Most notably, lemons are jam-packed with vitamin C. A mere tablespoon of lemon juice has 7 mg of the vitamin and is considered a source. A half-cup (4 oz.) of juice meets 100% of the RDA for vitamin C. That's a lot of C!
Otherwise, lemons are very low in calories and have negligible fat. They also contain small amounts of other nutrients such as calcium and folate, antioxidants including lutein and zeaxanthin and some dietary fiber.
Lemons are oval in shape with a pronounced bulge on the blossom end. The flesh inside is juicy and acidic. Lemons can range in size from that of a large egg to the size of a small grapefruit. Some have thin skins while others have very thick rinds. Thick-rinded lemons are used to make candied lemon peel that is available commercially in specialty shops and upscale supermarkets. While lemons are available year round, their peak growing season is during the summer months.
Interestingly, there are two basic types of lemons - acid and sweet. The acidic types are the ones available year round in supermarkets. The most common varieties include Eureka and Lisbon. Eureka lemons have a short neck at the stem end. They tend to have few seeds, a slightly pitted medium-thick skin and are quite juicy. Lisbon lemons are seedless with smooth medium-thick skin. They are very juicy.
Meyer lemons are one of the most well known sweet varieties. The Meyer lemon is a favorite of chefs and food lovers everywhere as it is sweeter than the regular varieties. It has a soft skin that develops an orange hue when the fruit is fully ripe. It has a distinctive flavor that hints of tangerine as it is actually a cross between a lemon and another citrus fruit - possibly an orange or a mandarin. It was discovered in 1908 by Frank N. Meyer. As they require more care when shipping and storing they are not widely grown on a commercial basis but are occasionally available in specialty food markets.
Commercially prepared bottled lemon juice is available but it is best avoided as it isn't nearly as nice as freshly squeezed. Frozen lemon juice is a bit better but if you really want the best flavor stick with the self-squeezed.
Choose lemons with smooth, very brightly colored skin. There should be no tinge of green as this means the lemon is under ripe. The deeper colored lemons are usually more mature than light yellow ones and not quite as acidic.
Look for firm, plump fruit that is heavy for its size. The skin shouldn't be excessively thick. This may mean less flesh and juice. Heavy fruits with fine-grained skin tend to be the juiciest. Avoid hard, shriveled, spongy, moldy, bruised or soft lemons.
If you are planning on using the lemons within a few days, leave them in a basket or bowl out on the kitchen counter. They make a cheery display and being stored at room temperature, are ready to be juiced.
Otherwise, lemons can be refrigerated in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper for up to six weeks, depending on their freshness when purchased.
Always wash, rinse well and dry lemons before using.
Juicing: To get the most juice out of a lemon it should be at room temperature. Or you can place it in hot water or in the microwave for 15 to 30 seconds to warm it up. Then roll the fruit under your palm on the countertop or a cutting board until it has softened up.
There are many different kinds of gadgets or kitchen tools that make juicing a lemon easier. From classic reamers to a newfangled "spigot" that you just twist into the fruit and have the juice pour out through the spout, there are a number of options. You may have to try a few out before you find the one that works best.
Slicing: Lemons can be sliced into any number of configurations depending on how they will be used. Thin or thick slices for layering on fish or poultry, wedges for squeezing into beverages, half moons for garnishing and so on.
Zesting: The zest of the lemon is the flavorful yellow part of the peel. Use the fine side of a hand grater, a zesting tool or rasp, a sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest carefully. Do not include any of the white pith underneath as it is bitter tasting.
Preserved lemon adds an exotic flavor to North African dishes but it can also contribute a tasty and interesting element to other cuisines.
What you need:
- 1 cup salt, preferably kosher, canning or sea salt
lemons washed, rinsed and dried
- 2 pint jars with lids
- Clean and have ready 2 pint (or 4 half-pint) jars with screw or clamp lids. Use plastic or glass lids if possible; metal lids tend to corrode from the salt and can be difficult to remove. Trim off any serious blemishes from the lemons and remove the hard stem area.
- Cut each lemon lengthwise into 8 wedges and remove seeds.
- Cover the bottom of each jar with a thin layer of salt.
- Spread about ¼ cup of salt on a plate. Press each lemon wedge into the salt, turning to coat all sides. Pack a layer of wedges into a jar and press down hard to release juice.
- Sprinkle salt over the lemons and continue to layer in lemon wedges, pressing down firmly and sprinkling in extra salt to fill any gaps. Fill the jar all the way to the top, pressing down so juice completely covers the lemon pieces.
- Close covers securely and leave to cure at room temperature for about 2 weeks. If there seem to be air pockets, invert the jars for a day or two.
- If the lid is stuck to the jar when you try to open it, invert the jar in a pan of hot water to dissolve the salt around the lid. Refrigerate after opening.
Use this delectable butter for brushing onto fresh corn on the cob and other grilled vegetables or on fish or poultry.
6 tbsp fresh lemon juice
4 tsp extra-light olive oil
2 tsp tarragon
- In a small bowl, combine the lemon juice, oil and tarragon. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- When ready to use, let the butter sit out at room temperature until it is softened. Makes about ½ cup.
Not many people enjoy eating a lemon on its own, but lemon juice and zest are used to flavor everything from fish to salads and fruit desserts. Lemon adds zip and flavor without adding fat or salt.
Healthy Ways to Enjoy Lemons
- Make some lemon cranberry or poppyseed muffins using whole wheat flour.
- Add lemon zest to pancake and waffle batters, cakes and cookies for extra flavor.
- When making smoothies donÃ¯Â¿Â½t forget a pinch of lemon zest to make the flavors pop.
- Use lemon juice instead of vinegar for a light vinaigrette that goes well with green salads.
- Keep a supply of lemon wedges in the refrigerator at work to jazz up your water or tea.
- A squeeze of lemon and some freshly ground black pepper make a simple and low calorie pasta topping for pasta salads.
- Keep some lemon curd in the freezer or buy it ready made in jars. ItÃ¯Â¿Â½s a quick filling for phyllo dough shells and an easy but elegant dessert for guests.
- Lemon and herbs such as rosemary and dill are classic combinations for cooking chicken and fish.
- Try the recipe for Lemon Pizza for an ultra-sophisticated appetizer or nibble for your next fancy dinner or cocktail party.
- Squeeze a wedge of lemon on salads and steamed vegetables to up flavor without extra fat or sodium.
- For a lovely and refreshing summer dessert, spoon lemon sorbet or ice cream into hollowed out lemon halves.
- Add a squeeze of fresh lemon to water and give it a little zing.
- A lemon cranberry muffin served with a cup of hot lemon tea makes a comforting cold weather pick-me-up.
- A little bit of lemon juice will perk up the flavor of dips for veggies made with low-fat yogurt.
Did you know?
- Lemon juice poured over other fruits prevents them from turning brown when exposed to the air.
- Sailors used lemons (combined with rum) to combat scurvy on long ocean voyages.
FYI: 1 medium lemon = approximately 1 tbsp lemon zest and 2 tbsp lemon juice.
Tip: If you have extra lemons on hand and want to make good use of them, first grate off the zest, put in an airtight container or plastic freezer bag and freeze for future use. Then squeeze the juice into an ice-cube tray. When the juice is frozen, transfer the cubes to a plastic freezer bag.
For More Information:
- Dole-5-a-Day - www.dole5aday.com
- Four Winds Growers - www.fourwindsgrowers.com
- Sunkist - www.sunkist.com
- Lemons: Growing, Cooking, Crafting by Kate Chynoweth, Chronicle Books, 2003.
- Lemons & Oranges by Rose Marie Donhauser, Silverback Books, 2004.
- Lemon Zest: More Than 175 Recipes with a Twist by Lori Longbotham, Broadway Books, 2002.
- Luscious Lemon Desserts by Lori Longbotham, Chronicle Books, 2001.
- Oranges & Lemons by Coralie Dorman, Southwater Publishing, 2004.
- Totally Lemons Cookbook by Helene Siegel, Celestial Arts, 1999.