The Healthy, Delicious Lemon

Unfortunately, the storied past of the lemon is not well known among the millions and millions of people world wide who both enjoy its robust flavor and who benefit from its numerous healthy properties. The lemon most likely first took root in parts of Asia, probably northeast India, as a hybrid of a type of orange and the citron. Their cultivation began around 2500 years ago, but it would take several centuries until the lemon gained any real measure of popularity.

The most common varieties of lemon available today are the Lisbon lemon, featuring a smooth, thin skin and no neck at the stem, and the Eureka variety, with a thicker skin and short neck. In recent years, the Meyer lemon, itself a cross
between the lemon and either an orange or mandarin, has grown considerably in popularity and availability. Meyers feature a thinner rind, darkish hue, a more floral aroma than the Eureka or Lisbon, and maybe most importantly for its recent successes, a sweeter and less acidic taste.

It was recognized in the late 18th century that ingesting citrus fruits was the one and only known preventative of scurvy, and that in part led to a great increase in lemon production and consumption. In fact, during that time period, the British Navy, that already provided sailors with a daily ration of rum, decreed that all sailors at sea for more than five weeks should have lemon juice mixed in with their daily rum. Between 1795 and 1815, 1.6 million gallons of lemon juice were consumed by British sailors. In the mid-19th century when the Brits found themselves with an abundance of limes from the West Indies, they began substituting lime juice in place of the lemon, which was an unpopular move, and its ridicule on the part of American sailors led to the beginning of the use of the term “limey” for British soldiers, and eventually for any Englishman.

In today’s age of vast information about nutrition we know that it is the vitamin C, discovered in 1932, that is the element in lemon and other citrus fruits that prevents scurvy, but it is now also known that the lemon provides other benefits for
Sur La Table Citrus Zester
health and nutrition. First and maybe foremost, it is a flavorful addition to a wide range of foods and beverages adding minimal calories, containing barely 50 calories per full cup of juice. In addition, the lemon includes phytonutrients, and thus enhances the nutritional benefits of any dish. In addition, the lemon has powerful antioxidants, thus promoting heart health. Phytonutrients are plant-based nutrients; naringenin (believed to be have anti-inflammatory properties and to reduce rapid rises in blood sugar after eating) and hesperitin (also an anti-inflammatory and a vasodilator) are among those found in lemons. Lemons also contain d-limonene, an antioxidant that helps prevent cell and DNA damage.

In choosing a lemon for your prized recipes or favorite beverage, look for one that is fully ripe and heavy for its size. It should have smooth, thin skin, and it if ‘gives” under a bit of pressure, it likely will be nice and juicy. Avoid a lemon with a green tinge to the skin - it should be uniformly yellow. Thicker skinned and overly mature lemons will have less juice.

Lemons continue to respire and breakdown stored sugars after they have been harvested, so storing lemons in the refrigerator is recommended if they will not be used in five or so days, as the colder temperature slows down the process. But, they should not be in restricted spaces and touching one another, such as in plastic bags, as limiting their exposure to oxygen and the exchange of ethylene gas between them will hasten the unfortunate rotting process. Keep them at room temperature for continued ripening if they will be used within that five day period. If you have refrigerated your lemon,
Meyer Lemon Tree
take it out and let it warm to room temperature as that will produce more juice than from an ice cold lemon.

Before zesting, make sure that you wash your lemon thoroughly, unless it was organically grown, to make sure that all pesticide reside and wax is washed off as well as it can be.

The lemon provides two different flavoring agents, the zest, or rind, which is the grated peel, and the juice. The zest, or peel, or rind, is more concentrated and stronger flavored, due to a higher concentration of lemon oil. In fact, one teaspoon of zest has the flavor equal to two tablespoons of the juice. However, one may want to be careful when zesting to use only the lemon-colored peel, as the white underneath part of the rind is bitter, but that white, pithy part does contain additional flavonoids that help lower “bad” LDL cholesterol. Thus, there is a choice there between the best flavor and increased health benefits.

Once a lemon is juiced and/or zested, the juice and/or zest can be stored. Fresh lemon juice should be frozen (making ice cubes out of it is a great way to have a proper amount at your fingertips) and zest should be stored in an airtight glass container in a cool but not refrigerated spot.

A final note for using the mighty lemon: Lemon juice is an effective conditioning rinse and lightening agent for hair, especially blond hair. Alkaline shampoos can leave a sticky residue on hair and acidic lemon juice will dissolve that residue. Applying lemon juice and then with exposure to the sun, hair color will slightly lighten.

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