Monday, October 29, 2012

All About Lemon

Origin of Lemon
Lemon’s roots go back eons, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint its exact origin: Some speculate north India, others the south. Though its close, ancient relative, the citron, is native to India, other lemon varieties recognized today may have evolved elsewhere.

Toby Sonneman, author of the book, “Lemon: A Global History,” explains that one common theory is that the Arabs took lemons from India or Persia, and refined its cultivation. From there, migrants brought lemon plants with them to Spain, Italy and parts of Northern Africa. By the 1st century AD, the Romans utilized lemon, and by 700 AD, Iraq and Egypt had the fruit in their borders. The word “lemon” itself has etymological roots in Sanskrit, Persian and Arabic.

UN Figures group lemon and lime production together, hence making it difficult to parse the top lemon producing country. However, 2011 figures rank China, Mexico, India, Argentina, and Brazil as the world’s highest producers of these two related fruits.

Availability of Lemon in India
Lemons grow in India, though they are seldom the large, bumpy, bright yellow Eureka varieties commonly found in Europe and the US. A Purdue horticulture article explains that a few varieties grow in India, including the following:

Genoa: a medium-sized lemon with the characteristic bump at the apex. It has a good amount of juice with a clingy, yellow pulp.

Lisbon: low-yielding and short-lived in India. This variety is a pale yellowish green and of medium size. It’s juicy but also very acidic.

Nepali oblong: Grows in Assam. This cultivar also has a yellowish-green peel and smooth, glossy skin. It has 11 segments, medium acidity and few to no seeds. This variety is one of the commercially grown cultivars of lemons. 

Nepali round: Despite its name, this variety is of Indian origin. Many confuse this cultivar for a lime based on its round appearance. It’s a juicy, seedless cultivar that thrives in the south of India.

Rough lemon: a variety believed to originate in North India. Its name derives from its rough, bumpy, irregular skin filled with oil glands. It has a strong odor and flavor, bears small seeds, and has very little pulp and juice. This type of lemon is best as an ornamental tree.

Sweet lemon: one of the most widely grown types of lemons in India. It grows throughout Malabar and Nilgiris, and possesses a sub-acid, insipid taste. Sweet lemons resemble the Eureka cultivar, except its notable lack of acidity.

Villafranca: another low-yielding, short-lived variety in India. The fruit has a bright yellow, medium thick skin and is quite oblong compared to other varieties. Its nipple is also pronounced.

In India, however, these cultivars come and go throughout the year.

Lemon seller in Bangalore

Where to find Lemon in India
Though limes are sold on every street corner, true lemons are a harder to find—especially the stereotypically large, waxy yellow types. More varieties of true lemons appear in the north than the south of India. Many Indians also use limes and lemons interchangeably: ask for a lemon, the seller will likely hand over a lime cultivar.

Checking for Ripeness in Lemon
Lemons are ripe when their skin is bright, waxy, firm, and has no blemishes, mold or brown spots. A lemon should not be hard, either, as this indicates low moisture and that it’s dried out. Though some lemon varieties are a pale golden yellow, the color should not be dull.

Lightly scratch the skin: no matter the variety, it should produce a light, aromatic zest discernible by holding the fruit up to the nose. A good lemon should also yield fragrant oil when scratched.

Taste of Lemon

Lemons are tart, zesty, clean, puckering, vibrant, citrusy, juicy, acidic and refreshing. The ratio of these characteristics vary greatly depending on the cultivar: some lemons have low acidity but are very juicy; others may produce little juice and are used primarily for their peel.

Nutritional Value of Lemon
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of edible lemon has the following nutritional value:

12.5g Carbs
4.7g Fiber (19% RDI)
.3g Fat (negligible)
1.2g Protein (2% RDI)
30IU Vitamin A (1% RDI)
77mg Vitamin C (128% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (3% RDI)
Riboflavin (2% RDI)
.1mg Niacin (5% RDI)
.2mg Pantothenic Acid (2% RDI)
61mg Calcium (6% RDI)
.7mg Iron (4% RDI)
12mg Magnesium (3% RDI)
145mg Potassium (4% RDI)

.3mg Copper (13% RDI)

Health Benefits of Lemon
Lemon has several traditional health benefits used by societies all over the world. Here are a few:
--Italians use the sweetened juice to soothe gingivitis, stomach ailments and tongue inflammation
--When placed in hot water, lemon acts as a laxative and cold remedy

--In Ayurveda, lemon aids digestion and promotes regular elimination. They also reduce stomach acidity. Because it’s regarded as an antibacterial, practitioners encourage gargling to soothe a sore throat.

The book, “Medicinal Plants in Andhra Pradesh, India,” writes that lemons treat hypertrophy of the spleen; and their peel is a stomachic, carmitive, and rubifacient. Lemon combats scurvy, inflammation, arthritis, diarrhea and dysentery. The book also lauds lemon’s ability to act as a carminative, laxative, anthelmintic and antiseptic.

Note: If consumed in high quantities, the acidity of lemons may cause problems such as receding gums, tooth enamel erosion, and dermatitis of the hands. Ayurvedic practitioners also advise against ingesting lemons for people with inflamed digestive tracts; limes are acceptable.

The scientific community reports additional health benefits of the humble lemon, including the following:
--According to a study published in the Pharmaceutical Biology, scientists in Brazil affirmed the traditional use of lemon oil as a powerful protector against neurodegenerative diseases and other brain disorders.
--A 2011 study published in Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology reports positive findings of lemon oil’s antioxidant and antinociceptive properties when tested in mice.
--According to a 1999 study published by Drugs Under Experimental and Clinical Research, lemon juice applied topically improves skin health and acts as a natural anti aging compound.
--A 2011 study published in Neuroscience Research found that merely smelling lemon oil was enough to mitigate pain, decrease anxiety and lower depression, thus lending credence to its traditional use in aromatherapy.
--A 2013 study published by the World Journal of Microbiology and Biotechnology affirms the fruit’s natural antibacterial qualities: scientists found that lemon oil effectively inhibited the growth of the oral bacteria, Streptococcus mutans.
--Lemons may also boost the benefits of other foods ad drinks: A 2009 study published by Purdue University reveals that adding lemon to green tea helps the tea’s powerful antioxidants and beneficial catechins stay in the body longer after digestion.

--A 20111 study published by the Asian Pacific Journal of Cancer Prevention found that lemon extracts displayed antitumor activities when tested on breast cancer cells.

How to Open/Cut:
Always roll a lemon on a tabletop with the palm of the hand: this will increase the amount of juice extracted from the fruit. Lemons and limes at room temperature also yield more juice than refrigerated ones.  

To get the zest from a lemon, grate the fruit lightly against a zester. Rotate the fruit, careful not to zest the bitter pith. The goal is to extract only the bright, citrusy yellow skin.

Peel a lemon only if knife skills are strong; otherwise, use a zester or micro grater.

Slice a lemon into thin circles by cutting off the ends of the lemon. Then, cut the lemon into thin rounds.

Garnish lemons by cutting the fruit into thin circles. Cut the fruit from the center of the skin to its peel, as you would to place a circle on the rim of the glass. Twisting the cut circle allows a nice garnish--the sliced fruit will sit well on the plate.

Here’s a good video showing how to open, prep and garnish lemons and limes:

Keep lemons on the counter top and out of direct sunlight if using them in the course of days. If the kitchen space tends to be warm and humid (as many Indian kitchens are), opt to keep them in the refrigerator instead. Lemons will last up to three weeks in the fridge and, if sealed in a bag, can last up to a month.

Though lemon’s juice sacs may burst when frozen, some have managed to freeze lemon slices and wedges with no problem. Simply place the slices on a baker’s tray, freeze, and then transfer to a baggie. Or, juice the lemon and preserve in an ice cube tray. 

Lemon Recipe Ideas and Uses:
Lemons are a kitchen staple, and rightly so, given their many vital functions.
--Lemon juice may be paired with a number of other fruits and spices: cucumber, tomato, strawberry, amla, mango, orange, teas, mint, clove, and cinnamon, to name a few. Make the juice carbonated or still.
--Drink lemon water first thing in the morning, as it jumpstarts digestion, the metabolism, and promotes cleansing. Add lemon juice or the rind to any tea, especially a therapeutic one that incorporates ginger and lemon balm.
--Make lemon sorbet or popsicles. Add citrus juice, blended strawberries or pomegranate seeds for additional sweetness.
--Create a lemon salad dressing using olive oil, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and mint. Or make a combination of lemon juice, mustard, garlic, thyme, salt, and pepper. A third possibility is lemon juice, basil, honey or agave, salt, pepper, and garlic.
--Add lemon juice liberally to lentil salads, quinoa creations, tabbouleh, and simple Greek salads of cucumber, tomato, onion and olives. Lemons also bring out the flavor of many vegetables, such as asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower and green beans.
--Make lemon jelly and custards
--Create lemon frosting for sweet breads and cupcakes
--Make a lemon (vegan) cheesecake or tart
--Infuse alcohol with lemon zest
--Candy the lemon peel to add to biryani
--Create a lemon alfredo pasta sauce
--Make lemon herb crusted tofu: before grilling, marinade the tofu for an hour in lemon juice, black pepper, olive oil, salt, mustard, a pinch of honey or jaggery, and garlic.
--Create a sticky lemon glaze for veggie skewers by adding the juice to sugar syrup or jaggery, olive oil, mustard, black pepper, and Italian or Indian spices.

--Squeeze ample lemon juice to any hummus, guacamole and baba ghanoush recipe

Flavor Complements:
Orange, lime, citron, cochin goraka, kiwi, kokum, pomelo, sour orange, strawberry, wood apple, papaya, passion fruit, pineapple, pomegranate, coconut, feijoa, dragon fruit, cucumber, tomato, cranberry, soursop, java apple, lakoocha, passion fruit, tamarind, flacourtia

Herbs, spices, and oil: salt, pepper, limejuice, lavender, verbena, thyme, fennel, bay leaf, rosemary, mint, cilantro, dill, capers, black olive, basil, lemongrass, soy sauce, garlic, green chili, ginger, sesame, mustard, vinegar, white wine, coriander seed, black pepper, cumin, turmeric, chili, tamarind paste, curry leaf, lime leaf, citrus rind, coconut milk, shredded coconut, coconut oil, olive oil, vodka, champagne, rum, tequila, honey, black tea, green tea, earl grey, vanilla, cocoa, chocolate, almond, walnut, cashew, peanut

Random Facts:
Lemon juice is the basis for magic tricks involving “invisible ink”

Scientific Name:
Citrus limon

Other Names:
Nimbu (Hindi)
Champra (Manipuri)

Elumicchai (Tamil)


  1. Loved this, always wondered why the lemons here in Lahore are different from the ones in the west. Do you think its possible to zest the little round lemons we have? they're very thin skinned and i've never had much success.

  2. Lemons in India as well in Pakistan are almost the same varaities, some of those vary due to climatic differences as those do in India too.
    Pakistani growers now a days grow a chinise variety which gives greater yield than the local varieties. Chinese lemon blooms and bears abundant fruit in the earlier age than the local varieties.
    Thats the reason Lahories do not enjoy the real taste as the old local varieties have. A few areas in Pakistan now grow local lemons for domestic use only, which include Sargodha, Faisalabad & Jhang distts in Punjab.Fewer parts in central Sind province also grow local lemon variety demestically. The local varieties are rich in taste and flavor as well as nutrious, but the growers in Pakistan prefere the quantity over quality. now.

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