Not quite a lemon, not quite an orange; at first glance, the Meyer lemon may seem too exotic for home cooking. And for some time, they were. In China, these lemons were originally cultivated for ornamentation, not for eating. But thanks to chefs like Alice Waters and Martha Stewart, the Meyer lemon is finding its way into the kitchens of America. Smaller and sweeter than the traditional Eureka lemon, the versatile Meyer lemon adds a dose of vitamin C to just about any type of dish. And it has a soft rind that doesn’t need to be peeled! So hurry out before their season comes to an end, and taste them for yourself!
Meyer lemons have smooth, orange-yellow skin, like an egg yolk. The size of this fruit ranges from about the size of a golf ball to the size of a more common Lisbon or Eureka lemon.
Meyer lemons are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or orange. The result is a sweet juice that doesn’t share the tartness of a traditional Eureka lemon. Additionally, the pith—the white, spongy portion just under the skin—is not as bitter as that of the Eureka lemon.
Meyer lemons are widely available in specialty markets and farmers’ markets during peak season.
In Europe, Meyer lemons are popular all year long because they’re imported. In the US, peak season is usually September through May.
The juiciest Meyer lemons are neither the biggest ones nor the smallest, but are somewhere in the middle. Ripe fruit is heavy, and gives slightly when squeezed. The skin of fresh Meyer lemons will be smooth and a bit dull. Avoid thick-skinned fruit, as these typically have less juice. Also, avoid fruit with blemishes, soft spots, or green patches, indicating overripeness.
When deciding whether to purchase organic or non-organic produce, it’s helpful to know which fruits and vegetables are most affected by pesticides. Pesticides are toxins used to kill insects, invasive plants, and fungi during the growth of produce, and are potentially dangerous to people. National and international agencies agree that prolonged exposure to specific pesticides through food consumption is a potential health risk. Additionally, some studies indicate that organic fruits and vegetables have a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than conventionally raised produce.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an environmental health advocacy and research organization in the United States. From cosmetics to produce, water to cleaning products, EWG provides insight regarding the impact of pesticides, manufacturing practices, and product ingredients on our health and environment. EWG produces a consumer guide ranking 48 fruits and vegetables with pesticide residue. The higher the rank, the lower the residue. In this ranking, the 12 most affected fruits and vegetables belong to the “Dirty Dozen,” and the 15 least affected are part of the “Clean Fifteen.” These lists help identify the produce that is most—and least—dramatically affected by pesticides.
Lemons do not appear on any EWG produce list, but other citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruit and tangerines, rank middle to low on the list for pesticide exposure. But the most vulnerable part of the Meyer lemon is edible—that is, the skin—so if you plan to eat it whole or zest the rind, consider buying organic.
However, the Environmental Working Group and Yoffie Life stress that consuming conventionally grown vegetables and fruits when the organic version is unavailable or financially impossible is far better than eating none at all.
Keep Meyer lemons on the counter for a few days or store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. If sliced, keep wrapped in the refrigerator and use within a day or two.
Consider freezing lemon juice when a large amount is needed. Set the juice in ice cube trays, then transfer frozen cubes to freezer bags.
Rinse the fruit with cool, running water and use a vegetable scrubber to remove any residue. The entire fruit is edible, so there is no need to peel them.
When juicing, roll the lemon firmly on the counter a few times. This breaks up some of the individual segments inside the lemon and allows the juice to flow out more readily. Then, cut it in half and either squeeze the fruit by hand or use a wood lemon reamer.
Slice lemons into attractive thin or thick wedges, or remove the fruit pulp completely from the rind and dice up into select recipes. Even though Meyer lemons aren’t as tart as more common lemons, it is uncommon to eat them out of hand.
This immune-system-building vitamin offers a host of benefits. Vitamin C is an important nutrient necessary for collagen production, and is essential for maintaining the integrity and function of skin and bone tissue. Vitamin C is also a powerful antioxidant, fighting free radicals and protecting the heart, kidneys, and lungs from disease. This essential nutrient, often found in large amounts in citrus fruits and raw vegetables, may play a role in reducing systolic blood pressure and heart disease risk.
Alongside sodium and chloride, potassium is an electrolyte essential for conducting electrical reactions in the body. Potassium aids proper muscle function, digestive health, and skeletal contractions.
B9 (Folate or Folic Acid)
An important nutrient necessary for normal cell division during pregnancy and infancy, folic acid (vitamin B9) plays a powerful role in the developing infant. For adults, vitamin B9 is also essential for proper metabolism, aiding in energy and the production of red blood cells.
B5 (Pantothenic Acid)
Helpful for metabolizing fatty acids and protein, two of the most satiating and long-lasting nutrients in the body. Vitamin B5 is also responsible for maintaining the proper functioning of insulin receptors and energy maintenance.
A mineral that plays a role in producing collagen and keeping the immune system in proper working order, copper is an essential nutrient needed by the body in small amounts. Copper may also fight against free radicals, helping to delay the aging process. Energy production is also one of the many benefits of this important mineral.
Try adding a wedge of Meyer lemon to your water. These lemons are loaded with vitamin C, essential for immune and circulatory health. Plus, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant, which is a substance that prevents the oxidation of cells in the body. While we typically think of oxygen as a good thing, sometimes when cells are oxidized, they produce free radicals. Free radicals are unstable molecules that are always looking for additional electrons to make them more stable. They often attach to the electron of another cell and cause new free radicals to form. Over time, free radicals damage the cells in the body and can even alter our DNA. Excessive free radicals contribute to the aging process and may also cause, in part, cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Antioxidants help by stabilizing free radicals, thus reducing their potential damage.
Meyer lemons can also act as a stand-in for salt in certain meals. When you reach for a lemon instead of salt, you decrease your sodium intake. This is a particularly great trick for those suffering from high blood pressure or heart disease.
- Meyer lemons were brought to the West by Frank N. Meyer, an explorer commissioned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture who discovered them (and many other species) in China.
- The Meyer lemon was named in his honor. In its native China, the Meyer lemon tree was an ornamental garden plant, but the fruit wasn’t eaten.
- Early Romans used lemon juice as a mouthwash.