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Preserved lemons - how are they different from fresh lemons in a stew?

If you pickled lemons added to a Moroccan stew that you are making, will it taste any different than if you simply adding fresh lemons and salt?

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  1. Yes. The texture and the flavor changes. There is still a lemon flavor and acidity. The closest I can describe it is to imagine a very mild green olive infused with a salty lemon flavor.

    They are pretty easy to make. There are many methods, some taking a week others taking a month. If you are interested, keep an eye out for Myers lemons which will be coming into season. They are the closest available in the US to the lemons used in Morocco.

    You could substitute pitted green olives and a little lemon juice. It won't be the same but the flavor profile will be kinda-sorta close.

    1 Reply
    1. re: meatn3

      Although they can be made with the usual sort of lemons. Not only are they salty and pickled, but they have a strong lemon flavor since you're eating the peel. I add them to potato salad.

    2. I'm trying to recreate Moroccan recipes on a low-salt diet. So I don't want to pickle them. i want great flavor without salt.

      Slivered lemon rind has really punched some of my efforts at Moroccan red sauces, both hot and cold dishes.

      But it makes me wonder if the pickling process adds anything to a dish except salt.

      I have begun to suspect that it was just a way to have lemons in the off-season.

      5 Replies
      1. re: AdinaA

        Of course it is. And you'll get great flavor, just not Moroccan flavor.

        1. re: sr44

          Thanks. I've had this sneaking suspicious that pickling the lemons somehow alters the flavor, aside form adding salt.

          Glad to know it doesn't.

          I've spent time in Morocco (lucky me), and one of the great things about Moroccan cooking is the fabulous flavors that you can produce without salt.

          1. re: AdinaA

            But it does.mThere's a pickled flavor and the lemon flavor.

            1. re: AdinaA

              Off course it changes the flavor. Salt is used to preserve, but the preserving process changes the thing that's being preserved. Do you think a fresh cucumber tastes like a dill pickle? Ever eat a fresh olive? No comparison to a pickled olive. You wouldn't even recognize it.

          2. re: AdinaA

            Well, this is correct as far as all preserved foods were developed to extend the availability of seasonal harvests. Sauerkraut extends the cabbage season. You could put shred cabbage on your hot dog. It would be an edible but very different flavor/texture/experience.

            Preserved lemons have a complexity of flavor which you won't achieve with fresh lemons.It's not simply lemon + salt. The process of preserving changes the flavor to something more than the sum of its parts. Most recipes call for the peel, so the saltier inside is not used. You can rinse the preserved lemon which will remove a good amount of salt.

            You can substitute fresh lemons but be aware that the flavor profile is not going to be the same.

          3. God yes.

            Salt cured lemon has an amazing exotic depth of flavor. It engages your entire palette as it contains the sugar, acid of the lemon's flesh, the bitter tones of the peel and pith, and the salinity from the salt.

            Every component of a fresh lemon has culinary value. They improve upon countless dishes. however they will be a very week stand in for their salt cured sisters.

            If salt is a health issue understand that you don't use this condiment in large quantities and the acid and sugar actually make for a "saltier" flavor with less actual salt.

            1 Reply
            1. You do typically rinse the pickled lemon before using, so probably not adding too much more salt--and salt could be reduced elsewhere. I think the preserved lemon definitely adds a distinctive flavor.

              1. Preserved lemons definitely possess a fermented funkiness that you don't get from fresh lemons. Rinsing the lemons will wash away some of the salt, though admittedly not all of it. If you are truly concerned about the salt content, perhaps black limes might make for an interesting substitute.

                1. I love salt preserved lemons. They are always in my fridge. As other people have mentioned it changes the texture and taste, no bitterness from the skin and adds umami which gives that extra tasty flavour. I use the salt juice for yummy simple salad dressing, slice them thin to mix in with simple spaghetti with artichoke & parmesan etc

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: ceremonyfood

                    I never thought to use the "salt juice" and just throw it out. I will have to save from my next batch.

                  2. As Mourad Lahlou says,

                    "Preserved lemons are Morocco's greatest culinary contribution to the world. No, wait, I'm going all the way with this: They're Morocco's greatest contribution to the world, period."

                    There's really no comparing them to anything. They're utterly unique. Personally, I'd never come up with a way to substitute them, it would be sacrilege in my kitchen. If I was concerned about salt, I'd find a way to cut it in other ways. Maybe not in the exact same meal, but somewhere to balance it out rather than give up the lemon.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Quintious

                      Also from Lahlou, regarding the lemons: "One rule of thumb: surprisingly, the flavor of preserved lemons tends to become more intense the longer they're cooked."

                      This might be of some use for the OP; being able to use less preserved lemon, thus lower salt, by adding them at the beginning of the stew.

                      For me, I'm not concerned about the salt, but trying this really changed the way I use the preserved lemons. Due to the advanced Tetris game that is my refrigerator, a quart of preserved lemons managed to hide itself for 10 months or so. And those old lemons were beyond delicious - I had never, ever aged them so long before. (NOW, I do....have some going on 7 months now!) I was able to stretch those lemons like crazy just adding them early to the stew. It really does get more intense, by quite a degree. For years I had been mistakenly thinking of the lemons like I would garlic or fresh herbs - that they would mellow in long cooking, and only have intense flavor if added near the end.So happy to learn that little idiosyncrasy of preserved lemons.

                      I agree, there is simply no substitute

                      Oh dang...now I have Lahlou's "New Moroccan" open in front of me. There goes the next hour.

                      1. re: cayjohan

                        I *just* got it last week. It was a quote that just stuck out to me because it's so damn true. Haven't made anything from the book yet, but I can tell an absolute immense amount of effort went into making this book. Can't wait to get using it.

                        1. re: Quintious

                          Oh, I hope you enjoy it as much as I have! When I first glanced through it, I thought it might be just another pretty picture book, but I was so wrong. I especially like the "Seven Things" section, which includes the lemon discussion. Some of the stuff is a bit over my ambition level, like making my own couscous or the warqa, but it's still an interesting read. We tend it cook a lot of Moroccan-ish around here, and I've found a loads of inspiration in the book.