In terms of food and cooking, as well as home food preservation, citrus fruits are somewhat different from other fruits. Some citrus fruits such as lemons and limes are most often valued for the flavour from their juice and their rind, but rarely their actual flesh. In cooking, even most oranges appear in recipes largely for flavour either in juice or in zest form.
When you dry citrus fruits, you evaporate the juice away, losing a good deal of the culinary value of the fruit.
Consequently, while exploring the topic of drying citrus fruit on this page, we’re also going to look at drawing as well on other home preservation techniques to preserve different features of the fruit in the best way possible for that aspect.
Drying oranges, grapefruits, etc.
In this category of citrus fruit are those whose pulp is often enjoyed in its own right. Their juice and peel also have culinary value.
How you preserve them will pre-determine how you consume them afterward.
If you home can or freeze orange or grapefruit sections, they can be consumed as you would the fresh fruit, meaning both the pulp as well as the juice in the pulp.
If you dry them, typically sliced into citrus wheels (see below), the juice will have been lost in the drying, and the pulp becomes unappealing to consume (unless candied, which is a different topic.) Some people, however, do like nibbling the plain dried wheels of sweeter fruit such as oranges out of hand as a snack.
Drying lemons, limes, etc.
These are citrus fruits whose pulp is very rarely eaten, but rather almost always juiced.
They are valued for the flavouring they contain in their juice and peel, and rarely for their pulp, so those are the two items that one generally looks at preserving.
Note: Do not attempt to use dried, powdered lemon, either whole or zest, as a substitute for citric acid in home canning or other uses. It is nowhere near pure enough to provide an equivalency.
Drying citrus wheels
Dried citrus wheels are whole slices of citrus fruit — pulp, pith, and peel. The seeds may or may not be poked out in advance.
This method is popular with amateur cook bloggers, perhaps because it’s quick, doesn’t require much advance planning or advanced knowledge, and the pictures of the dried fruit wheels make for attractive, interesting photos for their followers’ Pinterest boards.
Still, it’s not a method recommended by the pros. There are two issues. The first is that the pulp never actually dries — it just semi-solidifies to a gummy gel.
So Easy To Preserve says, “Too juicy and pulp lacks firm texture.” Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 342.
The University of California Extension Service says the following about oranges, but it would apply to all citrus fruit: “Drying is not a recommended preservation method for oranges because they are too juicy and not very firm.” Snart, Jennifer E. et al. Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. University of California. ANR Publication 8199. 2006. Pages 5-6.
The second issue is that the fruit’s use as a consumable food item post-preservation becomes very limited, restricted largely to being an aromatic flavouring agent.
Note: the pulp of dried lime slices does not come out green after drying (see photo above.)
Directions for drying citrus wheels
- Leave peel on, remove any stickers.
- Wash fruit well.
- Cut into slices.
- With the tip of a knife, poke out seeds. (Or not.)
- Spread out on directly on trays (no parchment sheets, etc.)
The home food drying guide, Preserve It Naturally, gives the following electric dehydrator directions:
Slice the fruit into 1/8″ to 1/4″ [3 to 6 mm] slices and remove the seeds. Dry at 135 F / 57 C until crisp and leathery. Use as a powder for flavoring in soups, fish and salads, or as a garnish.” Excalibur. Preserve it naturally. Sacramento, California. 4th edition, 2012. Page 43.
The estimated drying time is 7 to 15 hours, depending on the humidity in your area at the time.
Note that Preserve It Naturally rates the results as “Poor.” But again, this is not a safety issue, but rather a quality one, and you may find you like the results.
If you don’t have a dehydrator and still want to try this, see general directions for Oven Drying.
Uses for dried citrus wheels
- As noted above, some people do like nibbling the plain dried wheels of sweeter fruit such as oranges out of hand as a snack, white pith and all;
- Use to decorate cakes or cupcakes;
- Put in the sauces for tagines and braising;
- Add to cups of tea;
- Put in a bottle of water;
- You can toss a dried lemon, lime or orange slice into a liquidy dish, such as a baked or steamed rice dish, for the flavour to be imparted to the dish;
- Place on top a piece of fish, seafood, pork or chicken you are baking or pressure cooking or steaming;
- Tie up with string, and hang up, or in a piece of cloth and put in drawer.
Some bloggers suggest to hang citrus wheels up as Christmas decorations. This may not be practical if you are celebrating a hot, humid Christmas in some place such as Australia, as they could rapidly rehydrate and go mouldy, or attract pests.
Citrus wheel powder issues
Some people talk about grinding citrus wheels to a powder, white pith and all.
We tried it, following their suggestions and recommend against it for quality results. We found the result highly unpalatable flavour and texture wise. See here if you are interested: Dried citrus wheel powder
Citrus wheel equivalents
1 litre / 4 cups dried citrus wheels = 100 g / 3 oz ish
Drying citrus peel
The peel of citrus fruit is typically the part of the fruit most preserved by drying. (You can also preserve the peel by candying it.)
As with all fruit to be preserved, use only brightly-coloured fruits at their peak. Manky, blotched peel from citrus fruits that are well and truly on their way out won’t produce a desirable, flavourful product.
If you are drying orange peel, the University of California Extension says:
…orange peel and other types of citrus peel do dry well. The peel of a thick-skinned Navel orange dries better than that of a thin-skinned Valencia.” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
You’ll want to always wash the fruit well before starting, almost scrubbing it, and removing any stickers, of course.
Pat the fruit dry, and / or let it stand to air dry for a few minutes. This is particularly important if you want to remove the peel as fine zest, as the work would be impeded if the fruit were damp.
You can remove the peel in strips using a knife such as a paring knife for fine work, or as fine zest, using a tool such as a microplane or a zester. You only want the surface of the fruit’s skin: do not go down very deeply.
Michigan State University says, “Remove the outer 1/16 to 1/8-inch [2 to 3 mm] of the peel”  Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.
When doing so, be mindful that everyone cautions you to avoid the white underlayer — called the “pith” or “albedo” — at all costs. It’s very unpleasant tasting.
The University of California Extension says, “Avoid including the white, bitter albedo (pith).” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Michigan State says, “Do not use any of the bitter white pith. The white pith will become even more bitter when dried and ruins the flavor of the peel.” Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.
Once you have the peel or zest removed, it is ready to be dried. It doesn’t need to be blanched, or dipped in any solution: “No further pretreatment is required.” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Preparing the peel
- Leave peel on fruit, remove any stickers.
- Wash fruit well.
- Pat dry with a towel or let stand to dry a few minutes.
- Remove peel with a paring knife, or zest using a microplane or a zester.
- No pretreatment of the peel is required or advised.
- Dry either via air drying or via an electric food dehydrator.
Peel or zest can be dried effectively left standing undisturbed on a plate in the room. To air dry in this way, place the peel or zest on a plate, leave it to dry in a warm and dry spot for a couple of days until dry and crispy. Use a dry, clean finger to poke it about occasionally for more even drying.
Using an electric food dehydrator
When using an electric food dehydrator, the key thing to note is that you have to line the trays so that the peel or zest doesn’t just fall through down to the bottom of the machine.
Excalibur gives these directions for drying citrus zest in an electric dehydrator:
- Zest your chosen citrus fruit leaving the white part of the pith
- Evenly spread the zest over a Paraflexx® lined Excalibur® dehydrator tray
- Dehydrate for 2 hours at 130 degrees F
- Break up any clumps of zest and stir the zest to ensure even drying
- Dehydrate for another 1-2 hours at 130 degrees F Citrus Zest. Accessed Jan. 2018 at https://www.excaliburdehydrator.com/wp/recipe/citrus-zest/
Michigan State gives the following directions. They don’t give a suggested temperature, but they do note that no special tray-lining paper is needed: regular parchment paper or waxed paper will do. We also note that their suggested time seems to be way longer than the time suggested by Excalibur. Perhaps they are thinking of a far lower temperature.
To dry the peel in an electric food dehydrator, place the peel in a single layer on the drying trays. Place parchment paper or wax paper on the drying trays so the peel does not fall through the openings in the tray.
The pieces should not touch or overlap because this will slow down the drying process. The estimated drying time is about eight to twelve hours. The time it takes the fruit peel to dry will depend upon the initial moisture content of the peel and the type of food dehydrator used.”  Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.
Testing for dryness
Michigan State Extension says,
To test the peel for dryness, cut the peel to look for any visible moisture. Also, try to squeeze any moisture out of the peel. When the peel is bent in half, it should not stick to itself.” Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.
The University of California says,
To test for dryness, remove several pieces of peel from the dryer. After they have cooled, cut the pieces in half. There should be no visible moisture, and you should not be able to squeeze any moisture from the pieces. Some orange peel may remain pliable, but it should not be sticky or tacky. If you fold a piece in half, it should not stick to itself… The water content of home-dried orange peel should be about 20%. Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Alternative methods to dry peel
The University of California gives this advice about other methods of drying peel:
It is possible to dry …. peel in your kitchen oven, but we do not recommend it since it takes so long: up to 24 hours to dry the peel adequately…….. Do not attempt to use a microwave oven to dry … peels. Peels require constant attention during drying, and the door would have to be opened frequently to allow moisture to escape. Microwave-dried … peels do not dry evenly and they can easily scorch or burn…. Peel can be safely dried outdoors when conditions are right…. ” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Ed: Note that the climate in parts of California, with long dry sunny days with low humidity, make sun-drying possible in a way that is not often feasible elsewhere.
Storing dried citrus peel
Michigan State Extension says, “Allow the peel to cool for 30 to 60 minutes or until completely cool before packaging for storage. ” Drying citrus peel to use later.
The University of California Extension Service gives a bit more detail:
After drying, cool the pieces for 30 to 60 minutes before packaging. Avoid packaging warm peel, since that could lead to sweating and moisture buildup. You should also avoid long delays before you package it, though, because the orange peel may have an opportunity to reabsorb moisture from the air. The peel’s color, flavor, aroma and nutritive value will start to decrease after a year. For longer term storage, you can keep well-wrapped orange peel in the freezer. For best flavor and quality, use within 2 years of frozen storage.” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Uses for dried citrus peel
The University of California Extension Service suggests,
Try adding it as a flavoring in favorite recipes, such as breads and other baked items, fudge and other candies, gelatin, tossed and fruit salads, Asian dishes, stuffings, milkshakes, homemade ice cream, cooked cereals, and granola.” Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.
Dried, fine zest is often called for as an ingredient in many DIY dry mixes.
Peel and frozen juice strategy
This method gets the best value out of your lemons and limes. It can also be used on other citrus such as oranges, etc, if you don’t care about preserving the pulp (if you do, see the freezing and canning sections below.)
It simply involves preserving the peel / zest by drying as per above, then juicing the fruit, and freezing the juice. You’re employing two of your home preservation skills.
Utah State Extension says,
Put fresh squeezed lemon juice in ice cube trays and freeze. When fully frozen, store cubes in a plastic bag in the freezer. The lemon peel (zest) can be preserved by grating the yellow skin and drying. Dried lemon zest should be stored in a cool and dry place in an airtight container.” Haws, Susan. Lemons. Utah State Extension. Food $ense Series. July 2011. Page 2.
Citrus juice ice cubes
Zapping citrus fruit briefly in a microwave frees up substantially more juice.
Remove peel / zest as per above. Then:
- Zap whole (peeled or zested) fruit in microwave for 30 seconds to 1 minute, to free up juice.
- Slice fruit in half carefully — mind any spurting hot juice. If you get any, you over-zapped.
- Juice fruit. Discard remaining pulp and seeds.
- Freeze juice in ice cube trays. Freeze.
- Pop frozen juice cubes into freezer bags, seal, label and freeze.
Caution: Until you know what effect the power of your microwave has on the fruit, zap it only for a very short period at first, and handle with caution after removing from microwave. You want to only slightly warm the fruit to free up juice; you don’t want the juice to reach boiling point as that can kill vitamin C and affect the taste of the juice (as well as making it so that unsafe lava hot spurts of juice jet out as you juice it.)
Freezing citrus fruit sections
If you want to freeze oranges (or any citrus fruit) in sections rather than as juice, see freezing directions from the University of California: https://anrcatalog.ucanr.edu/pdf/8199.pdf
So Easy to Preserve also has citrus fruit freezing directions (reproduced on the web site for the National Center for Home Food Preservation.)
Note that the peel, which needs to be removed from the fruit before freezing, may be dried as per above section, “Drying citrus peel.”
Canning citrus fruit
The USDA provides tested directions for home-canning orange and grapefruit sections. United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 2-15.
They also provide pineapple canning directions (though pineapple is not a citrus fruit, we mention it here anyway as some people class it as such in their minds.)
Note that the peel, which needs to be removed from the fruit before canning, may be dried as per above section, “Drying citrus peel.”
Citrus fruit leathers
The Pacific NorthWest Extension notes that when making fruit leathers, “citrus fruits alone are generally not recommended.” Swanson, Marilyn A. et al. Drying Fruits and Vegetables. Pacific Northwest Extension. PNW 397. Third edition, 2009. Page 15.
The authors don’t say why, or in which way attempting all-citrus fruit leathers is unsuccessful, but it’s true: long searches failed to turn up directions for a single all-citrus fruit leather anywhere on the net. (If you do find one, let us know.)
Citrus juices and zest are instead often used in mixtures for fruit leathers. For example, Excalibur proposes something they call “Vitamin C Fruit Leather“, which is made from a purée of carrot, orange, honey, spinach and strawberry.
Drying Tropical Fruits
The Florida State Horticultural Society released research-based methods for drying specialty tropical fruits. The paper is from 1983, but home food drying knowledge doesn’t change anywhere near as much as home canning does, so it’s okay to refer to older papers. If you can find more current research-based information, then follow that (and let us know, please.)
[gss-content-box color=”blue”]Preservation of Tropical Fruits by Drying. B.A Campbell and C.W. Campbell. Proceedings of the Florida State Horticultural Society. Volume 96. 1983. Pages 229-231.[/gss-content-box]
The paper covers: ambarella, apple banana, carambola, guava, horse banana, longan, loquat, lychee, mamey sapote, mango, papaya, purple mombin and tamarind.
They give a table of preparation method, and drying time (all temps were 140 F / 60 C).
The researchers note that they used an electric dehydrator, at 140 F [ 60 C] “The Waring Food Dehydrator that was used to dry the fruit had a fixed temperature of 140°F which worked very well.”
Each kind of fruit was prepared in one or more of the following ways.
- Fruit was left whole (lychee, longan, tamarind, purple mombin);
- Fruit was cleaned, pitted, and cut in half (loquat) or sliced (guava, carambola, purple mombin)
- Fruit was peeled and sliced (apple banana, horse banana);
- Fruit was peeled, pitted and sliced (mamey sapote, mango, ambarella);
- Fruit was pitted and cubed and placed in a blender and chopped to form a puree (carambola);
- Fruit was peeled, pitted and cubed, placed in a blender and chopped to form a puree (mango, mamey sapote, loquat, and ambarella);
- Fruit was peeled, soaked in water and put through a colander to extract the pulp (tamarind).
(These numbered bullet point prep methods above are the key to the “How Prep” column in the table.)
For more information, download the paper using the link above the table.
To be clear: we do realize that tropical fruit does not equal citrus. We just had no place else to file this information at this time (January 2018.)
If you have access to citron fruits, you’ll know that they are primarily valued for their peel, which is usually candied for use in fruit cakes. You’ll want to find home directions (try your local Extension service), but here is a report on commercial procedures, from a publication by Purdue University:
The most important part of the citron is the peel which is a fairly important article in international trade. The fruits are halved, depulped, immersed in seawater or ordinary salt water to ferment for about 40 days, the brine being changed every 2 weeks; rinsed, put in denser brine in wooden barrels for storage and for export. After partial de-salting and boiling to soften the peel, it is candied in a strong sucrose/glucose solution. The candied peel is sun-dried or put up in jars for future use. Candying is done mainly in England, France and the United States. The candied peel is widely employed in the food industry, especially as an ingredient in fruit cake, plum pudding, buns, sweet rolls and candy.
Puerto Rican food technologists reported in 1970 that the desalted citron could be dehydrated in a hot air tray dryer at 108º F (42.22º C), reducing the weight by 95% to lower costs of shipment, then stored in polyethylene bags and later reconstituted and candied. In 1979, after further experiments, it was announced that fresh citron cubes, blanched for 1/2 minute in water at 170º F (76.7º C) can be candied and the product is equal in quality to the brined and candied peel, and this procedure saves the costs of salt, storage, and shipping of heavy barrels.” Morton, J. 1987. Citron. p. 179–182. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.
Drying juice into powders
We mention this only in the interest of thoroughness, in case a reader is wondering about it.
Commercially, citrus juices may be dehydrated down into dry juice powders.
Dehydrated orange juice powder was particularly popular in the 1930s to 1950s, before refrigeration and freezing became common at home and enabled manufacturers to sell the fresh juice in jugs, and the frozen pulp concentrate in cardboard tubes we are now all familiar with.
At home, we just don’t have the technology to dehydrate citrus juices into dry juice powders. After a lot of effort, you will only end up with a strong-tasting sticky sludge-like molasses, and to attempt to dry that further would destroy any taste and nutritive value that happened to remain.
A 1945 paper on orange juice powder describes what you are supposed to end up with — what you can produce at home will be nothing like this:
Briefly, orange juice powder is dehydrated orange juice and contains all the original and natural ingredients except the water. The reconstituted juice made by adding the orange powder to water is comparable to the starting material in both flavor and aroma. There is relatively no loss of ascorbic acid — the important vitamin C.” Carleton, R.T. et al. Dehydrated Orange Juice. Florida State Horticultural Society Proceedings. Vol. 58. 1945. Page 56.
If you’re interested, here’s that complete 1945 paper on dehydrated orange juice.
Dried pulp for cattle feed
In the interests of being thorough, again, we mention that technically citrus pulp can be usefully dried. But it’s only done so industrially, and only for use as a cattle feed. It will contain seeds, and all the pith. It’s main benefit is that it provides energy along with roughage. It doesn’t sound palatable for humans but presumably the cattle find it quite a treat.
Here’s an excerpt from Citrus Feeds for Beef Cattle published by the University of Florida Extension Service:
Dried citrus pulp is comprised primarily of grapefruit and oranges, but may also contain the residue of lemons, limes, and tangerines. As shown in Figure 1, the basic procedure for producing dried citrus pulp consists of grinding or chopping and then dehydrating the fresh fruit residue. The residue may be pressed, to remove the press liquor, and the remaining pulp then dried; or, it may be dried without removing the press liquor. If it is pressed, molasses is produced from the press liquor. Molasses is sometimes added back to the pulp during the drying process. The finer particles of the dried pulp are often removed by sieving and either sold as citrus meal or pelleted and added back to the pulp. The pulp may or may not contain large amounts of seeds. These differences in processing, in source and variety of fruit, and in type of canning operation from which the fruit residue is obtained, are responsible for the variation that may occur in the physical characteristics and nutrient content of dried citrus pulp.
….Major factors influencing the nutrient composition of citrus pulp include amount of seeds and molasses remaining with the pulp. Citrus pulp with large amounts of seeds will contain more protein and fat than pulp without seeds, and citrus pulp from which molasses has been removed will be higher in fiber and lower in nitrogen-free extract than pulp that contains molasses. ……It is low in digestible protein and is primarily an energy feedstuff having certain “roughage properties.” H.L. Chapman, Jr., C.B. Ammerman, F.S. Baker, Jr., J.F. Hentges, B.W. Hayes, and T.J. Cunha. Citrus Feeds for Beef Cattle. University of Florida Extension. BUL751. February 2000, Reviewed. Pages 2 to 3.
Drying citrus peel to use later. Christine Venema. Michigan State University Extension. 13 January 2017. (Link valid as of Jan. 2018)
Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Jennifer E. Snart et al. University of California. ANR Publication 8199. Pages 5-6. (Link valid as of Jan. 2018)
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Andress, Elizabeth L. and Judy A. Harrison. So Easy to Preserve. University of Georgia Cooperative Extension. Bulletin 989. Sixth Edition. 2014. Page 342.|
|2.||↑||Snart, Jennifer E. et al. Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. University of California. ANR Publication 8199. 2006. Pages 5-6.|
|3.||↑||Excalibur. Preserve it naturally. Sacramento, California. 4th edition, 2012. Page 43.|
|4, 6, 8, 12, 13, 15, 16.||↑||Oranges: Safe Methods to Store, Preserve, and Enjoy. Pages 5-6.|
|5.||↑||Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.|
|7, 11.||↑||Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.|
|9.||↑||Citrus Zest. Accessed Jan. 2018 at https://www.excaliburdehydrator.com/wp/recipe/citrus-zest/|
|10.||↑||Venema, Christine. Drying citrus peel to use later.|
|14.||↑||Drying citrus peel to use later.|
|17.||↑||Haws, Susan. Lemons. Utah State Extension. Food $ense Series. July 2011. Page 2.|
|18.||↑||United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Complete guide to home canning. Agriculture information bulletin No. 539. 2015. Page 2-15.|
|19.||↑||Swanson, Marilyn A. et al. Drying Fruits and Vegetables. Pacific Northwest Extension. PNW 397. Third edition, 2009. Page 15.|
|20.||↑||Morton, J. 1987. Citron. p. 179–182. In: Fruits of warm climates. Julia F. Morton, Miami, FL.|
|21.||↑||Carleton, R.T. et al. Dehydrated Orange Juice. Florida State Horticultural Society Proceedings. Vol. 58. 1945. Page 56.|
|22.||↑||H.L. Chapman, Jr., C.B. Ammerman, F.S. Baker, Jr., J.F. Hentges, B.W. Hayes, and T.J. Cunha. Citrus Feeds for Beef Cattle. University of Florida Extension. BUL751. February 2000, Reviewed. Pages 2 to 3.|