Lemons 101 – The Basics
Lemons, scientifically known as Citrus limon, are believed to have originated in China or India about 2,500 years ago. They were originally a cross between a lime and citron and have been grown in eastern regions ever since. Lemons were first introduced to Europe and Northern Africa in the 11th century. From there they were transported around the world by Crusaders and explorers. They were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to the New World in 1493. They have been grown in Florida since the 16th century. The main producers of lemons today are the United States, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel and Turkey.
Over the years, lemons became a prized food by many who used them to prevent the development of scurvy, the Vitamin C deficiency disease.
There are two main types of lemons on the market today: the Eureka lemon, and the Lisbon lemon. The Eureka lemon has a more texturized skin, a short neck at one end and a few seeds. The Lisbon lemon has a smoother skin, no neck, and is usually seedless. There are some newer varieties of lemons becoming available. One such lemon is the Meyer lemon. It is sweeter than the other varieties of lemons.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Lemons are an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of folate. They also contain some potassium.
Antioxidants. Vitamin C is one of the most important antioxidants found in nature, and it is the main antioxidant in the human body. It neutralizes free radicals both inside and outside the cells, protecting cells and preventing or reducing inflammation. This explains why Vitamin C has been shown to reduce some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Heart Disease. Since free radicals can damage blood vessels and make cholesterol more likely to build up in artery walls, Vitamin C can help prevent or deter the development of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. The compounds found in lemons, hesperidin and diosmin, have been found to lower cholesterol, further helping to reduce our risk for heart disease.
Immune Function. Vitamin C is critical for a strong immune system. Ample Vitamin C may be helpful in conditions like the common cold, flu and even ear infections.
Lower Mortality Rates. With Vitamin C’s many health benefits, research has shown that eating a lot of vegetables and fruits high in Vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Lower Risk of Kidney Stones. The citric acid found in lemons may help to prevent kidney stones by increasing urine volume and increasing urine pH, creating a less favorable environment for the formation of kidney stones.
Improves Iron Absorption. Vitamin C is known to increase the absorption of iron in a meal. So, including Vitamin C-rich foods such as lemons in a meal containing iron-rich foods can help protect against anemia.
Helps Prevent Cognitive Decline. According to a review published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, maintaining healthy Vitamin C levels was shown to protect against age-related cognitive decline. Since lemons are rich in Vitamin C, including them in your diet on a regular basis can help preserve your memory as you age.
How to Select the Best Lemons
To select the lemon with the most juice, opt for one that is thin skinned and feels slightly soft when squeezed. Those with thicker skins have less flesh and will be less juicy.
Look for lemons that are heavy for their size and have a finely textured peel. Choose those that are fully yellow (green color indicates the lemon is not completely ripe and would be more acidic). Avoid lemons that are wrinkled, have soft or hard spots, or a dull color.
How to Store Lemons
Lemons will stay fresh at room temperature for about a week when kept away from direct sunlight. To keep your lemons longer than that, store them in the refrigerator and use within a month.
Freshly squeeze lemon juice will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
How to Preserve Lemons
To preserve fresh lemon juice, squeeze the lemons and place the juice in ice cube trays in increments you would want to use at one time, such as 1 tablespoon of juice in 1 cube space. Freeze the juice then transfer the cubes to a freezer bag or container. For best flavor, use your frozen lemon juice within 3 to 4 months. It will be safe to use beyond that, but the flavor may dwindle.
Fresh lemon zest may be dried and kept in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. If preferred, it can be ground into a powder. It should last for about a year.
To dry lemon zest or lemon peel, first remove the lemon zest from the fresh lemon. This can be done with a fine grater, a microplane zester, or a vegetable peeler. Chop the zest finely if needed. It may be dried in the oven, on the counter, or in a dehydrator.
To dry lemon zest in the oven, spread it on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Place it in the oven at its lowest setting. The lower the temperature, the better. Higher temperatures will make the zest turn darker as it dries. Finely grated zest should dry in about 30 to 60 minutes. Peeled strips of zest may take longer, possibly up to several hours. When it is dry, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool. If desired, grate it into a powder or chop it finely if it was not already done. Store it in an airtight container in a cool, dry place such as your pantry. Use it within one year for best flavor.
To dry lemon zest on the counter, spread the zest on a tray or dish. Leave it on the counter, uncovered for several days until it is completely dry. Grind it to a powder if desired, and transfer your dried zest to an airtight container. Store it in a cool, dry place such as your pantry. Use it within one year for best flavor.
To dry lemon zest in a dehydrator, prepare your zest as you would for any drying method. Spread it on a solid sheet or tray designed for your dehydrator. Follow the dehydrator manufacturer’s directors for time and temperature for drying your zest. After it is dried, store it as you would any other dried zest, in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. Use it within one year for best flavor.
Uses for dried lemon zest. Add your dried lemon zest to seasoning mixes, tea, baked goods, salads, marinades, salad dressing, in seasoning for chicken and fish, on cooked vegetables and in any food that you want to brighten the flavor. Also, add your dried lemon zest to body care products, homemade cleaners, and potpourri.
About Meyer Lemons
Meyer lemons are relatively new on the market. They were first brought to the United States from China in the early 20th Century. Meyer lemons can be found in grocery stores usually from December through May. They are usually more expensive than traditional lemons.
Meyer lemons are sweeter than traditional lemons because they are a cross between a traditional lemon and a mandarin orange. They have a smooth, thin peel with a deep yellow color, and are smaller and rounder than traditional lemons. The pulp is pale orange, with a sweet, floral flavor. Their sweet flavor makes them a wonderful addition to desserts, cocktails, and other foods as well.
Meyer lemons may be used in place of traditional lemons in some applications. Because of their added sweetness, they make an excellent swap for traditional lemons in dessert recipes. But, if your food demands the sour punch of a traditional lemon, then a Meyer wouldn’t deliver the flavor you need.
If a recipe calls for the juice of a Meyer lemon, you can substitute equal parts of traditional lemon juice and orange juice. If a recipe calls for Meyer lemon zest or peel, you can substitute equal parts of the zest or peel from a traditional lemon and an orange.
Meyer lemons will keep best in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. They should keep for about a week in the refrigerator, and only a few days at room temperature.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Lemons
* Acidity cuts greasiness and heaviness in foods. Lemon is especially helpful here, and it may be due to its citric acid, which helps break down fats, carbohydrates, and protein. So, if you want to tenderize a meat, or cut greasiness in a food, try adding some lemon juice to a marinade, sauce, or as a finishing touch to a dish.
* Lemon oil is found in the zest of lemons. The flavor is stronger than that of lemon juice. If you want to add some lemon flavor to something without adding extra liquid, add some lemon zest. Remember that it’s potent, so a little goes a long way.
* To keep lemons longer, store them in the refrigerator. Note that this may firm them up and make them hard to slice, juice or zest. To make them soft again, roll them back and forth on the kitchen counter with the palm of your hand. If you’re in a REAL hurry, put them in the microwave for a few seconds to soften and warm your cold lemon.
* Unless lemon is an integral ingredient in a dish, it’s often enough to squeeze a little lemon juice over food when it’s finished or almost finished cooking. This last-minute touch will brighten flavors without making a food taste overly lemony or sour. Just be sure not to use too much. The juice squeezed from one wedge of lemon is often enough to do the job. Try this on cooked greens, cooked pork, chicken and fish, in soups, sauces and drinks, and even on pasta dishes (depending upon the type of sauce being used).
* It’s best to add squeezed lemon juice toward the end of cooking or after cooking is finished. When adding it early on, the prolonged cooking may make it bitter.
* If you happen to add too much lemon juice to a finished dish and it’s too sour, add a pinch of sugar to counteract the acid. That should bring the flavor back to what you expect.
* You’ll get the most juice out of a lemon that is at room temperature. Also, roll it under the palm of your hand on a counter top before cutting the lemon to help release its juice.
* If you plan to zest a lemon, remove only the outermost part of the peel. The white pith underneath is bitter and should be avoided.
* Place thinly sliced lemons (peel and all) on and under fish before cooking. Baking and broiling the fish will soften the lemon slices so they can be eaten along with the fish.
* To make a lemon vinaigrette, combine fresh lemon juice with olive or flax oil, crushed garlic and a little black pepper.
* If you want to reduce your salt intake at meals, try serving lemon wedges with your food. The sourness from a drizzle of lemon juice from the wedge makes a good substitute and you won’t miss the salt.
* If you are sensitive to oxalates (and are prone to related kidney stones), you should be aware that lemon peels are high in oxalates. However, the juice is not. In fact, lemon juice may help to prevent calcium oxalate kidney stone formation because of its high citric acid content.
* Traditionally grown lemons are often coated with wax and chemicals to protect them during shipping. If you plan to zest a lemon, it may be best to buy an organic one for that purpose.
* Remember to zest a lemon before you cut into it. It will be MUCH easier that way!
* Add slices of lemon, peel and all, to a glass of water for an easy “detox” drink. Lemon peel has antioxidants that help liver enzymes flush toxins from the body. Many people drink this first thing in the morning.
* Keep fruit from turning brown with a drizzle of fresh lemon juice. This works really well with bananas, avocados, peaches, pears, apples, and any other fruit that tends to oxidize easily.
* If you don’t enjoy drinking plain water yet you know you need to drink more, try adding a slice of lemon to your water. It will help to hydrate you, give you a Vitamin C and potassium boost, aid digestion, and support your immune system, all at once!
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Lemons
Basil, cardamom, coriander, cumin, dill, herbs (in general), lavender, mint, mustard, oregano, paprika, parsley, pepper (black), rosemary, saffron, tarragon, thyme, vanilla
Foods That Go Well with Lemons
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beans (in general), chicken, chickpeas, edamame (soybeans), eggs, fish (seafood), flax, hazelnuts, lentils, nuts (in general), peas, pecans, pistachios, poppy seeds, snap peas, tahini, tofu, veal
Vegetables: Artichokes, arugula, asparagus, beets, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, chives, cucumbers, eggplant, fennel, garlic, ginger, kale, leeks, mushrooms, onions, parsnips, potatoes, radicchio, radishes, shallots, squash (summer), tomatoes, zucchini
Fruits: Avocados, blackberries, blueberries, currants, guavas, lime, mango, olives, orange, papaya, peaches, pears, plantains, raspberries, strawberries
Grains and Grain Products: Amaranth, corn, couscous, noodles, rice, wild rice, whole grains (in general)
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Butter, cheese (esp. cream, goat, pecorino, ricotta), cream, mascarpone, milk (almond), yogurt
Other Foods: Capers, chocolate, coconut, honey, maple syrup, mint, miso, mustard (Dijon), oil (esp. olive), sugar (esp. brown sugar), tea, vinegar, wine (esp. dry white)
Lemons have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Aioli, biscuits, cakes, cheesecake, cocktails, cookies, Greek cuisine, gremolatas, lemonade, lemon curd, marinades, pancakes, pasta dishes, puddings, quick breads, risottos, salad dressings (esp. vinaigrette), sauces, scones, soups, tabbouleh
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Lemons
Combine lemons with any of the following combinations…
Almonds + Coconut
Apples + Honey + Romaine (salad)
Arugula + Parmesan Cheese
Asparagus + Black Pepper + Pasta
Asparagus + Pecans + Rice
Basil + Mint
Blueberries + Honey + Ricotta
Blueberries + Yogurt
Capers + White Wine (in a sauce)
Cauliflower + Tahini
Coconut + Strawberries
Garlic + Mustard + Olive Oil + Oregano + Vinegar
Garlic + Oregano
Garlic + Parsley
Green Beans + Parsley
Mint + Zucchini
Risotto + Thyme + Zucchini
Lemon Bars with Shortbread Crust https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/lemon-bars-recipe/#tasty-recipes-67259
25 Sweet and Savory Lemon Recipes https://www.foodandwine.com/fruits/lemon/lemon
10 Ways to Use Up All Those Lemons https://blog.williams-sonoma.com/how-to-use-up-lemons/
36 Lemon Desserts to Zest Up Your Meals https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/g1551/lemon-desserts/
20 Essential Lemon Recipes https://www.marthastewart.com/274586/lemon-recipes
Lemon Loaf: The Best Recipe Ever!! https://www.shelovesbiscotti.com/extra-moist-lemony-lemon-loaf/
84 Lemon Recipes From Tart To Sweet https://www.tasteofhome.com/collection/lemon-recipes-from-tart-to-sweet/
25 Lemon Recipes to Brighten Your Day https://realhousemoms.com/25-lemon-recipes-brighten-your-day/
The Best Lemon Bars Recipe https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/10294/the-best-lemon-bars/
Real Lemon Cookies https://www.justapinch.com/recipes/dessert/cookies/real-lemon-cookies.html
20 Amazing Things You Can Do With a Lemon https://www.eatthis.com/uses-for-lemon/
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.