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Posted on Feb 3, 2009 in Tips | 26 comments

Speed tip: Keep acidulated water for sliced fruit

Speed tip: Keep acidulated water for sliced fruit


Stored lemon water for dipping fruit

One of my basic tips for preventing cut fruit from browning is to dip the fruit in acidulated water right before packing. This will slow the browning process, not halt it. This is great, but mixing up sweetened lemon water to my taste takes a minute or two in the morning that I’ve been looking to cut. Yes, I’m really that lazy! So I found a shortcut that works for me and cuts my morning prep time by a couple of minutes… (Read on for details, a link to vote in the Speed Bento Contest, and a bento comic!)

Making apple rabbits (#3 of 4)

To review, there are a number of things that will slow the enzymes that cause browning in cut fruit. Anything with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) works, including lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, cream of tartar, a crushed vitamin C tablet dissolved in water, or even ground chili pepper. I like the flavor that orange juice adds to fruit, but often use bottled lemon juice with a little Splenda or sugar for the same effect without the pucker. Salt water also slows browning and adds an interesting savory bite to fruit.

This week I’ve been speeding up the process by storing a watertight container of premixed sweetened lemon water in the refrigerator. So in the mornings I cut off just as much apple or other fruit as I need, dip it quickly in the lemon water, then pack it up in the bento box. As long as your fruit, cutting surfaces, and knives are clean, you can keep your acidulated water in the fridge for several days without needing to change it out. [EDIT: Kate from the Warm Olives bento blog keeps a spray bottle of lemon juice in her refrigerator for the same purpose; no need to change it out. Good idea!]

This works for me as I don’t tend to pack a full apple or pear in my four-year-old’s lunch; I just need a couple of slices: a quarter of the fruit at max. But once it’s cut I want to use it up ASAP before it turns brown and soft in the refrigerator, which means repeat appearances in that week’s packed lunches or after-school snacks. It may not seem like a lot of time saved, but it helps me overcome a psychological hurdle — it somehow feels like less of an obstacle to cutting up fruit when I know I’ve got a quick bath for it waiting. It comes in handy when making apple bunnies, decorative banana wedges, or packing any kind of cut fruit.

How to make apple rabbits How to make decorative banana wedges

This appeals to me on a couple of levels: 1) time saving, and 2) frugality of not throwing away something that can be used again. It’s a similar in concept to pre-filling sauce containers or building up a freezer stash: do things in advance so that you don’t waste any time when you’re actually packing lunch. What’s your favorite fruit shortcut? Share with us in comments, or on the new Lunch in a Box forum!


  • Vote in the Speed Bento Contest poll! Look at the entries and tell us which one you like the most. The maker of the winning speed bento will receive a copy of the cookbook Authentic Japanese Cuisine for Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide, provided by Jenn of the Not Exactly Bento blog. The poll closes on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2009.
  • A thread discussing different onigiri fillings turned up a fun bento comic strip by Greg Dean of Real Life Comics. Definitely check out his comic about cute onigiri rice balls, and today’s comic about molded hard-boiled eggs. Is this week bento week over there? I hope so! :-) (Updated: More bento comics for February 4 and February 5)



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  1. It amazes me that you can still think of anymore speed-tips. It’s great! Though it’s not so much the time that’s an issue, it’s the trouble of getting everything out that gets on my nerves sometimes. Great tip!
    Sometimes it’s the simplest of things. =’)

  2. I read real life comics and when I saw those bento strips I immediately thought of Lunch in a Box and had to scurry over to see if you had noted the bento-ness. :)

    I’m now dreaming about this amazing onigiri I ate at narita airport!

  3. This isn’t necessarily for fruit but it helps me when packing bentos for my three boys. I buy yogurt in the large containers and separate it into different-sized freezer-safe containers. Then in the morning I just pop one straight from the freezer into the bento and it thaws at school while keeping the food in the lunch cool.

  4. I tried the link to vote in the contest and it took me to a sad, empty page. Help!

  5. I’m even lazier than you are-I just use orange juice to “acidulate” my fruit. It works very well, and I don’t have to have an extra container in my (already overcrowded) fridge, as we always have a container of OJ. And I drink whatever’s left from the fruit.

  6. Great tips for sliced fruits and interesting wedges! I am sure my 4yr old son will luv the rabbit-shaped apple wedges. ;)

  7. Sprite also works, if you have any on hand.

  8. not a food scientist, but I’m guessing the acidity of lemon water will retard bacterial growth as well if you reuse. Of course like Biggie said, clean fruit, knives and cutting surfaces are important.

  9. Lazy? No
    Efficiency expert? YES!

  10. @8 from Monique D: Interesting about the Sprite; I wonder how much lemon/lime is actually in there?

  11. @10 from Laural: But I’d much rather make fun of myself as being lazy! More fun than taking myself all seriously as an efficiency expert. ;-)

  12. Using your bath and then wrapping the fruit in aluminum foil works to prevent the browning. Why, I don’t know.

  13. I didn’t know you could add sugar and still have it not brown. That’ll save me from some sour-lemon fruit. >^_^< .

  14. I do this with apples and pears, but will it work on bananas. Seems like no matter how I prepare a banana, it comes home uneaten because “it looked yucky” or “it felt smooshy”. Other than throwing the whole thing in there (which is too much), how can I keep bananas eatable? Particularly, it I want to slice them up to put on a sandwich or in a fruit salad?


  15. Great tips!

  16. pineapple juice! works like a charm, keeps for several days in the fridge, makes apples pears etc just a lil bit tastier. I buy the 6 pack cans of pineapple juice so that I always have a little one on hand for this purpose.

  17. My kids don’t like the taste of lemon on their fruits so I use orange juice. We always have orange juice in the fridge. In the morning, after I dip their fruit,I just drink the OJ for breakfast. They like the taste better and their fruit is always eaten.

  18. Thank you so much for that tip. It really couldn’t have come at a better time for me as my little one is starting to eat these foods.

  19. I am loving these creative ways to keep fruit ready to eat while stored all day in a lunch box! Also, there are some great tips on what to use to acidulate the fruit. Thanks guys!

  20. Another great tip, thanks so much Biggie! I solved my browning problems by packing the the fruit seperately. Works well but it frustrates my fruit artist soul since I can’t use it for decorations.

    And the comic is hilarious, and so true. That was EXACTLY my boyfriends reaction when he saw his rice has nori smiley faces. “Baby! The rice is SMILING at me. I can’t eat smiley rice in front of me mates!” but he did admit it was very pretty.

  21. @21 from Gloria: “Smiley rice”? Ha ha, I like it! Totally get his point, though. :-)

  22. I use a little powdered vitamin-C(Emergen-C) in water and then just drink it afterwards.

    But I agree with the previous comment about bananas - they always end up mushy. I don’t put them in my bentos at all.

  23. A jar of citric acid (powder) in the pantry makes many many things easy — from keeping apples and burdock from browning, to making a quick paneer out of leftover milk.
    It’s one of my pantry necessities. I don’t use much, so my jar is easily 5 years old and unaffected by age. It does seem to be mildly hygroscopic; keep the top tightly closed.

  24. I know that salt isn’t the healthiest thing to put on your fruit, but I just quickly dip sliced fruit in lightly salted water and it does the same thing as lemon juice. And I don’t think you’re lazy at all. Making bentos every day for your family takes effort. You are such a good example to me. I live in Hawaii and the govt is falling on hard times and they raised the price of school lunch from $1.25 to $2.20 a few months ago. Now, I just have my daughter take home lunch (which is usually leftovers). She never ate school lunch and now she’s not really eating her home lunch either. So now I’m going to start making fun bentos for her to take. Thank you for your site and all of your great information.

  25. You have enough time in the morning to make your kid decorative banana wedges and apple bunnies, but are too lazy to make an acidulated water bath?