For the Best Flavor, Squeeze Lemon (and Lime) Juice Ahead
Resting your lemon or lime juice for a few hours may actually improve its flavor.
Fresh-squeezed has long been touted as the optimal way to enjoy orange juice, but what about lemon and lime juices? Should you rush to turn them into an ade or cocktail immediately after you’ve squeezed them?
When more than one bartender friend told us that, in fact, lemon and lime juices that are several hours old taste better than the just-squeezed stuff, we decided to see for ourselves.
We pressed several fresh lemons and limes and refrigerated their juices, covered, for four hours. We then used the samples in batches of lemonade and limeade, comparing them with versions made with just-squeezed juice. Sure enough, tasters preferred the aged-juice drinks, noting that they had a more complex flavor.
Why Lemon and Lime Juices Squeezed Ahead Taste Better
It turns out that the enhanced flavor in the juices is due to the compound limonin. Freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice have little of this compound, but they do have precursor chemicals (primarily LARL in limes and both LARL and nomilin in lemons) that lead to its creation when fresh juice is exposed to air. Though limonin tastes bitter, in small amounts it adds more dimension to these juices.
But if the juice is aged too long (more than 6 hours in our tests), bitterness from the limonin can take over and the juice can start to taste unpleasant.
So, if you’ve got the time, letting juice rest for a few hours before mixing your drinks can make for better-tasting citrus ades and cocktails.
Why Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice is Best
This aged-is-better phenomenon is not true of orange juice. While it undergoes the same chemical reactions to produce limonin when exposed to air, most of us prefer our orange juice without even a hint of bittterness.