The lemon originates from China, but it is not known exactly where, given that no archeological evidence has been found. The course it took is still a mystery. It was certainly introduced to the Mediterranean basin by the Arabs.
It was first known as limon, from the Arabo-Persian word limûn. From here it developed into lemon. The French word citron appeared in the 14th century, derived from the Latin citrus.
It is unclear whether lemons were grown in ancient times. It seems that its ancestor, the citron, was.
The Crusaders of the Middle Ages brought back lemons and other citrus, and it was at that time that they were grown in the south of France, where Hyères was an important gateway. It was a significant crop there for a long time.
Lemons and limes were taken to the New World by Christopher Columbus, first to what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. It later spread to South America in the middle of the 15th century. It was taken to Florida at the end of the 16th century, and later to California, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico.
The thinner the skin of a lemon or lime, the juicier its flesh.
Whatever the case, lemons and limes should always be firm and without any traces of mold.
Most lemons are treated against this with biphenyl (also known as diphenyl) or thiabendazole. Any such treatment must be indicated on the label.
Besides whole lemons, products such as bottled lemon juice concentrate, frozen lemon juice, freeze-dried lemon powder, frozen lemon slices, and preserved lemons in salt or sugar can also be found.
Kaffir lime leaves are sold fresh, dried, or frozen.
Lemon peel is rich in essential oils, and the result of this is that its zest is used to flavor a large number of dishes. It is better to use lemons that have not been treated against mold, or else they should be washed very carefully.
Lemon juice is also used to flavor a great many savory or sweet preparations. It is often used instead of vinegar in salads and sauces.
It is indispensable for preventing apples, pears, artichokes, avocados, and white mushrooms from oxidizing during their preparation.
Preserved in salt, lemons are an ingredient of Middle Eastern and North African cuisine.
Lemons feature in tarts and sorbets, and can be candied.
Buddha's hand can be used in salads once its skin is removed.
Citrons are only used in confectionery.
Lemons and limes should be stored in the refrigerator at 4ºC. They should be washed and dried beforehand. Stacking should be avoided in order to prevent mold from appearing.
Citrus medica limonum has always had many medicinal properties attributed to it.
Its wealth of vitamin C was discovered in 1932, explaining why seafarers throughout history have always carried lemons (or other citrus fruit) on their ships to protect them from scurvy (a fatal disease caused by vitamin C deficiency).
Before this vitamin was identified (as in other citrus), the lemon was always attributed with many medicinal properties – perhaps because of its sourness – that were never later verified.
Lemons would be seen as a cure for rheumatism and indigestion, to soothe insect bites and the effects of allergies, and as an expectorant, tonic, and sedative!
While some of these benefits may be credited to the effects of vitamin C, which acts throughout the organism, others depend on pure belief. Despite its acidity, lemon juice does not kill microbes.
The pulp contains fiber that is, obviously, not found in lemon juice.
Despite its flavor, the lemon is not an acidulant; on the contrary, it is alkaline, owing to the potassium it contains.
The lemon is grown all over the Mediterranean basin, and in South America and the United States (mainly California and Florida). Thanks to imports, it can be found on the market throughout the year. Main varieties:
-Eureka: this is the most widely grown variety, originating in California. It is round, with thin skin and few pips. It is found all year round.
-Fino (or Mesero, Blanco, Primofiori): oval, small stalk, thin skin, very juicy pulp. October through January.
-Limone invernale: round, with thin skin, juicy pulp, and few pips. December through mid May.
-Lisbon: similar to the Eureka, but with a coarser skin and richer fragrance; round or oval with a small stalk, very juicy pulp with very few pips, very sour. October through February.
-Verdelli: less juicy, less fragrant and often "degreened" before sale. Mid May through September.
-Verna: round, very yellow, seedless. February through July.
-Menton lemon: cultivated since the 15th century at Menton, France, and the fruit of three heirloom varieties that are reasonably juicy but highly fragrant. I It is in the process of acquiring PGI status. All year round.
The skin and flesh of this lemon are yellow and orange because it is the result of the cross between an orange or mandarin and a lemon. Originating in China, it bears the name of Franck Meyer, who discovered it in 1928. Very juicy, it has an intense fragrance and its juice is sweeter. All year.
This fruit is long and quite thin with dark green skin, and its flesh encloses numerous crunchy pearls or vesicles that burst in the mouth. It has a slightly acid taste. This uncommon citrus fruit grows in Australian forests.
This lemon variety is very particular owing to its shape, which is divided into several sections resembling fingers, hence the name. It skin is very thick, and its fragrant flesh is compact although not very juicy.
The result of a cross between a mandarin and a lemon, the yuzu originated in China and is widely grown in Japan. Round with uneven, particularly fragrant skin that is easy to peel. Its flesh is also very fragrant. All year.
Grown in many countries, this fruit is small and round, with bright green skin, flesh that is relatively juicy (depending on its origin), but always quite acid.
Two main variety groups: large fruit (Tahiti lime, also known as Persian or Bearss lime) and small fruit (acid lime, key lime, West Indian lime, Italian lime, etc.).
West Indian limes are more fragrant; Mexican limes are the juiciest. All year.
Limequat: this is the result of a cross between the lime and kumquat. The small round or oval fruit are green and turn yellow when ripe. More fragrant when green, they are more acid when yellow.
Kaffir lime or combava
Widely grown in southeast Asia, Réunion, and Madagascar, this fruit is small and round, and slightly flat. Its dark green or yellow skin is lumpy and with a high content of aromatic oil. Its flesh is very acid and rather bitter. Its highly fragrant leaves are used as a condiment. March through April and October through November, leaves all year round.
This is the predecessor of lemons and limes. Its large, oval fruit is lumpy, measuring from 10–20 cm. Its skin is very thick, and its pulp is very bitter and acid, and inedible. It was widely grown in Corsica until the end of the 19th century. It is still grown there today but less, as well as in Italy, the Maghreb, and in South America.