(Citrus limon— Family Rutaceae)
citron (French/ Dutch/Swedish), Zitrone (German), limao (Portuguese), limón (Spanish), limone (Italian), sitron (Norwegian), sitruuna (Finnish), limon (Russian), cytryna (Polish), limun (Serbo-Croat), limon (Bulgarian), lemóni (Greek), limon (Hebrew/Turkish), laymun (Arabic), limoo (Persian), bara nimbu (Hindi), jeruk limon (Indonesian), ning meng (Chinese)
Lemons are considered the most useful of all fruits and thought to have originated in northern India.
They were introduced into Assyria, where they were discovered by soldiers serving Alexander the Great, who took them back to Greece. The lemon later reached the Mediterranean after the Romans discovered a direct sea route from the southern end of the Red Sea to India. The Arabs were largely responsible for the cultivation of the fruit in the Mediterranean region.
By the beginning of the 4th century CE, a fully indigenous orchard production had been established in southern Europe. The lemon flourished in Sicily, Spain, and parts of northern Africa, as well as the Mediterranean, which are still the main sources of the fruit for Europe. Some believe that this Mediterranean lemon may actually be a hybrid of the citron, India lime, and pummelo.
The lemon reached America through Columbus during his second voyage, and was established in Haiti. Within twenty years, there were abundant crops of good quality.
The Portuguese introduced the fruit to Brazil before 1540, and it was from there that ships full of colonists bound for Australia took the fruit in 1788.
In 1565, the Spanish set up their first colony in Florida, at what is now called St. Augustine. While lemons had been grown in California since the time of the early Spanish missions of the 1730s, it was not until the 1849 gold rush that the lemon was cultivated on a large scale.
Since 1950, California has produced more lemons than all of Europe combined, amounting to about one-quarter of the world’s supply, although many are also grown in Arizona. Other leading producers include Italy, Spain, Argentina, Greece, and Turkey.
It is common knowledge that limes and lemons became a valuable protection against scurvy, and carried by sailors on every sea voyage. It is ironic, however, that the crews responsible for spreading the lemon to other countries were actually carrying the fruit that would prevent the disease they dreaded.
This knowledge was obscured by a mass of circulating quack cures until the British naval surgeon, James Lind, endorsed their use in his “Treatise on the Scurvy”, written in 1753. Even so, it was not until the end of that century before the Royal Navy began to issue limes and lemons to its sailors.
Lemons come in a variety of shapes and sizes and colors. They can be very large or very small, with thick or thin, smooth or knobbly skin; but they all have one thing in common: their skin contains aromatic essential oils that are used in a variety of ways.
The fruits generally have a neck on the stem (penducle) end and a nipple on the opposite (stylar) end. Their rind is generally yellow, but can be green, when matured in subtropical climates.
Lemons grow best in tropical and semitropical conditions as they are more sensitive to frost than other citrus fruits.
The lemon tree is quite similar to the orange tree but stands more upright and has scraggly branches. It also profits more from pruning than does the orange tree.
The tree flowers continuously and has fruit on the branch in various stages of development most of the year. One tree may bear as many as 3,000 lemons annually. The fruit is picked “green” after reaching an acceptable size and then stored for sale later. They also do not require much heat to mature.
After this curing, the fruit shrinks a little; and the skin becomes thinner, but tougher, and develops a silky finish. At this point, they are washed, dried, and sometimes wrapped and safely stored for several months.
As lemons ripen, they become paler and lose some of their juiciness and acidity. They are often treated with diphenyl, an ethylene gas that keeps the skins yellow and fresh-looking. Therefore, if the rind is going to be used, it is best to choose organic lemons that have not had any treatment, including waxing.
The lemon is very versatile and contains up to 40% juice, which is mostly citric and ascorbic acids. The variation in juice content and acidity depends on the variety, climate, maturity, and type of storage it is given. It also lies in their ability to survive cold and pests.
Their acidic flesh enhances almost any other food; and, because of their high vitamin C content, the juice is often used on other foods to prevent oxidation.
In order to reduce the sodium intake, many use a squeeze of fresh lemon on a food to add flavour rather than salt. Such tropical fruits as papaya, guava, and avocado need the sharpness which a lemon or lime can provide.
Sicily has given the world many famous culinary gems, but the one that is the most distinctive is sorbet. This popular creation was launched on the snow-capped peaks of Mount Etna in the 10th century when the Moors refreshed themselves with a combination of lemon syrup and snow. The trend proved popular during the Sicilian summer to chill their “sarbat” or fruit syrup diluted in ice water. The Italian “sorbetto” and the English “sherbet” came from these sweet syrups and is the same principle in most ‘granita’ recipes.
Some common varieties of lemons include the following:
Baboon is an oval fruit with a tapered neck, and originally part of a USDA experiment. This variety originated in Brazil, and has an intense yellow colour to both its rind and heavily seeded flesh. It is also highly acidic, with a tart taste that is more like the lime.
Bearss, Sicilian is a rich and aromatic lemon, like that of the Lisbon. Cultivated commercially, the Bearss’ pulp is firm and meaty, with some seeds. The tart flavour is reminiscent of sour berries. The Bearss accounts for 20% of Brazil’s total lemon-lime crop and is also a commercial favourite in Florida, where it is the only large variety that flourishes in the humid climate. The Florida variety was developed at the Bearss Grove near Lutz, Florida, in 1952.
Cameron Highlands was discovered growing wild in the Cameron Highlands of Malaysia and brought to the US by the USDA. It is a small, round fruit with pale green flesh and many seeds.
Escondido is found near the Escondido River in Nicaragua. It is also presently being developed at the US Citrus Experimentation Station. It is an elliptical fruit with a nipple at the stem and very little juice. Its rind is a deep yellow, thick, and oily. Although considered to be a small fruit, it can still house up to fourteen segments and almost as many seeds.
Eureka is one of the most common varieties of lemon, along with the Lisbon. Both are distinguishable by their necks. Eurekas can be somewhat pitted and have a short neck at the stem end and a pointed nipple at the blossom end. Libons do not taper. Both varieties have medium thick skins and are very juicy.
Lisbon is a major commercial variety that is extremely juicy and acidic. It is so similar to the Eureka that it is difficult to tell the difference, so California growers usually cultivate both together. The Lisbon is harvested from October to August. It has a medium-size, elliptical shape, with a deep yellow, smooth rind that is somewhat fleshy. The flesh is pale yellow, seedless, and is composed of twelve segments.
Meyer was introduced to the US from China in 1908 and is actually not a true lemon. It is a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The mature fruit tends to look like a large orange with a small nipple. Its flesh is a light orange-yellow, or gold colour, and has a sweeter juice than most lemons. It does have a moderate number of seeds. The Meyer is able to tolerate more cold than other lemons, and is produced mainly in the winter. Popular in California, it flourishes in the northern end of the citrus belt. This variety was discovered by Frank N. Meyer, a civilian scientist who travelled the world looking for good foods for mankind. He was first hired by the USDA as a gardener, but after he travelled through Mexico on foot, studying the flora at his own expense, the USDA sent him to China as an agricultural explorer. He is responsible for introducing more than 2,500 plants to the US.
Volkamer is a hybrid of a lemon and a sour orange that originated in Italy. In a cross section, the Volkamer resembles a Sunburst tangerine in that the rind is beveled and has a mid-orange colour. The fruit quality equals a rough lemon or Italian Monachello as it lacks juice and has a much lower level of acidity than most lemons. It is small and round and has onleight sections with some seeds.