The slice-of-sunshine perfection of fresh lemon―juice or zest―puts a little extra bounce in the step of any cook.
From its nutritional benefits to how to make homemade lemon liqueur, find 10 fun things to know about lemons.
1. Please handle the fruit.
Most lemons are Eurekas or Lisbons. Eurekas have somewhat thicker rinds, but regardless of variety, look for a lemon that feels heavy in the hand and which, gently squeezed, gives nicely and doesn’t seem to have a thick, hard rind (less juice inside). Lemons turn from green to yellow because of temperature changes, not ripeness, so green patches are OK, but avoid those with brown spots, which indicate rot.
2. Power in the key of C
One lemon contains a full day’s supply of ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, but that’s the whole fruit; the juice holds about a third. Lemon juice is also about 5 percent citric acid, making it a natural for slowing the browning or oxidation of fresh, raw foods: apples, avocados, bananas, and other fruits. That power, and the C, makes the lemon a real health fruit.
3. Preserving lemons for savory zing
Lemons preserved in salt are a fragrant, distinctive flavoring in Moroccan and Middle Eastern stews, tagines, and other dishes. Find house-made preserved lemons at many Mediterranean/Middle Eastern groceries―we prefer these to the factory variety for their fresher flavor. Go easy: They’re salty!
4. Homemade lemon liqueur is as easy as pie.
Limoncello is a southern Italian lemon liqueur traditionally served cold as a digestif. It’s ridiculously easy to make: Combine ½ cup lemon rind strips with 4 cups vodka, cover, and let stand for two weeks; strain and combine with simple syrup made from 3 cups water and 1½ cups sugar. The higher the proof of the vodka, the more lemon flavor your finished product will have.
5. Makes a versatile household cleaner
Dip a halved lemon in salt for a bit of gentle abrasive power, then scour brass, copper, or stainless-steel pots, pans, and sinks. Rub a cut lemon (sans salt) on aluminum to brighten it. Used lemons tossed in the disposal will deodorize it.
6. Get the most from every fruit.
Before juicing, roll a room-temperature lemon under your palm to break down the cells inside the fruit that hold liquid. If a fruit is especially hard (and sometimes it’s hard to find a good one in an entire supermarket bin), microwave the fruit for 20 seconds. You should get 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice per fruit.
7. In a pinch, is this a good lemon substitute?
We think not. Those cute little plastic lemons do contain lemon juice, but after the juice is reconstituted and mixed with preservatives the taste is notably off, not fresh, a bit harsh and thin. It lasts for months but doesn’t really add that divine fresh-lemon essence.
Watch: How to Get the Most Juice Out of a Lemon or Lime
8. Is lemongrass related to lemon?
No, although some of this tough Southeast Asian herb’s exotic citrus character comes from citral, an essential oil also found in lemon rind. Very thin strips can be sliced in salads and added to Thai curries and stir-fries; a whole bulb, bruised, adds perfume to soups or stews.
9. The special case of the Meyer
In 1908, USDA employee Frank Nicholas Meyer brought a little fruit back from China that looked like an orange-yellow lemon but tasted much sweeter. The Meyer “lemon” is thought to be a cross between lemon and mandarin orange. Lemon-fragrant with a sugary soul, Meyers are fun to experiment with in both sweet and savory dishes.
10. Peel is versatile, but wash fruit and consider organic. Click through the following slides for various ways with lemon peel.
Zester: Round holes yield long, thin strips of lemon rind, perfect for garnishing soups or desserts such as cheesecake or ice cream
Razor-sharp tiny blades yield finely grated bits that distribute lemon flavor throughout; good for baking or salad dressings.
Watch: How to Zest a Lemon
U-shaped blade yields long, curling strips, used as the twist in cocktails. Squeezing releases lemon oils into the drink.
Long blade yields wide strips of rind that are perfect for candying or making limoncello.