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Savor the Season Lemons

Get the skinny on one of the hardest-working fruits in the kitchen.
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Lemons are one of the great kitchen power players. They’re versatile, nutritious and excellent to have on hand for salad dressings or last-minute substitutions. They’re also:
  • fat-free
  • gluten-free
  • cholesterol-free
  • packed with antioxidants and vitamin C

Most lemons sold in the U.S. are typically grown in California or Arizona. When shopping for lemons, first look for a bright yellow color. Avoid green tinges, which suggest the fruit isn’t ripe, or brown ones, which suggest it's overly so. And a thinner rind is actually better. Pick up the lemon and hold it in your hand; it should feel heavy for its size. Give a gentle squeeze. If it's firm, it should be good to go.

Lemons can be stored at room temperature for about a week or in a refrigerator crisper for up to month.

Types

The Lisbon and Eureka are the most common types of lemons in the U.S. The biggest differences between the two are in the texture of their skin (the Lisbon is smoother) and how many seeds they contain (the Eureka has more). The difference in taste is insignificant.

The Meyer lemon, on the other hand, is prized because of its lower acidity, which makes it taste sweeter than its sourpuss cousins. This is due to a little genetic diversity; most botanists believe the Meyer is a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin. Meyer lemons, native to China, were first introduced in the U.S. in 1908. Their popularity exploded, however, when food icons such as Alice Waters and Martha Stewart began singing their sweet, succulent praises.

Working with Lemons

When working with lemons, be sure to thoroughly wash the rind and scrub it with a vegetable brush to help prevent any pesticides, residues or bacteria from the outside from contaminating the inside when it's cut. If you'll be extracting juice from your lemons, bring them to room temperature for easier squeezing. Also, just before cutting, roll them around on the counter to loosen up the juices. There's a wide range of kitchen gadgets that can be used to prepare lemons: juicers, squeezers, pestles, reamers, zesters, Microplane graters and more, covering all price ranges. Feel free to get as fancy as you can afford, but for most purposes, you can get by with a simple wooden reamer and an all-purpose box grater. 

Lemon Best Bets: 10 Tips to Try

In addition to its starring role in meringues, pastas, pies and bars, lemons serve as master multitaskers. Here are 10 alternate uses for nature’s sunniest fruit:

  • Substitute lemon juice for vinegar in salad dressings.
  • Squeeze lemon juice on vegetables in place of salt.
  • Add a squeeze of juice or a couple of slices to a glass of water or iced tea.
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice stirred into a cup of milk can substitute for buttermilk.
  • A tablespoon of lemon juice and a dollop of honey added to a cup of hot water makes a soothing, all-natural sore-throat remedy.
  • Squeeze lemon juice on sliced avocado or apple slices to prevent them from turning brown. (The citric acid in lemon juice acts as a natural food preservative.)
  • Erase the smell of onion or garlic from your hands by rubbing them with lemon juice.
  • Toss lemon rinds into your sink's garbage disposal to clean and freshen it.
  • Cut a lemon in half, dip the pulp side in salt and scrub your pots and pans with it.
  • Scrub a cutting board with a half a lemon to remove stains and deodorize.