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Lemons are a fruit known for their bright color, acidic juice, and versatility. Lemons grow on flowering evergreen trees and most lemons available in grocery stores come from warm climates like Mexico and California. But if you are a garden-ey type, you can grow lemons in backyard gardens (and even indoors) in a whole lot of places.

Lemons and limes on a wooden surface.

Cooking with Lemons

I think lemons are one of my top 5 must-have ingredients. I use them in almost everything, both the juice and the zest, and sometimes the fruit itself. The fruit can be dried, candied, preserved, baked, juiced… and if you were my father, slices and eaten straight up (not recommended as the acid can strip enamel from your teeth – really you don’t want to know what his dental bills were). The peel also has essential oils that are near impossible to extract in a home kitchen, but are wonderful in baked goods (and often used in cleaning products).

Lemon slices on a wooden surface.

Types of Lemons

The lemons we are all most familiar with are called Eureka or Lisbon lemons. Another popular variety of lemon is the Meyer Lemon. Much sweeter, they are thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. Meyer Lemons are mostly used in desserts, and I love the juice in mocktails and cocktails.

How to Cook with Lemons: Lemon juice and zest is used in hundreds of savory and sweet dishes – here’s how to get the most out of this versatile citrus fruit!

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What Do Lemons Look Like? 

Lemons are distinguishable by their bright yellow coloring, textured peel, and general oval shape. Meyer Lemons tend to be smaller, rounder, deeper and sometimes slightly orangey in color, with a smoother skin. 

Woman slicing a lemon in half.

Where Can I Find Lemons?

Lemons are readily available in supermarkets of all kinds. Specific varieties, such as Meyer Lemons, are a little harder to find but can be bought in many specialty markets, or in some regional farmers’ markets (such as California) during their season.

How Do I Pick the Best Lemons?

Lemons should be firm and bright in color. Make sure they are free of soft or brown spots and bruises.

What Do Lemons Taste Like?

Regular lemons are quite sour. They are high in acidity, and to bite into one raw, or taste straight lemon juice will make you pucker right up. But they are also extremely refreshing. When its juice is diluted by combining with other ingredients, or tempered by adding sugar, lemons add a tart, fragrant, and “bright” flavor. The yellow of the peel, called the zest, is much less tart, but still very pronouncedly citrusy.

Woman holding half of a lemon.

How Do I Prepare Lemons? 

Different recipes call for lemons to be prepared in different ways. It is wise to always wash and dry lemons before using so as to remove a possible waxy outer layer which may have been sprayed on to preserve them during shipping. This is mostly important if you are using the zest or peel in a recipe. 

If you are juicing the lemon, you’ll get the most juice from the fruit if you gently but firmly roll the lemon back and forth with the palm of your hand on a firm surface. This “tenderizes” the lemon and makes it easier for juice to be extracted. Cut the lemon in half, and use a reamer, a handheld juicer, or any other juicing apparatus you like to remove the juice. You can also use a fork and stick it into the flesh as you squeeze the lemon to help release the juice.

If a recipe calls for lemon zest, you will want to use a zester to remove the outer layer of the peel, just scraping off the bright yellow part, and making sure to leave the bitter white pith behind. You can use a vegetable peeler to remove strips, and then mince the zest as needed, or a microplane which will scrape the zest off the lemon in fine shreds. There are also zesters available, which will remove the zest in long thin strips. 

Woman using a microplane grater on a lemon.

You may also use slices or wedges of lemons in recipes. Whether you are using the fruit itself, or the juice, make sure you remove any pits. There are small fine mesh strainers perfect for this purpose.

How Do I Cook With Lemons? 

Lemons are used in hundreds of savory and sweet dishes. They can add subtle or powerful flavoring in beverages (try this Lemongrass Cocktail! And of course summer means Lemonade…), vinaigrettes, dips, marinades, sauces, meats and seafood, pastas, and desserts and baked goods of all kinds. Preserved lemons are a staple in Moroccan dishes but good in so much more – add bits of the peel to salads for a pop of salty citrus.

Thinly sliced lemons are wonderful fanned over pork or seafood or chicken before cooking, which then caramelize as they cook and infuses the dish with a sweet-sour flavor. Wedges of uncooked lemons are also often served with seafood or other savory dishes to squeeze over before eating.

When are Lemons in Season?

Lemons are available easily year-round at supermarkets Meyer lemons are more seasonal and are most easily found between December and May.

Three lemons and three limes on a wooden surface.

How Do I Store Lemons?

The best way to get the longest life out of your lemons is to store them in the crisper or vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. They can last approximately 3 weeks. Left on your countertop, they will likely last a week before getting soft or maybe moldy. If you have some leftover lemon, wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and store in the fridge. Even if it hardens and shrivels a bit, you can still extract good juice out of it.

Are Lemons Nutritious?

Lemons are very low in calories and contain a very high amount of Vitamin C.

 10 Lemon Recipes

Here are some recipes that use lemons:

Garlicky Shrimp and Broccoli with Meyer Lemon

Garlicky Shrimp and Broccoli

So simple, it’s almost not a recipe.

Lemony Rotini with Goat Cheese Sauce and Spring Vegetables

Lemony Rotini with Goat Cheese Sauce and Spring Vegetables

This pasta, which is surrounded by all kinds of lovely spring vegetables, is easy on the eyes and easy to prepare.

Lebanese Couscous with Sautéed Kale with Lemon Dressing / Mia / Katie Workman /

Lebanese Couscous with Sautéed Kale and Lemon Dressing

Big fat pearls of couscous are blended up with that now infamous green. An excellent all-in-one side.

Woman grabbing a Lemon Square.

Lemon Squares

With the perfect balance of sweetness and tartness, these go out to all the lemon bar lovers out there.

Sparkling Mint Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

Sparkling Mint Pomegranate Champagne Cocktail

This pink drink is the most festive way to kick off a gathering, with all kinds of sweet-tart flavor.

Basil Ginger Lemon Saketini

Basil Ginger Lemon Saketini

This is one refreshing cocktail.

Lemon Garlic Air Fryer Chicken Breasts

Lemon Garlic Air Fryer Chicken Breasts

Boneless skinless chicken breasts get cooked to perfection in 10 minutes in the air fryer. A quick and easy weeknight recipe.

Chicken Kawarma with Lemon Sauce over Hummus

Chicken Kawarma with Lemon Sauce over Hummus

The combination of flavors and textures does a little happy dance in your mouth.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

Classic, with a sweet tart lemon custard filling topped with golden brown peaks of meringue; just like what you’d find in an old-school diner.

Lemon Curd

Lemon Curd

This creamy, brightly colored, perkily citrusy topping and dessert spread is just delicious. What you do with it is the fun part.

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