Juicy, acidic, and flavorful lemon is the most widely used citrus fruit worldwide. It is the smallest among citrus fruits yet contains more health benefiting nutrients than oranges, pomelo etc.
Botanically, this citrus fruit belongs to the family of Rutaceae of the genus, Citrus (which also includes orange, pomelo, tangerine (mandarin orange), and grapefruit). Scientific name: Citrus limon.
Lemons are thought to be originated in the Himalayan foothills of North-East India, from where they spread all across the Middle East, Europe, Africa, and as far as Americas. Lemons are now largest consumables among fruits.
Like other citrus plants, lemons are small, spreading, evergreen trees growing up to 10-12 feet in most cultivated plantations. They flourish well in temperate and tropical environments, whereas, cold and frosty conditions would affect their growth adversely. Stems are often armed with sharp, stout thorns. Fully-grown plant bears fragrant, white flowers in short cymes.
Fruits belonging to citrus group are described as “hesperidium”, (A hesperidium is a scientific term to describe the fruit structure belonging to citrus group. In fact, the fruit is a modified berry with tough, leathery rind. Lemon peel contains many volatile oil glands in pits. Interior flesh is composed of segments, called carpels, made up of numerous juice-filled vesicles that are actually specialized hair cells). Matured fruits measure about 5-8 cm in diameter and weigh about 50- 80 g in weight.
Health benefits of lemon
- Lemons are packed with numerous health benefiting nutrients. The fruit is low in calories, 29 calories per 100 g, one of the lowest among citrus group.
- It contains no saturated fats or cholesterol, but is rich in dietary fiber (7.36% of RDA).
- Its acidic taste is due to citric acid. Citric acid is present up to 8% in its juice. Citric acid is a natural preservative, aids digestion. Studies found that citric acid help dissolve kidney stones.
- Lemons, like other citrus fruits, are excellent source of ascorbic acid (provides about 88% of DRI). Ascorbic acid or vitamin-C is a powerful water soluble natural anti-oxidant. This vitamin is helpful in preventing scurvy. Besides, consumption of foods rich in vitamin-C helps body develop resistance against infectious agents and scavenge harmful, pro-inflammatory free radicals from the blood.
- Lemons like oranges contain a variety of phytochemicals. Hesperetin and naringenin are flavonoid glycosides commonly found in citrus fruits. Naringenin is found to have a bio-active effect on human health as antioxidant, free radical scavenger, anti-inflammatory, and immune system modulator. This substance has also been shown to reduce oxidant injury to DNA in the cells in-vitro studies.
- They also contain small level of vitamin A, and other flavonoid anti-oxidants such as α and ß-carotenes, beta-cryptoxanthin, zea-xanthin and lutein. These compounds are known to have antioxidant properties. Vitamin A also required for maintaining healthy mucus membranes and skin and is also essential for vision. Consumption of natural fruits rich in flavonoids helps body to protect from lung and oral cavity cancers.
- Total ORAC value, which measures the anti-oxidant strength of 100 g of fresh lemon juice is 1225 µmol TE (Trolex equivalents).
- They also a good source of B-complex vitamins such as pantothenic acid, pyridoxine, and folates. These vitamins are essential in the sense that body requires them from external sources to replenish.
- They contain healthy amount of minerals like iron, copper, potassium, and calcium. Potassium in an important component of cell and body fluids helps control heart rate and blood pressure.
Citrus fruits, as such, have long been valued for their wholesome nutritious and antioxidant properties. It is scientifically established that citrus fruits, especially lemons and oranges, by virtue of their richness in vitamins and minerals, have many proven health benefits. Moreover, it is now beginning to be appreciated that the other biologically active, non-nutrient compounds found in citrus fruits such as phyto-chemical antioxidants, soluble and insoluble dietary fiber have been found to be helpful in reduction in the risk for cancers, many chronic diseases like arthritis, and from obesity and coronary heart diseases.
How to Select and Store
Peak season is April through August, though they are available in the stores all around the year. Choose big, plump, firm lemons that are heavy for their size. Select rich bright yellow colored fruits emanating fresh citrus aroma when you gently roll your finger over their skin.
Avoid dark green colored as they are immature and would not be as juicy. Avoid those with dark spots, overtly soft or spongy as they tend to perish early.
At home, store them in plastic pouch and place in the refrigerator where they keep well for up to a week. Store freshly squeezed lemon juice inside the freezer compartment for later use. Store dried zest in a cool, dry place in an air-tight glass container away from moisture.
Wash them just before using. Scrub gently if using the zest. In general, the fruit is cut into two equal halves to squeeze-extract juice. Alternatively, it can be sliced to use in salads and garnish dishes.
Both fruit as well as its juice is the most sought after ingredients in variety of cuisines worldwide.
Here are some serving tips:
- Lemon slices/wedges are used to garnish salads.
- Aside from their common usage as flavoring base in beverages or lemonade, they can also be used in confectionaries like pies, cakes, pastry dough, and marinades.
- Its juice can be stored frozen for later use.
- The outermost part of the rind grated using zester to produce lemon zest, which also have many culinary values for its flavor rich oil glands.
- Iced lemon tea is a refreshing drink.
- Lemon pickles are favorite side dishes in Middle East, India, Morocco etc.
Lemon juice is very low in PH, about 2.0. Its sour taste sometimes causes burning sensation if encounters with mouth, tongue, and lip ulcers. In addition, if taken large amounts may exacerbate acid-peptic disease and stomach ulcer conditions.
Here are some of my healthy recipes that feature Lemon:
- Chickpea Stew Scented with Lemon and Cumin
- Citrus-Kissed Honey Buttons
- Roasted Garlic and Meyer Lemon-Rubbed Turkey
Source : http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/