation. If pesticides are left, in large quantities, on the fruits surface during fermentation, the process of preservation increases the potency of the hazardous materials within the pesticides.[16]

Role of Minerals, Macronutrients, Acids, and Antioxidants in Fermentation[edit]

A common micronutrient used in curing is salt, which absorbs moisture and binds to water. This effect makes it a difficult environment for the bacteria to survive in and helps extend shelf life.[17] Some recipes also suggest the use of lemon juice, which is a citric acid that helps lower the pH, allow acid-producing organism to growth and prevent the growth of spoilage and disease causing microorganism.[18] For preservation of lemons, the use of antioxidants as a food additive is used to prevent lipid peroxidation and the fading of food color.[19]

Lemons fermentation involves citric acid fermentation which is the most important organic acid produced in tonnage and is extensively used in food and pharmaceutical industries. It is produced mainly by submerged fermentation using Aspergillus niger or Candida sp. from different sources of carbohydrates, such as molasses and starch based media.[20] The food and beverage industries use this acid extensively as a food additive globally.

In addition, zinc plays a role in the regulation of growth and citric acid accumulation. High zinc maintains citric acid's growth phase (when the cells proliferate but do not accumulate citrate), while at low zinc the cultures pass into accumulating phase (when they produce citrate but do not proliferate). Addition of zinc to accumulating cultures results in their reversion to growth phase. Iron, manganese, calcium at high concentrations had no influence on either growth or citrate accumulation.[21]

During the fermentation process a bacteria called Aspergillus niger acts on the macronutrients of the lemons, primarily the carbohydrates resulting in citric acid fermentation.[22] Fermentation increases the bioavailability of amino acids, as well as carbohydrates and fats. Anti-nutrients are compounds that bind to nutrients, making it difficult or impossible for our bodies to absorb them. One anti-nutrient, called phytic acid or phytate, binds to carbohydrates proteins and fats making them harder to absorb. During fermentation this acid is deactivated resulting in increased macronutrient uptake.[23] Phytate and other anti-nutrients can also become enzyme inhibitors, blocking necessary enzymes from digesting certain nutrients such as starches or proteins. If we don’t have the enzymes to break down these nutrients we can’t absorb them. Fermentation can help eliminate these enzyme inhibitors, unlocking the nutrition and making food easier to digest. Fermentation even creates some enzymes during the process that can help with digestion and nutrient absorption.[23]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Herbst, Sharon. Food Lover's Companion (3rd ed), pg 492, Barron's Educational Series Inc.
  2. ^ Ruth Reichl; Zanne Early Stewart; John Willoughby, eds. (2006). The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 359–360. ISBN 978-0-618-80692-8.
  3. ^ Harish Johari (2000). Ayurvedic healing cuisine: 200 vegetarian recipes for health, balance, and longevity. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 29–20. ISBN 978-0-89281-938-6.
  4. ^ Traditional food plants: A resource book for promoting the exploitation and consumption of food plants in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid lands of Eastern Africa. FAO Food and Nutrition Paper. Food & Agriculture Org. 1988. p. 199. ISBN 978-92-5-102557-4.
  5. ^ Farley, John (1811). The London art of cookery and domestic housekeeper's complete assistant: uniting the principles of elegance, taste, and economy : and adapted to the use of servants, and families of every description (12 ed.). Printed for Scatcherd and Letterman.
  6. ^ a b c A Lady (1826). A new system of domestic cookery: founded upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families. John Murray.
  7. ^ Rundell, Maria Eliza Ketelby (1844). A new system of domestic cookery: founded upon principles of economy, and adapted to the use of private families. Carey and Hart. pp. 24, 32–33, 158–159, 174 (recipe), etc.
  8. ^ "Indian cookery, as practiced and described by the natives of the East". Miscellaneous translations from Oriental languages. 1. Sandford Arnot, translator. J. Murray for the Oriental Translation Fund. 1831. p. 33.
  9. ^ Randolph, Mary (1824). The Virginia House-Wife (1984 facsimile ed.). University of South Carolina Press. pp. 200–201. ISBN 9780872494237.
  10. ^ Elizabeth Raffald (1786). The experienced English housekeeper (10 ed.). R. Baldwin. pp. 80–81.
  11. ^ "Course:FNH200/Lesson 09 - UBC Wiki". Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  12. ^ Pike, Charlotte (2015). "PRESERVED LEMONS". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2018-08-07.
  13. ^ "The Best Thing You Can Do for You Gut". Dr. Axe. 2018-07-24. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  14. ^ Newsome R.L., Food Technology (December 1986). "Effects of Food Processing on Nutritive Values: Scientific Status Summary by the Institute of Food Technologists' Experts Panel On Food Safety & Nutrition". Scientific Public Affairs. pp. 40(12):109–116.
  15. ^ a b Lu, Z.; Fleming, H.P.; McFeeters, R.F. (2002-10). "Effects of Fruit Size on Fresh Cucumber Composition and the Chemical and Physical Consequences of Fermentation". Journal of Food Science. 67 (8): 2934–2939. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2621.2002.tb08841.x. ISSN 0022-1147. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  16. ^ Regueiro, Jorge; López-Fernández, Olalla; Rial-Otero, Raquel; Cancho-Grande, Beatriz; Simal-Gándara, Jesús (2014-11-25). "A Review on the Fermentation of Foods and the Residues of Pesticides—Biotransformation of Pesticides and Effects on Fermentation and Food Quality". Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition. 55 (6): 839–863. doi:10.1080/10408398.2012.677872. ISSN 1040-8398. PMID 24915365.
  17. ^ Aravindh, M. A.; Sreekumar, A. (2015), "Solar Drying—A Sustainable Way of Food Processing", Energy Sustainability Through Green Energy, Springer India, pp. 27–46, doi:10.1007/978-81-322-2337-5_2, ISBN 9788132223368
  18. ^ "Course:FNH200/Lesson 09 - UBC Wiki". Retrieved 2018-08-09.
  19. ^ Chen, Yi Jinn Lillian; Chou, Pei-Chi; Hsu, Chang Lu; Hung, Jeng-Fung; Wu, Yang-Chang; Lin, Jaung-Geng (2018). "Fermented Citrus Lemon Reduces Liver Injury Induced by Carbon Tetrachloride in Rats". Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2018: 1–10. doi:10.1155/2018/6546808. ISSN 1741-427X. PMC 5985096. PMID 29887908.
  20. ^ Vandenberghe, Luciana P. S.; Soccol, Carlos R.; Pandey, Ashok; Lebeault, Jean-Michel (00/1999). "Microbial production of citric acid". Brazilian Archives of Biology and Technology. 42 (3): 263–276. doi:10.1590/S1516-89131999000300001. ISSN 1516-8913. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  21. ^ Wold, W. S.; Suzuki, I. (1976-8). "The citric acid fermentation by Aspergillus niger: regulation by zinc of growth and acidogenesis". Canadian Journal of Microbiology. 22 (8): 1083–1092. ISSN 0008-4166. PMID 963622. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  22. ^ "Does Fermentation Increase the Nutritional Value of Food?". Fermentools Blog. 2018-03-06. Retrieved 2018-08-10.
  23. ^ a b Anvari, Masumeh; Khayati, Gholam (2014-12-01). "The effect of citrus pulp type on pectinase production in solid-state fermentation: Process evaluation and optimization by Taguchi design of experimental (DOE) methodology". Journal of BioScience and Biotechnology. 3 (3). ISSN 1314-6238.