When life gives you lemons…..
Lemons are by far the most prolifically used fresh food item in our kitchen. We juice them, zest them, use them to dress salads, and add them to all number of recipes.
As a result, we have an excess of lemon rind and pith that we don’t have an immediate use for. What then to do with the waste?
Contrary to popular belief you can compost citrus (and this is true even for worm farming). The key is, like with everything else that goes into the compost pile, there needs to be a careful balance of materials to support a healthy compost. And you should err on the side of caution when it comes to citrus. This is particularly important when it comes to vermicomposting – citrus contains limonene, a substance that becomes toxic to worms in anything other than small quantities. I do throw our lemon rind to the worms on the odd occasion, but we live in the city so our farm is small and we have to be very careful not to overdo it. If you have a small urban worm farm like us, I would advise to steer clear or at least remain very cautious when it comes to rind.
So while composting might go some way to reducing your citrus waste, its probably not going to entirely resolve the problem if you are a city dweller. What now?
Here are my 10 top tips for using citrus rind that will turn your lemon waste into lemonade!
Using the whole lemon, rind and all, is the best approach because it always amounts to zero waste. There are so many great uses for rind in your cooking. My go-to tool is definitely the zester, because there are countless recipes that call for zest and it’s so easy. If I’m making a lemon vinaigrette, I’ll add a teaspoon of zest to give it an added zing (Epicurious have a good simple recipe if you’re worried about getting the right balance of flavours). Or I grate it over finished pasta dishes to add depth of flavor and an amazing aroma.
Cakes and citrus-based desserts are a great use for zest as well. This rosemary and olive oil cake by Frisch Kitchen is on high rotation in my house at the moment: it’s light and fresh and makes the ideal teacake. Or serve it with seasonal fruit and yoghurt for a delicious dessert.
If you don’t have the time to use the zest immediately, freeze it for later use. It will last forever and you will applaud yourself when you have it on hand once you have built up a repertoire of zest recipes and it is in high demand.
There are multiple ways to preserve lemons and their rind. How you do it will depend on what you have to hand.
If you only have the rind to work with, dry preserving is a handy way to reduce waste. Mix together equal parts salt and sugar and layer your peeled rind and salt/sugar mix in a sterilized glass container. Give it a good shake and store at room temperature for three weeks before moving to the fridge. Add a cinnamon stick, peppercorns, chilly, bay leaves or cloves to the mix for added flavour. These will keep for at least a year and are great for using in salads, dressings and marinades.
If you are looking for a way to preserve whole fruits, preserved lemons (or limes) are a must-have ingredient in North African and Middle Eastern cooking. Preserved lemons are so much better homemade, so they are worth the effort, even if you only cook with them on the odd occasion. If you don’t currently have a need for preserved lemons in your cooking, I recommend preserving some anyway in a bid to encourage you to add some recipes to your repertoire that include this glorious ingredient.
For the recipe, you will need a sterilized jar large enough to accommodate your lemons, and a degree of patience: it will take at least 4 weeks to complete the process, and the longer you leave them, the better they will be. Check out this article from The Kitchn, which will give you a simple recipe for preserving lemons, as well as some great ideas for using them.
Both of these preservations methods call for unwaxed lemons. Organic is best, but not everyone is in a position to source or afford organic produce, in which case, be careful to thoroughly wash and scrub your rind before starting.
Marmalade is another great way to preserve using the whole fruit, so if you have some left over lemons sitting around, making marmalade is a great way to ensure they don’t go to waste. Alton Brown’s orange and lemon marmalade recipe is great, but you won’t have trouble finding great recipes online for all citrus varieties.
Homemade limoncello is such a treat. It’s not difficult to make but it packs a real punch as a digestif at dinner parties. It also makes for a pretty cool gift. All you need is vodka, lemons and sugar. The Kitchn already has a beautiful blog on making homemade limoncello, so I have deferred to them on the recipe details.
You need to be careful to take only the rind for this recipe (not the pith), so if you are looking for a use for your pith, see our recipe for pectin below.
Store-bought candied peel is expensive and can be difficult to source. If you have the time to make your own, you will quickly realize that it’s relatively easy and is a far superior product. Again, organic produce is best for this activity because it ensures the rind will be chemical-free. Candied peel will keep for weeks in an airtight container, or freeze it for prolonged life. I use this easy-to-follow recipe to candy all varieties of citrus peel. They suggest dipping in dark chocolate for a very simple treat (and your guests will be wowed by your apparent prowess in the kitchen). Or you can try these Ottolenghi spice cookies, which are topped with orange peel (you can switch it out for lemon or grapefruit peel too). I bake these ALL the time.
If you have put your lemons and their rind to good use but are struggling to find a good use for your pith, homemade pectin is a good solution. Citrus pith is rich in pectin, the substance that makes jams and preserves gel. To make pectin you will need 250 grams of finely chopped lemon pith (without the rind), ¼ cup of lemon juice and 2 cups of water. Combine the chopped citrus peel pith with the lemon juice in a medium sized pot. Let stand for 2 hours. Add the water and let stand for another hour. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool. Strain through layered cheesecloth overnight and store in an airtight container. It will keep in the fridge for 3 days, or you can freeze it to have on hand next time you are making jam. Lemon seeds can also be saved and thrown into the mix for use in this recipe.
Clean With it
Citrus peels make an excellent all-purpose cleaner that is super simple to make and will allow you to remove chemical products from your cleaning routine. You only require two ingredients to get this done: your peels and white vinegar.
Fill a jar or container with peels and cover with white vinegar. Leave for two weeks. Strain the vinegar from the rind, pouring into a spray bottle. And voila! it’s good to use. This is so easy and effective that there are really no excuses.
At the end of this process, you are obviously left with some rind waste, but it is nonetheless a good use for waste that might otherwise go straight to landfill.
An added value of making your own cleaning products is that it opens up an avenue for you to start reducing the need for chemical cleaners. Citrus is so great for this – there are plenty of other uses for rind when it comes to household cleaning. You can use orange or lemon peel to scrub stainless steel surfaces, cleaning our your kettle, removing stains from coffee cups and chopping boards, cleaning glass and polishing wooden furniture. Plus it make a great deodorizer for bins and dishwashers. Basically, it’s an all round good guy.
The vitamin C content in citrus means its great for the skin. Peels can be lightly rubbed on the face and body as a tonic, to lighten age spots and to soften skin. But if you have the time, you can also combine it with sea salt and olive oil to make a luxurious but simple body scrub.
Take a cup of salt, combine with the juice and finely chopped rind of one lemon and 4 tablespoons of olive oil. I add lavender from the garden, but you could add rosemary or other beneficial herb. There are plenty of variations to this formula out there, but I like to stick to a formula that includes the skins, purely because this is a go-to recipe when I have excess rind. This one from Farm & Pretty switches out the sea salt for epsom salts, which is great a great alternative if you can get your hands on it, particularly if you suffer muscle inflammation.
I use homemade insecticides to counter pest infestations in my garden. They are so easy to prepare and are organic so it’s a no-brainer when it comes to my plants. The limonene in citrus that is toxic to your worms has the benefit of being an excellent natural repellent to some insects. Citrus rind is the core ingredient in the spray I use against aphids and ants. In fact all you need is the grated rind of one lemon and 2 cups of water for this recipe.
Here’s how the recipe goes. Bring the water to a boil. Remove the water from the heat and add the grated lemon rind (you can keep it as is or add chilly and garlic to this mix for the same effect). Allow to steep overnight. Strain and pour into spray bottle. Spray directly onto pests for optimum results.
If you have a dog, this formula will double as a natural repellent for ticks and fleas.
The discarded peel can be buried directly into your garden as a fertilizer, providing nutrients and nitrogen to the soil as it decomposes.