Canning Citrus

Say you’ve got a huge citrus tree and want to can some of it without using a lot of sugar. The nice thing about citrus is that it’s so acidic you can water bath can it in its own juice, in just water or in a light sugar syrup. In our Master Food Preserver class we did a taste test of tangerine sections canned in a variety of liquids:

  • water
  • very light syrup (1/2 cup sugar per quart)
  • light syrup (1 cup sugar per quart)
  • medium syrup (1 3/4 cup sugar per quart)
  • heavy syrup (2 3/4 cups sugar per quart)
  • very heavy syrup (4 cups sugar per quart)
  • syrup with honey (one part sugar to one part honey in any of the ratios above)

The citrus preserved in just water was edible but not particularly good nor was it aesthetically pleasing. As much as I try to avoid sugar it does help the fruit hold its shape. The best formula for canning citrus in terms of flavor and aesthetics was, in my opinion, either the very light or light syrups.  I was not fond of the honey/sugar syrup as the honey tended to overwhelm the flavor of the fruit.

A home grapefruit canning experiment I tried at home went horribly wrong, but I’ll blog about that in another post. Let’s just say that if I had a big citrus tree I’d consider canning some of the harvest using a very light sugar syrup. It’s a decent way to get a shelf stable product with a lot less sugar than, say a marmalade or jelly. Another sugar-free alternative would be to dehydrate the fruit.

Directions for canning all kinds of fruit in syrup can be found on page 2-5 of the USDA’s Complete Guide to Home Canning which you can download for free here.

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  1. Good info; I’ve often wondered about canning citrus. I haven’t done much of it because of the sugar content that most recipes call for.

  2. Another option that you might consider rather than sugar and honey is fruit juice concentrate. When canning peaches and pears, we have used frozen apple or white grape juice thinned with water. I haven’t tried citrus, but I would expect that frozen orange or grapefruit juice would work well and you could reduce or eliminate the sugar that you need to add.

  3. Just to take this in another direction, consider preserving citrus in salt water or salt only too. Preserved lemons are common in Middle Eastern cuisine and in China preserved kumquats are used to help treat soar throats.

    While I preserve the bulk of my citrus as marmalade, I always salt some too!

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