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Cooking Teacher

The Loveliness of Lemons

In Chinese medicine, lemons are a key ingredient in remedies used to aid the liver in its functions of ridding our bodies of toxins, as well as regulating the metabolism of proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  The delicately sour flavor and astringent character of lemon juice has made it an important ingredient in home remedies for centuries. When the liver is functioning at its best, our bodies are metabolizing properly and circulation is unimpeded by toxins.  The result is we stay cooler and fresher in hot weather…and warmer and more comfortable in cold weather.

That’s a lot of power for the fruit of a tree believed to have originated in India or China more than 2500 years ago.  Introduced to Spain by Arab traders, the Crusaders were largely responsible for spreading lemons throughout Europe.  But it was not until the 15th century that Europeans began to use lemons in cooking and in remedies in place of verjuice (a sour juice extracted from unripe grapes). 

The acidity of lemons can vary depending on their harvest time.  When fully ripe, lemons are sweet and only slightly acid, but commercial lemons are picked while still green and left to ripen artificially in warehouses, resulting in a distinctly sour flavor.

Like all citrus, lemons are high in Vitamin C, potassium and folic acid.  Among their numerous healing properties, they are said to be diuretic, a tonic, and a natural antiseptic.

Choose lemons that are firm and heavy for their size, with a glossy, yellow peel.  Avoid bruises and brown spots and remember that lemons that are green-tinged will be much more acidic.  Wrinkled fruits are no longer fresh, but lemons will keep, refrigerated for several weeks, but just one week out of the fridge.

Used both decoratively and as part of a recipe, lemons are a popular flavor booster, said to bring a dish “to life” by its addition.  In dressings, sauces, baked goods, lemonade and teas, lemon juice and zest make any dish “dance” with vitality.

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