Good Mood Food: Homemade Preserved Lemons

Preserved lemons add a bright, citrus flavor to Middle Eastern and Mediterranean dishes. Save money by making them at home! 

Yellow is the happiest color. There’s a reason the smiley face, the best cartoon characters, and the sun are all yellow. Okay, maybe that last one has more to do with wavelength frequency, but you get my point. Science has even confirmed it.

Plus, it's my favorite color :)

For appearance alone, I'd call lemons a good mood food. If I was on top of my interior decorating game, I'd always have a big bowl of lemons in an olive wood bowl on the counter. Lemons brighten your food and your mood!

In the case of lemons, the outside gives us a clue to what's on the inside, because lemons are packed with mood boosting nutrients. Vitamin C is most associated with lemons and other citrus fruit. Important for immune function and healthy skin, researchers are starting to untangle important functions vitamin C has in the brain. One study found people felt less stressed when subjected to a stressor after receiving vitamin C supplements. Also, animal studies found vitamin C lowers levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Lemons are also a rich source of a group of flavonoids that can cross the blood-brain barrier, where they reduce inflammation, repair damage and promote the formation of new connections between neurons. One of those flavonoids, hesperetin, binds to opioid receptors in the brain, the same receptors affected by drugs like heroin, which is responsible for the feelings of euphoria.

Of course, lemon juice is a great way to add a hit of acid and fresh flavor to dishes, but I love to use the zest too - that's where most of the phytonutrients hang out! With preserved lemons, you get the benefits of the whole fruit. Brining lemons in salt removes the bitter flavor so they taste less tart and more citrusy.

You can buy preserved lemons at most well stocked grocery stores or order online, but it's so much more fun and cheaper to make your own! Plus, these jars look so pretty on your counter and just as happy inducing as that olive wood bowl full of lemons!

Preserved lemons are most commonly used in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, but once you've tasted them, you'll want to throw them in everything! Here's some of my favorite uses:

Would love to hear how you end up using them in the comments below!

Preserved Lemons

Adapted from Jamie Oliver's Food Escapes


  • 10 small, unwaxed lemons
  • 3/4 cup sea salt
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 sprig rosemary


  1. Sterilize 1 large quart mason jar (I used two smaller mason jars) by placing them in a 225 degree oven for 20 minutes. Carefully remove from the oven using tongs and set aside until ready to use.
  2. Squeeze the juice from 5 of the lemons, discard the peels and set the juice aside. In the other 5 lemons, cut a deep cross in the top of each lemon about 3/4's of the way down, so they still stay joint at the base. Pack a teaspoon of salt in the middle of each lemon and place in the mason jar, layering with the salt, bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon and rosemary. Pour the lemon juice over the top of the lemons. Fill the jar the rest of the way with water. Place the lid on and seal.
  3. Give the jar a shake and place in a cool, dark place, shaking every few days to distribute the salt.
  4. After a month, the lemons will be ready. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.