Lemons (Citrus limon or C. x limon) are yellow fruits that grow on a small evergreen tree native to Asia. They are shaped like a small American football and feature a yellow, dimple-textured outer peel. They belong to the genus, Citrus, which also includes grapefruits, limes, oranges, tangerines (mandarin oranges), and pomelos. The fruit is a modified berry with tough, leathery rind called a hesperidium. Like other citrus fruits, their peels contains many volatile oil glands in pits. Their inner flesh is composed of eight to ten segments, called carpels, made up of juice-filled vesicles that are actually specialized hair cells. The genetic origin of the lemon may be a hybrid between sour orange and citron. Along with other citrus fruits, they are members of the Rutaceae family, which is one of only two plant families that produce a class of phytochemicals called limonoids. Limonoids mainly function an herbivore deterrent. They are responsible for the bitter taste of citrus peels, and, when consumed, act as a growth inhibitor, and even as a natural insecticide. Limonoids also have an array of potential health benefits to humans. Certain limonoid compounds appear to have anti-cancer properties.
The exact origin of lemons is unknown, although it is likely that they first grew in the Himalayan foothills of northeast India, northern Burma, and China, having been cultivated in these regions for about 2,500 years. In south and southeast Asia, lemons were known for their antiseptic properties and they were used as an antidote for poisons. Lemons entered southern Italy no later than the 1st century AD, during the time of Ancient Rome. They were introduced to Persia and then to Iraq and Egypt around AD 700.
Lemons were first recorded in literature in a 10th century Arabic treatise on farming, and were also used as an ornamental plant in early Arabian gardens. The Arabs brought lemons to Spain and northern Africa in the 11th century. They were distributed widely throughout the Arab world and the Mediterranean region between AD 1000 and AD 1150.
European Christian Crusaders, who found lemons growing in Palestine, brought them to other countries across Europe. One of the earliest occurrences of the word “lemon” is found in a Middle English customs document of 1420–1421, which draws from the Old French limon, which came from the Italian limone, which came from the Arabic laymun or limun, which came from the Persian limun.
The first lemon cultivation in Europe began in Genoa in the middle of the 15th century. Lemons were later introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to Hispaniola on his second voyage, helping to spread lemons to the New World. They were mainly used as ornamental plants and medicine.
In 1747, James Lind added lemon juice, among other fruits and vegetables, to the diets of seamen suffering from scurvy. In the 18th and 19th centuries, growers increasingly planted lemons in Florida and California, and lemons began to be used in cooking and flavoring.
Lemons were highly valued by the miners and developers during the California Gold Rush in the mid-19th century, who used them to protect against scurvy. They brought up to $1 per lemon, a price that would still be considered costly today and was extremely expensive in 1849.
The major producers of lemons today are the United States, Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel and Turkey.
Lemons are loaded with nutrients, including a variety of phytochemicals. Hesperidin, naringin, and naringenin are flavonoids called flavonol glycosides. Naringenin is an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and immune system modulator. It can reduce oxidant injury to DNA in your cells in-vitro studies. Lemons also contain other flavonoid antioxidants such as α, and ß-carotenes, ß-cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin, and lutein. Lemons can:
- Protect you from cancer: Lemons contain unique flavonoid compounds that have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. Flavonoids called flavonol glycosides, including many kaempferol-related molecules in lemons can stop cell division in many cancer cell lines. Flavonoids help protect you from lung and oral cavity cancers. Limonoids, in particular, help fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach and colon. Your body can readily absorb and use a very long-acting limonoid called limonin that is present is lemons in about the same amount as vitamin C. Traces of limonin may persist in your body 24 hours after consumption, making it a potent cancer fighter that may prevent cancerous cells from proliferating. Geraniol, another phytochemical in lemons, is an antioxidant, and is being studied for its abilities to suppress tumor growth. The tannic acid in lemons is a powerful antibacterial, antimutagenic, antioxidant, antitoxic, and astringent that can prevent diarrhea, and may prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.
- Protect you against infections: The flavonol glycosides can also protect you against bacterial infections, including cholera. Vitamin C is also vital to the strength of your immune system, and may help protect you from colds, flu, and recurrent infections.
- Alleviate symptoms of arthritis: Lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, the primary water-soluble antioxidant in your body. Vitamin C travels through your body neutralizing any free radicals with which it comes into contact in the fluids both inside and outside your cells. Free radicals can damage your cells and their membranes, and can also cause inflammation. This is why vitamin C can help reduce some of the symptoms of arthritis. People who consume the lowest amounts of vitamin C-rich foods are more than three times more likely to develop arthritis than those who consume the highest amounts.
- Help prevent cardiovascular disease: Because free radicals can damage blood vessels and can change cholesterol to make it more likely to build up in artery walls, vitamin C can help prevent atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Limonin may also help lower cholesterol. Human liver cells produce less apo B when exposed to limonin. Apo B is a structural protein that is part of the LDL cholesterol molecule and is needed for LDL production, transport and binding, so lower levels of apo B mean lower levels of LDL cholesterol.
- Keep your skin beautiful. Hesperidin in lemons works together with vitamin C to maintain healthy collagen, which prevents sagging and wrinkling of the skin. It also helps fight inflammation.
Lemons are low in calories, with 29 calories per 100 grams–one of the lowest among the citrus fruits. They contain no saturated fats or cholesterol, but are rich in fiber (7.36% of Daily Value). Lemons are a very low glycemic fruit. Their acidic taste comes from citric acid, which constitutes up to 8% in their juice. Citric acid is a natural preservative, aids digestion, and helps dissolve kidney stones.
Lemons, like other citrus fruits, are an excellent source of vitamin C (ascorbic acid); 100 grams provides about 88% of Daily Value (DV). Eating vegetables and fruits high in vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer. Lemons also contain vitamin A, an antioxidant that you require to maintain healthy mucus membranes, skin, and vision. The total ORAC value, which measures antioxidant strength, of 100 grams of fresh lemon juice is 1225 µmol TE (Trolex equivalents).
Lemons are also a good source of B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, vitamin B6, and folate. They contain a healthy amount of minerals like iron, copper, potassium, and calcium.
Nutrients in 100 Grams of Fresh Lemon, Without Peel
|vitamin C||53 mg||88%|
|vitamin B6||0.08 mg||6%|
|pantothenic acid||0.19 mg||4%|
|vitamin A||22 IU||1%|
|vitamin E||0.15 mg||1%|
|vitamin K||0 µg||0%|
Peak season for lemons is April through August, though they are available in the stores all around the year. Choose big, plump, firm lemons that are heavy for their size. Select bright yellow fruits that emit a fresh citrus aroma when you gently roll your finger over them. Avoid dark green lemons, as they are immature and not as juicy. For the most antioxidants, choose fully ripened lemons, but avoid lemons with dark spots, or those that are overly soft or spongy, as they tend to go bad early. Especially if your recipe calls for lemon zest, make sure that you use fruit that is organically grown, because most conventionally grown lemons have pesticide residues on their skin.
At home, store lemons in the refrigerator, where they keep well for up to a week. Store freshly squeezed lemon juice in the freezer for later use. Store dried zest in a cool, dry place in an air-tight glass container away from moisture.
Wash lemons in cold water just before using. Scrub gently if you’re using the zest. In general, cut lemons into two equal halves to juice or squeeze manually. You can also use an electric juicer. Alternatively, you can slice it to use in salads or as a garnish.
Lemons are used for culinary and non-culinary purposes throughout the world, primarily for its juice, though the pulp and rind (zest) are also used in cooking and baking. The juice of the lemon is about 5% to 6% citric acid, which gives lemons a sour taste. The distinctive sour taste of lemon juice makes it a key ingredient in drinks and foods such as lemonade.
Lemons are often called for in recipes in the form of juice. As they will produce more juice when warmer, always juice them when they are at room temperature or place them in a bowl of warm water for several minutes. Rolling them under the palm of your hand on a flat surface will also help to extract more juice.
Before cutting the lemon in half horizontally through the center, wash the skin so that any dirt or bacteria residing on the surface will not be transferred to the fruit’s interior. While you could remove any visible seeds before juicing the halves, you could also wait until after the process is complete, since there are bound to be some seeds that reside deeper and are not visible from the surface. The juice can then be extracted in a variety of ways. You can either use a juicer, reamer or do it the old fashioned way, squeezing by hand.
You can use the outermost part of the rind to produce lemon zest, which has many culinary uses for its flavor-rich oil glands. After washing and drying the lemon, use a zester, paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove the zest, which is the colored part of the peel. Make sure not to remove too much of the peel as the white pith underneath is bitter. The zest can then be more finely chopped or diced if necessary.
Combine lemon juice with ground flax seeds and freshly crushed garlic and pepper to make a light and refreshing salad dressing. Serve lemon wedges with meals, as their tartness makes a great salt substitute. Combine freshly squeezed lemon juice with evaporated cane juice and either plain or sparkling water to make lemonade. Use lemon slices or wedges to garnish salads or iced tea.
This blog uses the latest nutritional data available from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), and the FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration), as well as nutritional data provided by food growers and manufacturers about their products. We believe the information on this blog to be accurate. However, we are not responsible for typographical or other errors. Nutrition information for recipes is calculated by Living Cookbook based on the ingredients in each recipe based on statistical averages. Nutrition may vary based on methods of preparation, origin and freshness of ingredients, and other factors.
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