Hi – now, don't screw up your face like that. I know we're a little tart in flavour but we make such a difference to food that we're almost indispensable. You wouldn't have lemonade without lemons, you know, and what about lemon meringue pie (yummy), we perk up fish, we dress up salads, we're used in almost every cuisine – and we're good for you too. What more could you want from a fruit?
We've certainly had our fans throughout history. Alexander the Great couldn't live without us and took us with him on all his conquests; the Crusaders didn't want to leave us behind in the Holy Land so we accompanied them back to Britain; and Christopher Columbus made sure he had plenty of us on board when he set sail on his voyage of discovery – now, how are they for references? OK, you need more convincing – I'll tell you more.
We're an oval to oblong citrus fruit, about 70-90mm by 60-70mm, with a small point at each end. Our skin or rind is more or less rough, thick and dotted with oil glands and our flesh is very juicy and sour. Our flesh is divided into segments by whitish membranes which radiate out from the centre like the spokes of a wheel. Our seeds lie in our centre.
We're generally available all year round with our best value being from March to October.
Did you know?
• One of us can provide 50% of a day's requirements of vitamin C
• Lemon juice keeps cut pears, apples, bananas and avocados from turning brown
• The English word for us is thought to be derived from the Hindi word lemoen.
Although we're not sold by variety there are three main types that are grown in Australia.
We're a sweeter than average lemon because we're a cross between a lemon and an orange. We have a very smooth skin that is pale orange in colour.
We're a tart-flavoured lemon, pale green in colour, with a very prominent tail (or point) at one end. We don't have the smooth complexion of the Meyer, instead, our skin is rough and bumpy.
We're the most commonly grown lemon. We have a smooth skin that is bright yellow in colour with a distinctly tangy taste.
Why Lemons Are Good To Eat
• Like all citrus fruit, we're an excellent source of vitamin C. 100ml of our juice has 48mg of vitamin C – enough for one day. Mixed with honey, our juice is often used to soothe a sore throat.
• We're rich in pectin, a type of soluble fibre. Pectin is used for setting jams but it is also a type of dietary fibre. Some studies have shown that soluble dietary fibre can help lower blood cholesterol levels.
• If you eat one of us, it's important to rinse your mouth with water afterwards, as our high acidity level can erode tooth enamel. Don't brush your teeth immediately after eating us as the toothbrush can etch the acid into tooth enamel.
• Most people do not eat enough lemon for the kilojoules to count, but for those who do, 100g has 115kJ.
How They are Grown and Harvested
We're a member of the citrus family and related to oranges, mandarins and grapefruit. Our parent tree is an evergreen and grows up to 2.5 metres. Like other citrus trees, it has a dense and rounded shape, with glossy, smooth, dark green leaves.
Select those of us that are plump and bright yellow coloured that feel heavy for our size.
How to Keep Lemons
Store us at room temperature for up to 7 days. Extend storage by refrigerating us.
Prime Growing Areas
History of Lemons
It appears that we originated in the Punjab region of Pakistan and India and from there we've spread around the world. The ancient Greeks and Romans praised our qualities and, in the 2nd century, the Romans referred to us in mosaic floor tiles. We were taken to Spain by the Arabs in the 12th century and to north Africa in the 14th century. Cultivation began in southern European countries about this time.
As I said, Christopher Columbus took us to the West Indies in 1493 and the Portuguese probably introduced us into Brazil about the same time.
Lemon trees from Cape Town, South Africa, were brought to Australia in 1788 on the ships of the First Fleet and were planted within days of the fleet's arrival. They were recorded as taking root quickly and becoming established. We're now grown throughout the world where climatic conditions are suitable.
Fun Ways to Eat and Cook Lemons
We're very versatile but can be a bit tart to eat on our own. Cut us in half to obtain the flesh, removing any seeds. Squeeze for juice and grate our skin surface, but not the white membrane, to obtain the zest. If we're slightly warm we will be easier to juice.
We can be used in drinks, soups, salads, custard, tarts, crepes, ice cream, sorbets and tea. We can stop fruit discolouring, enhance flavours replacing salt, tenderise meat and even cook fish without heat. We're even useful in cleaning, as a beauty aid and as a health tonic.
Try some of these delicious lemon recipes.
Mix 1 1/2 cups sifted self-raising flour with a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup caster sugar. Mix in 2 eggs, 2 tablespoons melted butter and 1 3/4 cups milk. Pour 2-3 tablespoons of batter into greased frypan twisting pan to spread mixture. Cook over high heat, turning once. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice, roll up and enjoy!
Heat 3/4 cup sugar with 1 cup water in a saucepan and stir until sugar dissolves. Cool. Add 1-1 1/2 cups lemon juice to taste. Mix with 3 cups soda water and serve with lemon slices and sprigs of mint.
Tuna In Lemon Shells
Cut the stalk ends off 6 lemons. Scoop out flesh with a spoon, remove any seeds, skins or white membrane. Chop the flesh. Drain a medium can of tuna (or salmon) and mix in 1/4 cup chopped parsley, lemon pieces to taste and enough sour cream or mayonnaise to bind together. Spoon into lemon shells and garnish with black olives and dill.