There is no defined need to refrigerate citrus fruits, but chilling can prolong their shelf life. All varieties of citrus are stable at room temperature. Refrigeration often adds a week or more to the fruits’ ripeness, but is by no means required.
Extending Shelf Life
There are many varieties of citrus fruits, from the familiar lemon and grapefruit to the blood orange or the pomelo. No matter how different they may look or taste, all share certain characteristics and commonalities, particularly when it comes to storage.
Fruit growers and greengrocers often recommend that consumers refrigerate citrus fruits, especially if bought in bulk. Temperatures below 50 degrees Fahrenheit (about 10 degrees Celsius) help to stall the ripening and eventual decay of citrus fruits, making refrigeration an ideal way to preserve their shelf life. A refrigerated citrus fruit usually stays fresh for about a week and a half, while that same fruit on the counter might last only three or four days.
Proper Storage Techniques
Choosing to refrigerate citrus fruits is not a guarantee of longer life, however. If stored improperly, the fruits can actually spoil faster in the cold than they would simply sitting out. Citruses should be placed either individually on a refrigerator shelf or in a crisping drawer, else held in a perforated plastic bag.
Storing citrus in paper can cause gas to build up, which leads to mold and taste variances. Sealed plastic bags are usually no better, as they promote condensation and moisture, even in cold settings, often leads to decay. For this reason, washing citrus fruits before storage is not usually recommended.
Placement can also be a concern. Most of the time, one should not refrigerate citrus fruits alongside vegetables. Fruits in the citrus family tend to have a very high acid content, which can spoil certain vegetables — particularly leafy greens — if stored in close proximity. In some cases, low does of gas emitted from these same greens can also alter the fruit’s taste. Keeping citrus segregated in the fridge, either in a bag, on a shelf, or in a dedicated drawer, is usually the best policy.
Considerations for Peeled Citrus
The only instance in which one might legitimately need to refrigerate citrus fruit is if the fruit has already been unpeeled or cut. Once a citrus has lost its peel, the fruit is vulnerable and very susceptible to drying and spoilage. Opened citrus must usually be covered, either with tight-fitting plastic or in a sealed container, and chilled in order to prevent contamination. Aluminum foil is usually discouraged, as the acids in the fruit react negatively with many metal alloys.
Downsides to Refrigeration
The choice to refrigerate citrus fruit has but one major tradeoff: juiciness. When fruits are chilled, their juices tend to run more slowly, and they may taste drier. It is often harder to extract juice from chilled fruit, even with a juice press, as the flesh tends to hold onto moisture when cold.
Most of the time, juiciness is restored when the fruit is returned to room temperature. Sometimes, rolling a chilled fruit can also release some of its moisture. When juice is on the agenda, it is usually best to pull fruit out of the refrigerator about 12 hours in advance.