A few weeks ago, just after I had gotten back from Arizona towing a suitcase weighed down with citrus, a friend asked me if she could freeze oranges. She had an abundance and didn’t want them to go to waste. I swiftly said no, but if she really wanted to savor ripe citrus year-round she should zest and juice the fruit and freeze those respectively.
Although she wasn’t bothered by my answer (or didn’t seem to be) I was bothered by it, for a few weeks even. Logically, we shouldn’t be able to freeze citrus. If all of the food science classes in college taught me anything it was that freezing fruit, especially those that contain a high percentage of water, destroys the texture and quality of the fruit.
We know that water expands when frozen— remember the forgotten water bottles in the freezer that are bulged and misshapen when you find them? Well, the same happens to the water inside of fruit. When the water in fruit freezes, it expands and pushes on the fruit’s cell walls, breaking and destroying them. This, in turn, causes a breakdown in texture and quality of the fruit. Hence why frozen fruit is most often reserved for smoothies and cooked sauces, it just isn’t nearly as good as fresh.
So my answer is valid, citrus shouldn’t be frozen, right? Well, partially right, and partially wrong. I think we can all agree that frozen fruit is not as good as fresh, but surprisingly, oranges aren’t too bad when frozen and thawed. After testing a few freezing methods, I found one method that produced a desirable product (again, not as good as fresh, but still pretty good!).
How I prepare and freeze oranges:
- Peel oranges and remove as much of the white pith as possible.
- Divide each orange into quarters.
- Place orange quarters in resealable freezer bags, remove air, and seal.
- Place bags in freezer until needed.
- When ready to use, remove desired orange segments from freezer and let thaw 20–30 minutes at room temperature.
- Divide each quarter into individual segments and use as needed.
How I use frozen and thawed oranges:
Although they can be eaten as is, they aren’t as enjoyable as eating a whole fresh orange. I prefer to slice the orange segments and toss on salads, yogurt, or in pilafs. You can, of course, also use them in smoothies as well (Orange Julius anyone?).
If you have an abundance of lemons or limes, I suggest freezing the zest and juice instead of the fruit itself, because how often do you eat a lemon? And because we usually resort to lemons and limes for their juice and zest.
How I prepare citrus zest to be frozen:
- Zest lemons or limes and transfer zest to an airtight container fitted with a lid.
- Transfer container to freezer, fluff zest with a fork after 2 hours, then keep in freezer until needed.
- When ready to use, no need to thaw, just measure out how much you need and return to freezer.
How I prepare citrus juice to be frozen:
- Juice lemons or limes, strain, then pour into ice cube trays.
- Transfer trays to freezer and freeze until solid.
- Remove frozen cubes from trays and transfer to resealable freezer bags, seal, and store in freezer until needed.
- When ready to use, remove cubes as needed and thaw.