What Are Lemons?
The lemon is a bright yellow citrus fruit. It has its distinctive sour taste because it’s rich in citric acid. It comes from the flowering plant family Rutaceae, and its scientific name is Citrus limon.
The lemon’s unique flavor makes it a popular ingredient in drinks, desserts, and meals. Almost all parts of a lemon can be used in cooking and cleaning.
Exactly where lemons came from isn’t known. But there’s documented evidence of its value from almost 2,000 years ago. The lemon tree grows in subtropical and tropical areas and can grow 10-20 feet tall. Most are grown in Mediterranean countries, as well as China, India, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil – and in California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida in the U.S. You can find fresh lemons year-round in supermarkets.
Lemon juice has many uses, from culinary to medicinal. Lemons are used all over the world in desserts, drinks, sauces, dips, and as a garnish for meat and fish dishes. Lemon juice is a natural cleaner and stain remover. Lemon oil provides the fragrance for perfumes, soaps, and skin creams.
Types of Lemons
The most commonly grown lemon in the U.S. is the Eureka lemon. The Lisbon lemon is also popular.
You may also come across the Meyer lemon, a smaller, sweeter lemon that may have gotten its start as a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. These can make good house plants, but you’ll need to bring them inside in the winter if you’re not in a tropical climate.
When you buy a lemon, look for those that are bright and have an even color. It should be firm but not too hard. Store them in the refrigerator to last longer than at room temperature.
Health Benefits of Lemons
The vitamins, fiber, and plant compounds in lemons can be part of a healthy diet. It’s not common to actually eat a fresh lemon – they’re too sour for most tastes – unless you’re using preserved lemons.
Lemons can also provide important health benefits like:
Lemons contain about 50 milligrams of vitamin C, which is over half the amount of vitamin C needed in your daily diet. Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which helps protect cells from damage. Vitamin C also helps your body make collagen for your skin, helps your body absorb iron, and supports your immune system. Citrus fruits are some of the best food sources of vitamin C.
Lemon also contains a high level of dietary fiber – but you don’t get fiber from juice.
The pectin fiber found in lemons expands once it is ingested, making you feel full sooner and longer. Lemon water is often touted as an effective tool in weight loss and weight management. While there’s nothing wrong with drinking water, there’s nothing magical about adding lemon to water for weight control. It’s also important to note that drinking water may keep you full and help you avoid snacking as effectively as lemon.
Lemon can help your body absorb more iron from plant-based foods in your diet. Maintaining proper iron levels helps prevent anemia, which is a lower-than-average number of red blood cells, often as a result of iron deficiency.
Kidney Stone Prevention
Lemons get their sour taste from their abundance of citric acid. Some studies show that citric acid may help prevent the formation of kidney stones.
Lemon juice has antibacterial and antifungal properties. The plant compounds in lemon juice concentrate effectively inhibited the growth of salmonella, staphylococcus, and candida infections in one study. It was also effective against one particular antibiotic-resistant bacteria that causes pneumonia and blood infections.
Cancer Prevention and Treatment Research
Lemon juice is a valuable source of nutrients called flavonoids. These are antioxidants, which help protect cells from damage that could lead to cancer. But lemon juice hasn’t been studied for cancer prevention in people. While a healthy diet may help lower the risk of cancer, no one food has been shown to prevent cancer.
Lemon juice is not part of cancer treatment. But scientists have found tiny nanoparticles in lemon juice that – in lab tests on cells – inhibited cell reproduction and activated cancer cell death. This is extremely early research that’s more about searching for new cancer treatments and isn’t based on the lemon juice you’d get in your diet.
Lemons are an excellent source of:
- Vitamin C
- Dietary fiber
- Citric acid
Nutrients per Serving
A half-cup serving of lemon contains:
- Calories: 31
- Protein: 1 gram
- Fat: 0 grams
- Carbohydrates: 10 grams
- Fiber: 3 grams
- Sugar: 3 grams
Potential Risks of Lemons and Lemon Juice
If you’re allergic to grass pollen or citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit, or limes, you may also be allergic to lemons. The most common reactions are itching, burning, or swelling of the mouth and throat. Some people can have headaches or gastrointestinal distress.
Lemon Juice May Erode Dental Enamel
There have been cases of dental erosion in people who drink lemon juice in large amounts. The natural acids found in lemon juice can erode dental enamel if you drink too much of it, too often.
Lemon Juice and Migraines
Lemon juice is high in tyramine. If you are sensitive to tyramine, drinking lemon juice can trigger migraine headaches.
Lemon juice is a flavorful and healthy addition to many recipes. Like all fruits, it contains natural sugar – but not very much. Use it as a recipe directs.
How to Flavor With Lemon
With their distinct sour taste, lemons add a bold flavor to many recipes. Lemon is a popular ingredient in cooking and baking, and you can use almost every part of this versatile fruit.
A simple lemon wedge can add a soothing and refreshing flavor to water and tea.
Hummus, which originated in the Middle East and is now popular worldwide, is traditionally made with lemon juice (as well as chickpeas, tahini, and garlic.)
Preserved lemons are part of traditional Moroccan cuisine. And in India, lemon pickle is a condiment.
Lemon juice and zest, often paired with butter or oil, is a crucial ingredient in many popular seafood and meat dishes as well as desserts.
The rind of the lemon can be zested and added to baked goods, tea, soup, and beverages of all kinds. Here are a few ways to prepare this versatile and vibrant fruit:
- Make a classic, ice-cold lemonade with organic sugar or sugar alternative and water.
- Use lemon to add flavor to a risotto dish or brighten up a soup.
- Create a refreshing lemon and butter sauce for a salmon or chicken plate.
- Bake a zesty and sweet lemon meringue pie.
- Indulge in a luxurious, zesty lemon bar.
- Use lemon zest as a tasty garnish in your tea or alcoholic beverage.
- Make a delicious Greek lemon and chicken soup.