Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Skinny on Lemons

Okay! Let's get to our ingredient of the week. Drum roll please......LEMONS!! Lemons are an amazing creation. They are so versatile, and they brighten up almost any recipe. The juice is used to make lemonade, soft drinks, and marinades. Not to mention some pretty yummy desserts like lemon cheesecake, lemon bars, and my yummy Lemon Ricotta pancakes which I will share with you later. ;-) Lemon slices and rinds are used for garnishes. Lemon zest, the grated outer rind, is used to add flavor to baked goods, rice, and lots of other dishes. Lemon juice also acts as a short-term preservative on certain foods that tend to oxidize and turn brown after being sliced, such as apples, bananas, and avocados. Also, I don't know how to explain this scientifically, but the flavor of lemon somehow makes the pallet think it's had salt, thereby allowing you to add less salt to a dish when you include lemon.

The average lemon contains approximately 3 tablespoons of juice. Allowing lemons to come to room temperature and rolling them on the counter before squeezing both make the juice easier to extract. A good way to store cut lemons is in a glass jar with a lid in the refrigerator. A 3.5oz. lemon contains; 2.8g of dietary fiber, 53.0mg of vitamin C, 26mg. of calcium, 8mg of magnesium, 16mg. of phosphorus, and 138mg. of potassium along with several other nutrients in much smaller amounts. It packs quite a punch in one piece of fruit.

There are many varieties of lemons. The common supermarket lemon is called "Eureka". It grows year-round and abundantly. My favorite is the "Meyer" lemon. It's actually a cross between a lemon and an orange. It's fairly thin-skinned and less acidic than the Eureka. Meyers require more care when shipping and are not widely grown on a commercial basis, so you won't see them as often in the grocery store. They are beautiful though, and I LOVE to cook with them when I can find them. Some of the other varieties are; "Lisbon", "Ponderosa", "Variegated Pink", and "Verna", just to name a few more.

A beautiful thing about lemons is their wide variety of non-culinary uses. The low pH of juice makes it antibacterial. The peel oil is used as a wood cleaner and polish. A halved lemon dipped in salt or baking powder can be used to brighten copper cookware. The acid dissolves the tarnish and the abrasives assist the cleaning. In the kitchen, the juice can deodorize, remove grease, bleach stains, and disinfect. When mixed with baking soda, it can remove stains from plastic food storage containers.

The bright, friendly little lemon is a great thing to keep around. I always have a bowl of them on the counter. Just their presence seems to brighten my kitchen. In the days to come I'll share some of my favorite ways to cook with lemons. So, next time you're at the grocery store, you can look at lemons in a whole new way and maybe even be inspired to put a few in your grocery cart. :-)

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