Got A Lemon? Squeeze It!
Wednesday 28th November 2007
The lemon is a pantry essential for chefs worldwide and virtually anyone who dabbles in the kitchen. Its juice and finely grated zest spike dressings and drinks, sauces both sweet and savory, and a plethora of desserts, cakes, fillings and preserves. The juice of a lemon can be used for everything from preventing discoloration in other fruits and vegetables given to the effects of oxidation (apples, pears, artichokes), to “cooking” fresh raw seafood, as in the famous raw fish dishes of Central and South America. This small bundle of juice packs a sour punch, but is stunningly nutritious – aside from their high Vitamin C content (21 mg in the juice of one lemon, which is approximately 2-3 tablespoons of juice) – they are also high in flavonoids, a powerful antioxidant.
This sour citrus fruit is rarely eaten out of hand, but is widely used for its juice, rind, and zest. The most popular varieties include the Eureka lemon, which is what you are most likely to find in markets and grocery stores, the Lisbon lemon, which shows up in the winter, and is smaller and smoother than the Eureka, and the trendy Meyer lemon, which is much sweeter than other varieties, with its peak season from early December through February. The Meyer owes it’s “sweetness” to other citrus fruits, as it is believed to be a cross between a traditional lemon and either an orange or a mandarin.
The real secret to slowing deterioration of produce is to limit its breathing and water loss. Chilling, limiting oxygen supply and keeping produce in a humid atmosphere do just this. Lemons tend to spoil easily when left at room temperature therefore they should be refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks. Meyer lemons, due to their higher water content, may only last up to 1 week.
Origins and Culture
Where and when the lemon became popular in various parts of the globe is still unknown. The lemon may have originated in India, China, or Southeast Asia. From there it made its way to the Middle East, Europe and eventually America. The Meyer lemon, however, has a more certain lineage: it was imported to America from China by its namesake, Frank N. Meyer, in 1908.
America produces over one quarter of the world’s lemons, most of which are grown in California. Other leading lemon growers and exporters are Argentina, Chile, Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, and Australia.
Nutritional and Medicinal Properties
Lemons, like other citrus fruits, are an excellent source of Vitamin C. They are also a good source of Vitamin A, potassium, and folate. Lemons have about 15 calories each and 0 grams of fat. The membranes between lemon segments are a rich source of pectin, a fiber that may be helpful in controlling blood cholesterol.
While lemons have been used for centuries as a “miracle” cure for scurvy, these days, they are often used to fight a wide range of illnesses, from the common cold, to constipation and heartburn.
Basic Cooking Instructions
You’ll find that most recipes which require the use of a lemon, call for either lemon juice or lemon zest. That’s why it’s important to find the juiciest lemons so as to get the most possible from each one. Lemons should be at room temperature before being juiced. If you’ve just removed them from the refrigerator, place them in a bowl of warm water for about 2 minutes before you slice and squeeze.
To use the zest of a lemon, wash first then grate using the finest holes of a grater, making sure you don’t grate any of the bitter white pith underneath the skin.
Quick Tip: Why not squeeze fresh lemon juice in ice cube trays, and freeze for later use?
Carolyn Frail, B.A., B.A.SC., P.H.EC