The complete guide to lemons

Think you’re a lemon expert? Take the March 2019 Ingredient of the Month quiz for 1 CEH toward ACF Certification at acfchefs.org/CEHquiz.

Lemons grow on a small tree in the flowering plant family Rutaceae. The tree produces an edible fruit that is oval with a broad, low nipple. The outer rind, or peel, is yellow when ripe and rather thick in some varieties. The inside pulp is pale-yellow and split into 8 to 10 segments. Some fruits are seedless though most have a few seeds that are small, oval, and smooth. Due to the lemon’s acidity level, it has a distinct sour taste.

The origin of the lemon has not yet been confirmed, though science suggests it was in northwestern India. Lemons were introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus carried lemon seeds to Hispaniola. Lemons were reported to be increasingly planted in northeastern Florida in 1839. By the 1960s, California and Arizona became the leading producers of lemons in the United States.

Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C. Research shows that eating fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C reduces your risk of heart disease and stroke. The fiber and plant compounds in lemons also significantly lowers some risk factors for heart disease. The citric acid in lemons acts as an antioxidant and helps protect the body against free radicals.

Lemons and citrus squeezer on a wooden background
Lemons and citrus squeezer

Healthy Ingredient Contribution

Values from NutritionData.com based on lemons, raw, with peel (one fruit without seeds: 108 grams)

Vitamin C One serving of lemons provides 139 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, a water-soluble vitamin that functions as an antioxidant. Vitamin C helps the body develop resistance against infection and promotes a healthy immune system.

Dietary Fiber 20 percent of the daily recommended value of dietary fiber comes from one serving of lemons. Soluble fibers help control weight by making the stomach feel full. Insoluble fibers add bulk to the diet and help prevent constipation.

Copper One serving of lemons contain 14 percent of the daily recommended value of copper. Copper is central to building strong tissue, maintaining blood volume and producing energy in your cells.

Calcium Seven percent of the daily recommended value of calcium can come from one lemon. Calcium is important for strong bones. Consuming calcium can help prevent osteoporosis.

Pieces of fresh lemons in a basket.

Types and Varieties

There are many different types of lemons. The most common varieties are:

Eureka The fruit has a skin of average to thin thickness, usually smooth, although it is a bit rough, especially if it is produced in Mediterranean climates. This lemon contains very few seeds, and its juice has a high level of acidity.

Libson The fruit is very similar to the Eureka variety. However, libson lemon trees produce fruit twice a year, whereas the Eureka tree can produce fruit all year long.

Meyer Meyer lemons are a hybrid of lemons and oranges. They are large and rounded. The skin is yellowish orange, smooth, soft and thin. It lacks the characteristic tang and smell of lemons, but it does have a nice floral aroma. Meyer lemon trees produce fruit all year long.

Lemon trees with ripe fruits
Lemons fruits and lemon buds on a tree

Selecting and Storing

• When selecting lemons, look for clear, blemish-free rinds. It should be heavy for its size and have a pleasant fragrance.

• A thinner-skinned lemon will yield more juice, while a
thicker-skinned one may be better for zest.

• Store lemons whole for use within a week or two

• Refrigerate or freeze lemon juice, lemon zest or lemon slices separately for later use. Note: The flavor may be less strong than that of fresh lemons.

Culinary Uses

• Lemon juice is used to make lemonade, soft drinks, and cocktails. It can be used to marinate fish and flavor desserts, such as lemon meringue pie or lemon blueberry muffins. Lemon juice is frequently added to pancakes in the United Kingdom.

• Lemon peel/zest is used in both savory and sweet dishes, such as pastas or marmalades. The lemon’s peel can be candied when cut into strips.

• Lemon leaves are used to make tea and for preparing meats and seafood.

Ripe Bright Yellow Lemons on Branch with Green Leaves on Turquoise Background. Ayurveda Skin Body Care Organic Cosmetics Healthy Superfoods Concept. Styled Image

Fun Facts

• Each lemon tree can produce between 500 and 600 pounds of lemons a year.

• The high acidity of lemons makes them good cleaning aids.

• In 1747, James Lind’s experiments on seamen suffering from scurvy involved adding lemon juice to their diets, though vitamin C had not yet been discovered.

• A lemon festival is celebrated in Menton, France from February to March.


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