FR: Citron GER: Zitrone IT: Limone SP: Limon BOT: Citrus limon FAM: Rutaceae
The lemon is thought to be a native of South East Asia, possibly Malaysia. All citrus fruits probably originated in South East Asia inside a triangle drawn from India to southern China and southwards to Indonesia. Of these fruits, the most westerly in origin seems to have been the citron (q.v.) which probably reached Persia by the sixth century BC in the time of Cyrus the Great, and had arrived in Greece and Italy by the end of the third century. The lemon appeared in Europe probably about the middle of the first century AD, although some authorities put it later. As limes, lemons and citron are confused in ancient writings, it is difficult for anyone to be quite certain.
Today lemons are cultivated all over the world in suitable climates, particularly in the Mediterranean region and California. There are many varieties and some so-called wild lemons, which may be either varieties or quite different species. It is a field in which the experts can still argue and does not greatly concern the cook unless he keeps house in the East.
Lemon Benefits, Uses on Recipes Photo Gallery
Lemons grow on small spiny trees which are from ten to twenty feet high and bear white and purple flowers. Of all citrus trees the lemon is the most beautiful, with rather pale green leaves, yellow fruit and a particular delicacy of form
Lemon juice is the modern souring agent of European cooking. It is often used to replace vinegar in salads, although inferior to good wine vinegar because it has little flavour to match its sourness. This sourness is mainly due to citric acid, of which lemons are a commercial source. Serious cooks will always use freshly squeezed lemon juice except in dire emergency.
The juice of lemon has very little aromatic flavour, and the taste of lemon comes from the rind or zest. This contains the essential ‘oil of lemon’, which, in the kitchen, is taken with a fine grater, by peeling wafer-thin slivers or by rubbing the skin with a lump of sugar. Commercially, the essential oils of lemon (produced particularly in California, southern Italy and Sicily), are obtained by pressing. The traditional old method, however, by which oils from the skin not only of lemon but also of orange and bergamot were obtained in southern Italy, made use of a sponge. The fruits were cut into halves or quarters, the acid pulp removed and the skin pressed by hand against a sponge which collected the oil. If a piece of lemon peel is bent inside out and, at the same time, viewed against the light, the spray of oil bursting from the cells can be easily seen.
The flavour of lemon peel is one of the most important in European cooking, and small quantities of it make a tremendous contribution to items as different as cake and vinaigrette sauce. The aromatic quality depends on the variety of lemon, its freshness and whether it has been tree ripened or picked green. For instance, if lemon curd (which seems to be unknown around the Mediterranean) is made there from tree-ripened fresh lemons picked straight from the garden, the result is quite fabulous. But variety is also important. The most beautifully aromatic lemons which I, personally, have come across were a very oily, but rough skinned, variety which grew in the garden of an Indian agriculturalist at Almora in the Himalayan foothills. Unfortunately, lemon growers and importers seem to think lemons are only used for the juice, so any lemon that looks good (probably treated outside with preservatives and dyes) will do, they think, provided it is sour. Commercial lemons are often picked green (they deteriorate quickly if allowed to ripen on the tree) and so they can never hope to be as good as those picked ripe in a Mediterranean garden.
Other sources of a lemon flavour, though somewhat deficient, are used (see Lemon Grass and Verbena). Lemon essence should only be used in emergency. The best will be flavoured with essential oils from the skin of fresh lemons but inferior kinds may have essential oils from other sources. There are also lemon-flavoured liqueurs.
Lemon Grass Benefits, Uses on Recipes
BOT: Cymbopogon citratus and Cymbopogon flexuesus FAM: Gramineae
Lemon grass is common everywhere in the tropics of South East Asia. It is also nowadays cultivated in Africa, South America and, in the States, in Florida. It is a typical grass but has a bulbous base and a strong taste and smell of lemon.
Lemon grass contains a great deal of citral, the essential oil used in artificial lemon flavours and in the synthesis of other artificial flavours. The grass is often used in the cooking of Ceylon and South East Asia, but as citral is also the most characteristic flavouring in the yellow outer coat of lemon peel, this may be substituted in recipes calling for lemon grass. It is also available as ‘Sereh’ powder. Other species of Cymbopogon yield citronella, ginger grass and palmorosa oils, which are used commercially for their pleasant smells, but as far as I know, not in cooking.