The origins of the lemon (Citrus limon) are unknown, though its history dates back as far as 200 A.D. when the fruit is believed to have been brought from India to southern Italy. Reports of lemon cultivation appear in Iraq and Egypt around 700 A.D. as well as in Sicily and China around the same period. Lemons were valued for their medicinal qualities after Arabs introduced them throughout the Mediterranean.
An oval-shaped fruit with a nipple-like bulge at one end, lemons usually have a peel around a quarter-inch thick. Peels are usually light-yellow and pocked with oil glands, though some have green, yellow, or white stripes running lengthwise along the fruit. Pulp is pale-yellow and acidic with a distinctive sour taste. The fruit is divided into several segments with few or no seeds.
Lemons arrived in the New World in the mid-1700s where they were initially grown in California. Cultivation spread to Florida by 1839, leading to commercial production in both states by 1870. Today, California is the nation’s top grower, accounting for over 92% of production in the United States. Globally, Mexico is the largest producer with Argentina and the European Union coming in second and third.
Lemons typically garner the highest price per box of all citrus fruits. While most lemons are used as juice, garnish, or as a cooking ingredient, per-person consumption of fresh lemons has reached more than 3.5 pounds annually. The highest demand for lemons is in the summer months with the popularity of lemonade and other juice-based drinks.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plant Products.
TYPES, VARIETIES & CUTS
Lemons can be separated into two categories: ‘true’ lemons and ‘rough’ lemons. True lemons are the original fruit thought to originate in India. Rough lemons are similar, but less acidic and larger than true lemons with a bumpier peel and more seeds. Other fruits that are sometimes referred to as lemons are Meyer or Ponderosa lemons. Neither are true lemons, but Meyer lemons are often used as lemon substitutes although they are much less acidic and bear some resemblance to yellowish oranges. Buddha’s hand lemons are gaining popularity with chefs as a zest. There are both edible and ornmental types of Buddha’s hand lemons.
Popular lemon varieties include Armstrong, Avon, Bearss, Berna, Eureka, Femminello Ovale, Genoa, Harvey, Interdonato, Lisbon, Monachello, Nepali Oblong, Nepali Round, Rosenberger, Santa Teresa, and Villafranca. Roughly 80% of U.S. lemons are destined for the fresh market; the remaining 20% are processed for juices or discarded as unsaleable.
References: Purdue University Center for New Crops & Plants Products, Texas A&M University Horticultural Sciences Department.
PESTS & DISEASE
Common diseases that affect lemons include citrus greening, citrus canker, mold, altenaria rot, scab, anthracnose, greasy spot, stem-end rot, damping-off, leaf spot, felt fungus, various types of root rot and wood rot, as well as the crinkly leaf and exocortis viruses.
Pests of concern are the Asian citrus psyllid, California red scale and purple scale, phytophthora, nematodes, and rust and red mites.
References: Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, Purdue University, UC Davis Postharvest Technology website, University of California Cooperative Extension.