General Description: The lemon (Citrus limon) is a small, yellow rounded fruit, pointed at its ends, with acidic juice. The origin of the lemon is unknown, though it may be native to northwest India. Arab traders in Asia carried lemons and other citrus fruits to eastern Africa and the Middle East between AD 100 and 700, reaching China by 1000. Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to the New World in 1493.

The lemon is closely related to the lime and the citron, which are “nippled” citrus fruits. Lemons are grown primarily for their acidic juice, but the oil in their yellow peel is almost as important for use as a flavoring and in the perfume industry.

Because lemons ripen naturally in autumn and winter when market demand is low, growers pick the lemons green, then cure and ripen them for sale in spring and summer. During this process, the lemons shrink a little; their skin becomes thinner and tougher and develops a silky finish.

In the U.S. the most common variety is the Eureka, grown from the seed of an Italian lemon (probably the Lunario) planted in Los Angeles in 1858. Eurekas have few seeds, juicy pulp, and high acid content. The Fino is a small Spanish variety that has a smooth thin rind. Femminello Ovale, one of the oldest Italian varieties, still accounts for three-quarters of Italy’s total lemon production. It is medium sized and short, with a blunt nipple and rounded base. This highly regarded lemon is tender, juicy, and highly acidic.

Meyer lemons, which originated in China, are a cross between a regular lemon and a tangerine. Plant researcher Frank Meyer brought these highly fragrant lemons to the U.S. in 1908 from the area near Peking. Meyers are rounder than lemons and have thin, soft, smooth rinds, which are rich yellow-orange when fully ripe. The pulp is deep yellow and low in acid.

Season: Peak season is April through July, though they are available year-round. Peak season for Meyers is November through January, though occasionally available until April.

Purchase: Look for big, plump, firm lemons that are heavy for their size. When choosing Meyer lemons, look for bright, shiny fruits with richly colored orange yellow rind, indicating that the fruit was picked when fully ripe.

Avoid: Greenish lemons won’t be as juicy. Avoid lemons that are shriveled, hard-skinned, soft, or spongy. Avoid old Meyer lemons with hard dry skin or with soft spots.

Storage: Refrigerate lemons in a plastic bag for up to 2 weeks (1 week for Meyer lemons).


  1. Scrub with soap and water if using the zest.
  2. Cut with a knife into wedges or slices. If juicing, cut in half crosswise.

Serving Suggestions: Squeeze lemon wedges over fish. Add grated lemon zest to pastry dough, cannoli filling, cheesecake, marinades, or vinaigrette. Substitute Meyer lemons for lemons in a lemon tart.

Flavor Affinities: Artichokes, capers, cumin, fennel, fish, garlic, marsca-pone, mint, poultry, raspberries, shellfish, thyme.

from Quirk Books: