Thermal Process Development to Ensure the Safety of a Home-Canned Lemon Curd Product

E. M. DSa¹, E. L. Andress¹, J. A. Harrison¹ and M. A. Harrison². (1) Department of Foods & Nutrition Extension, (2) Department of Food Science & Technology, The University of Georgia, Athens, GA 30602-4356

Paper 020D-06. Presented at the Institute of Food Technologists Annual Meeting, Orlando, FL, June 26, 2006.


Canning techniques for specialty foods like fruit curds are currently highly requested by home-canners. In recommending a home-canning process to consumers, the issue of primary concern to the Extension educator is to ensure a microbiologically safe, high-quality shelf-stable product.
The objective was to experimentally calculate a boiling water thermal process and determine the effect of consumer procedural variation on heat penetration patterns of lemon curd.
A standardized lemon curd formulation (equilibrium pH 3.7) was hot-filled into half-pint home canning jars. The cold spot was determined with Ecklund Harrison copper-constantan thermocouples, inserted through lids, monitoring product temperatures at four potential cold spots in sixteen canner loads. Sealed jars were placed in the canner and temperatures recorded using EllabTM software, through come-up, cool down, and a processing time that heated all jars to a minimum of 2C below canner temperature. Analyses of f(h) values (slope of the straight line portion of a heating curve) located the cold spot at the geometric center of the jar. Cold-spot temperatures were then monitored through confirmation canning processes that produced a minimum final temperature of 90.5C, for both standard filling and low-initial temperature filling variations. f(h) values were used to calculate the effect of consumer-induced procedural changes on the thermal process. A boiling water process recommendation of 15 min was calculated for this product. Up to a 15 minute post-cook delay prior to filling jars did not significantly change f(h) values when compared with the standard treatments.
Confidence in science-based thermal processing recommendations is essential for novel home-canned food products that are similar to commercially available high-demand items. A 15 minute boiling water heat process for this lemon curd ensures a safe, shelf-stable product. This study produced a research-based home-canning recommendation for a highly sought-after, distinct product category.


Expanding food markets catering to eclectic tastes have made available a plethora of specialty food products, encompassing new forms of local foods, as well as various ethnic and international items. Lemon curd, a mixture of eggs, butter, lemon juice and sugar that results in a tart, sauce-like product is much coveted by epicures worldwide. Numerous and persistent requests for a safe USDA-recommended home-canning process for this category of foods prompted this research (Andress, 2001).
The objective of this project was to develop a high-quality product, determine an adequate thermal process for home-canned lemon curd, and to study the effect of consumer procedural variation on the thermal process. Since this is an acid product, the primary concern was to ensure the development of a safe, standardized product, to prevent spoilage from acid-resistant microorganisms during storage, and to recommend a shelf-life for the developed lemon curd.

Ingredients and Preparation Process

Lemon Curd:
Ingredients: 2 cups superfine sugar*, cup lemon zest (freshly zested), optional, 1 cup bottled lemon juice**, cup unsalted butter, chilled, cut into approximately " pieces, 7 large egg yolks, 4 large whole eggs

Yield: About 3-4 half-pint jars.

* If superfine sugar is not available, run granulated sugar through a grinder or food processor for 1 minute, let settle, and use in place of superfine sugar. Do not use powdered sugar.
** Bottled lemon juice is used to standardize acidity. Fresh lemon juice can vary in acidity and is not recommended.



  1. Wash 4 half-pint canning jars with warm, soapy water. Rinse well; keep hot until ready to fill. Prepare canning lids according to manufacturer's directions. Fill boiling water canner with enough water to cover the filled jars by 1-2 inches. Use a thermometer to preheat the water to 180F. Caution: Do not heat the water in the canner to more than 180F before jars are added. If the water in the canner is too hot, the process time will not be sufficiently long. The time it takes for the canner to reach boiling after the jars are added is expected to be 25 to 30 minutes for this product. Process time starts after the water in the canner comes to a full boil over the tops of the jars.
  2. Combine sugar and lemon zest in a small bowl, stir to mix, set aside about 30 minutes. Pre-measure lemon juice and prepare the chilled butter pieces. Heat water in the bottom pan of the double boiler until it boils gently. The water should not boil vigorously or touch the bottom of the top double boiler pan or bowl in which the curd is to be cooked. Steam produced will be sufficient for the cooking process to occur.
  3. In the top of the double boiler, whisk the egg yolks and whole eggs together thoroughly. Slowly whisk in the sugar and zest, blending until smooth. Blend in the lemon juice and add butter pieces to the mixture. Place the top of the double boiler over boiling water in the bottom pan. Stir gently but continuously with a silicone spatula or cooking spoon, to prevent the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the mixture reaches a temperature of 170F. Use a food thermometer to monitor the temperature.
  4. Remove the double boiler pan from the stove and place on a dish cloth or towel on the counter top. Continue to stir gently until the curd thickens (about 5 minutes). Strain curd through a mesh strainer into a glass or stainless steel bowl; discard zest. Fill hot strained curd into the clean, hot half-pint jars, leaving -inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust headspace if needed. Wipe rims of jars with a dampened, clean paper towel; apply two-piece metal canning lids.
  5. Process in the prepared boiling water canner for 15 minutes (altitudes up to 1000 ft). Cool, undisturbed, for 12-24 hours & check for seals.

Preparation Notes

Shelf- life: For best quality, store in a cool, dark place, away from light. Use canned lemon curd within 3 -4 months. Browning and/or separation may occur with longer storage; discard any time these changes are observed.

Variation: For Lime Curd, use the same recipe but substitute 1 cup bottled lime juice and cup fresh lime zest for the lemon juice and zest.

Thermal Process Development

Determination of the cold spot for this product and jar combination was made using data collected for heat penetration curves at 4 potential cold spot locations in the jars in 16 canner loads (see Table 1).
Procedural variation based on a pre-fill lag time was used in testing for process calculations. Temperature profiles were compared for fill temperatures (direct-fill, and after a 15 minute wait), which had means of 55.80 and 46.66C, respectively. Process calculation was accomplished by using thermocouples in each of six jars in different canner loads of each of the two fill methods (standard, and low initial temperature). These jars were processed to 90.5C plus an additional 5 minutes. Processing was done in a boiling water canner using the stovetop burners of a household gas range (Frigidaire Gallery Model ES III). Data was recorded using an Ellab E-ValTM Monitoring System and Software, and Ecklund needle Type T copper-constantan thermocouples. Analysis of variance was used to determine if significant (p<.001) differences existed between the treatments using the General Linear Model procedure in SAS 9.1 (2002-2003).


Cold Spot Location

Table 1: Cold Spot Determination of Lemon Curd in Half-pint Jars
Thermocouple height in half-pint jar Average f(h) value n=16 Range Standard Deviation
Center 39.52
Below Center
1 Below Center
1- Below Center
¹Location of cold spot, as determined by largest individual f(h) value (worst-case scenario)

Thermal Characteristics of Jars Processed by Two Procedures

Table 2: Thermal Characteristics of Jars Processed by Two Methods

  Standard Low Fill Temperature
  n=12 n=24
Total Fill Weight 235.2 g (mean) 237.7 g (mean)
  C C
Canner Initial Temperature 81.33 1.38 81.77 0.44
Jar Initial Temperature¹ 55.74 0.73 46.66 0.62
Jar Temperature at Start of Boiling 68.85 1.93 67.60 2.97
Mean temperature change during come-up time +13.11 +20.94
Jar Temperature at the end of experimental process² 92.93 0.44 92.73 0.70
Maximum temperature change during process + 37.19 + 46.07
¹Heat penetration data for 6 jars each were collected from different canner loads
²Heat penetration data were collected by allowing the slowest-heating jar to reach 90.5C plus an additional 5 minutes heating time


Determination of the Calculated Thermal Process

Table 3: Recommended Process Time for Lemon Curd in a Boiling-water Canner
Style of Pack Hot    
Jar Size Half-pints    
Altitude 0-1,000 ft 1,001-6,000 ft Above 6,000 ft
Processing Time 15 min 20 min 25 min

Effect of Fill Weight and Initial Jar Temperature

Table 4: Effect of Fill Temperature on Heat Penetration of Lemon Curd in Half-pint Jars

  Standard Low Fill Temperature
  n=12 n=24
Total Fill Weight 235 g 237 g
Jar Initial Temperature (C) 55.74 0.73 46.66 0.62
Mean f(h) 42.35 1.83 42.76 1.71
Average Minutes to Reach 90.5C at boiling¹ 26.41 1.24 25.87 2.45
¹Time after water in canner returned to boiling. This comparison of averages is for statistical purposes; in practice, the process time would be determined by the slowest heating individual jar (Garner, 2002).

Summary and Conclusions


   1.   Andress, E.L. 2001. A national survey of current home canning practices in the U.S. Athens, GA: National Center for Home Food Preservation, Department of Foods and Nutrition, The University of Georgia. Unpublished data.
Garner, H. H. and Andress, E.L. 2002.  Effect of fill weight and initial temperature on processing time for a home pickled jicama relish. Poster presented at IFT Annual Meeting, Anaheim, CA.
Pflug, I. J. 1998. Microbial Control Processes for Acid Foods. In Microbiology and Engineering Processes. Environmental Sterilization Laboratory, Minneapolis, MN
Statistical Analysis Software, SAS 9.1, 2002-2003. Cary, NC: SAS Institute Inc.

This project was partially funded through a grant from the National Integrated food Safety Initiative (Grant No. 00-51110-9762) of the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Document Use:

Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of reproduction) provided the authors and the University of Georgia receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission of the University of Georgia. E. M. D’Sa, E. L. Andress, J. A. Harrison and M. A. Harrison. 2006. Thermal Process Development to Ensure the Safety of a Home-Canned Lemon Curd Product. Athens, GA: The University of Georgia, Cooperative Extension Service.

References to commercials products, services, and information is made with the understanding that no discrimination is intended and no endorsement by the University of Georgia, U.S. Department of Agriculture and supporting organizations is implied. This information is provided for the educational information and convenience of the reader.

The University of Georgia and Ft. Valley State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and counties of the state cooperating. The Cooperative Extension Service, the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences offers educational programs, assistance and materials to all people without regard to race, color, national origin, age, sex or disability. An Equal Opportunity Employer/Affirmative Action Organization Committed to a Diverse Work Force.


National Center for Home Food Preservation
208 Hoke Smith Annex
The University of Georgia
Athens, GA 30602-4356

Tel: (706) 542-3773
Fax: (706) 542-1979