The lemon has been a brightening force of color, aroma, flavor and healing for thousands of years.
The lemon’s origin isn’t confirmed, but it’s thought to be northwestern India, where lemons have been cultivated for 2,500 years. Early on, they were used ornamentally and medicinally as a poison antidote and to treat everything from cold and flu to upset stomach. Rare and expensive, lemons were once reserved for the elite.
Brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus, they still famously grow in California and Florida. Fortunately, lemons are prolific these days, delighting the culinary senses, along with packing a powerful nutritious punch.
A cross between the citron and bitter orange, lemons (Citrus limon) are one of the original citrus fruits. Sunny yellow in color, oval with a textured peel and segmented inner flesh, there are two basic types of lemons: acidic and sweet. The most common — acidic, or sour, varieties — are Eureka, commonly called the “supermarket lemon,” and Lisbon. The sweet and smooth-skinned Meyer lemon is actually a hybrid of a lemon and mandarin orange.
One lemon has a mere 22 calories, yet packs 20% DV (nutritional daily value based on 2,000 calories per day diet) of satiating dietary fiber and 139% DV of antioxidant vitamin C, as well as powerful health-promoting plant compounds.
Flavonoids, among the plant compounds in citrus fruits, including lemons, have been shown to significantly impact heart and brain health and may potentially prevent cardiovascular and brain damaging disease, such as dementia.
Emerging science is revealing the potential of another flavonoid in lemons — naringenin — for its anti-diabetic effects. Among the many benefits of vitamin C, it has been shown to be effective in both the prevention and maintenance of healthy joints in people with osteoarthritis.
Fresh lemons are available all year, but their peak season is May through August. Choose thinner-skinned fruit that’s heavy for its size to ensure the most flesh. Avoid any green on the skin, which means it’s under ripe and lemons don’t ripen off the tree. Over-ripe fruit will be wrinkled, dull-colored and overly soft or hard. Store at room temperature up to a week, refrigerate about a month, or freeze zest and juice.
Lemons bring out the best in other foods. Use juice in vinaigrettes and marinades, drizzled over seafood, poultry, sautéed vegetables, whole grain side dishes, and fruit, and as a color-pop garnish for foods and drinks. Zest into baked goods and desserts.
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