What is a lemon?
The aromatic tang of lemon is truly a versatile, if not essential, flavour for any time of the day and for any cuisine. Squeezed into a rough mash of avocado, reduced fat feta cheese and mint or splashed onto pancakes with a sprinkle of sugar, lemons add a zing to breakfast. Lemon juice lifts the flavour of seafood and salad at lunchtime.
Lemons originated in India and by 2000 BC they were found in China. Eventually, they reached Persia and were taken to the Mediterranean by Arab travellers around 700 AD. Depictions of lemons were found in Roman mosaic tiles from the 2nd century AD.
Christopher Columbus introduced the lemon to the Americas in 1493. The fruit spread throughout the New World, with the Portuguese introducing lemons to Brazil around the same time. Lemons were planted in Florida and California in the 19th century.
In 1788, Captain Arthur Phillip brought citrus trees, including lemon trees, from Brazil to Australia and lemon trees are now a common sight in home gardens.
In Australia, three types of lemons are available. The Eureka variety has rough, thick skin and a prominent point at the bottom, with pale green flesh and a tart flavour. The Lisbon is the most commonly grown lemon, with bright yellow, smooth skin and yellow flesh. The Meyer lemon is a hybrid (or cross) of a lemon and an orange. The skin is smooth and yellowish-orange. This type of lemon is sweeter than the other varieties of lemon.
Why lemons are good to eat
- Lemons are a good source of vitamin C and contain vitamin B6 (important for regulating nerve function and metabolising food into energy).
- They also contain minerals such as potassium (which helps to regulate blood pressure) and magnesium (involved in the regulation of muscle, heart and nerve function and keeping bones strong).
- Lemons contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of lemon supplies about 115 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Lemon trees are evergreens (they don’t lose their leaves in winter) and can grow up to 4 m. They grow best in sunny spots and need regular watering and protection from frosts. The tree has irregular, spreading branches, with smooth, dark and glossy leaves. Fragrant, white flowers develop throughout the year and eventually develop into lemons. To harvest lemons, twist the fruit off the stem to avoid damaging the tree.
Lemon trees should be pruned every year to maintain the production of high-quality fruit and to encourage the growth of lots of fruit.
Choose lemons that are bright yellow and feel heavy for their size. Avoid lemons that have soft or brown spots on their skin.
How to store and keep lemons
Store lemons at room temperature. They will keep for seven days when stored this way. Lemons stored in the fridge will keep for several weeks.
How to use
- Make an easy seafood dish – melt butter with lemon juice in a pan and then remove from the heat before stirring in chopped fresh tarragon (thyme and rosemary work too) and garlic, pour over salmon on a bed of spinach and chopped spring onions, top with lemon slices and bake.
- Try roasted asparagus – toss asparagus with olive oil and roast, then drizzle with a mixture of mayonnaise, parmesan, chopped anchovies and garlic and lemon juice and top with chopped hard-boiled egg.
- Dress up Brussels sprouts – sauté onion and caraway seeds and add thinly sliced Brussels sprouts, then remove from heat, season and stir in lemon juice.
- Add zing to pasta – whisk whole grain mustard, reduced fat milk, flour, chopped garlic, tarragon, lemon zest and lemon juice, then add to cooked pasta and asparagus spears and serve with grated parmesan.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
Better Health Channel
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