Lemons: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits, history, and culinary uses of lemons, and learn about different varieties and storage tips in this comprehensive guide.

What Is a Lemon?

A lemon is ​​an acid fruit that is botanically a many-seeded pale yellow oblong berry produced by a small thorny citrus tree (Citrus limon) and that has a rind from which an aromatic oil is extracted

Are Lemons Good For You?

Lemon are definitely good for you! They provide many vitamins and health benefits.

7 Health Benefits Of Lemons

1. Lemons may help boost our immune system. Vitamin C is found in lemons and can stimulate the production of white blood cells which could help our immune system. Vitamin C, an antioxidant, may help strengthen the immune system against the germs that cause the common cold and the flu . One review found that, while vitamin C supplements do not appear to reduce the incidence of colds in a population, they may help reduce the length of time a cold lasts.


2. Lemons can help increase iron absorption. Pairing foods that are high in vitamin C (like lemons) with iron-rich foods (like spinach, beans, and lentils) maximizes the body’s ability to absorb iron, which helps with iron-deficiency anemia.


3. Lemons may improve heart health. The Vitamin C in lemons is linked to a possible reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. A 2015 study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at more than 100,000 people and found that those who ate the most fruits and vegetables had a 15 percent lower risk of developing heart disease. Scientists believe that vitamin C may have cardiovascular benefits because of the antioxidants.


4. Lemons may lower cholesterol. Some studies have shown limonin could lower cholesterol levels. A study published in Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine had people with high cholesterol take limonin and vitamin E daily for a month and their cholesterol levels were lowered 20 to 30 percent.


5. Lemons may lower stroke risk. A study that followed about 70,000 women over 14 years showed that those who ate the most citrus fruits had a 19% lower risk of stroke than women who consumed the least. Lemons may help with kidney stones.  Lemons and limes have the most citric acid of all fruits, which makes them beneficial to people with kidney stones. The citric acid deters the formation of stones and can break up small stones that have already formed.


6. Lemons may help promote healthy skin. Vitamin C helps with the formation of collagen (the support system of the skin).


7. Lemons prevent scurvy. If a person doesn’t consume enough vitamin C, they will develop a Vitamin C deficiency, known as scurvy. It is rare in the United States, but it can affect people who do not have a varied diet.

History, Background And General Facts about Lemons

  • The origin of lemons is not totally clear, but lemons are thought to have first grown in a region of northeast India , northern Myanmar, or China .
  • Lemons entered Europe near southern Italy between 100 and 200 CE, during the time of Ancient Rome .
  • They were later introduced to Persia and then to Iraq and Egypt around 700 CE.
  • Lemons were distributed widely throughout the Arab world and the Mediterranean region between 1000 CE and 1150 CE
  • The first record of cultivation of lemons in Europe began in Genoa , Italy in the middle of the 15th century.
  • Lemons were mostly used as an ornamental plant and for medicine in the 1400s in North America.
  • Lemons were beginning to be planted in Florida and California in the 19th century
  • Each lemon tree can produce between 500 and 600 pounds of lemons a year.
  • Lemon trees usually bloom throughout the year, and the fruit can be picked 6 to 10 times a year.
  • By-products of lemons that are commonly used: citric acid, lemon oil, and pectin.
  • Lemon oil used in perfumes, soap, and lemon extract
  • Citric acid is used in beverage manufacturing.
  • Pectin is used in making fruit jam
  • The leaves of a lemon tree can be used to make tea and in the preparation of cooked meats and seafoods.
  • Due to its high acidic nature the juice of a lemon can be used for cleaning. Lemon halves dipped in salt or baking powder can be used to brighten up copper and clean kitchenware.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Lemons?

  • Italian - limoncella
  • Greek - avgolemono (lemon chicken soup)
  • French - aioli, lemon tart
  • Morocco - preserved lemon
  • American - lemon bar, lemon meringue pie, lemonade
  • Tunisia - k abkabou (fish and tomato stew)
  • Indian - lemon rice

What Is The Best Way To Store Lemons?

Lemons can be stored in a few different ways depending on how long you want to keep them fresh:

  1. Room Temperature:

    • Short-term storage: If you plan to use the lemons within a week, you can keep them at room temperature in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. They should remain fresh for this duration.
    • Decorative display: If you have lemons that are purely for decorative purposes, they can be left at room temperature in a bowl or basket.
  2. Refrigerator:

    • Longer-term storage: To prolong the shelf life of lemons, it's best to store them in the refrigerator. Place them in a perforated or loosely sealed plastic bag to maintain humidity while allowing some air circulation. The crisper drawer is a suitable spot for storing lemons in the fridge.
    • Cut lemons: If you've already cut a lemon, wrap the exposed portion tightly in plastic wrap or store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It's best to use cut lemons within a couple of days.

What Are The Different Types of Lemons?

  • 'Bonnie Brae' is smooth, thin-skinned and seedless. These are mostly grown in San Diego County .
  • 'Eureka' lemons grow year-round and are abundant. This is the common grocery store lemon, also known as 'Four Seasons' because of its ability to produce fruit and flowers together throughout the year.
  • The Lisbon lemon is very similar to the Eureka and is the other common grocery store lemon. It is smoother than the Eureka, has thinner skin, and has fewer or no seeds. It generally produces more juice than the Eureka
  • The 'Femminello St. Teresa', or 'Sorrento’ is native to Italy. This fruit's zest is high in lemon oils. It is the variety traditionally used in the making of limoncello .
  • Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. Meyer lemons are smaller and more round than regular lemons, with smoother, thin, deep yellow to orange skin, and dark yellow pulp.

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Lemons

Lemons have a high acid content, so their juice may affect people with:

  • Mouth ulcers: It can cause a stinging sensation.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease ( GERD ): It can worsen symptoms, such as heartburn .
  • The citric acid can wear down the enamel on your teeth, according to World's Healthiest Foods , which encourages drinking lemon water through a straw.

What Is The Best Substitute For Lemons If I Don't Have Any?

If you don't have lemons available or need a substitute for them in a recipe, there are a few alternatives you can consider to mimic their acidity and flavor. Here are some options:

  1. Vinegar: Vinegar, particularly white vinegar or apple cider vinegar, can be used as a substitute for lemon juice in recipes that require acidity. Start by using a small amount and gradually increase to achieve the desired level of acidity. Keep in mind that vinegar has a different flavor profile, so it may alter the taste of the dish.

  2. Lime: Lime juice can be a good substitute for lemon juice in most recipes. Lime has a similar level of acidity and a slightly different flavor, but it works well as a replacement in many dishes such as dressings, marinades, and beverages. Use lime juice in a 1:1 ratio as a substitute for lemon juice.

  3. Other Citrus Fruits: Other citrus fruits like oranges and grapefruits can be used as substitutes for lemons, although they will provide a different flavor profile. Oranges are sweeter and less acidic than lemons, while grapefruits have a tangy and slightly bitter taste. Adjust the quantities and flavors accordingly based on your preference and the specific recipe.

  4. Cream of Tartar: Cream of tartar can be used as a substitute for lemon juice in recipes that require acidity, particularly in baking. It is a byproduct of winemaking and has a sour taste. Use cream of tartar mixed with a small amount of water in a 1:2 ratio (1 teaspoon cream of tartar to 2 teaspoons water) as a substitute for 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.