Lemons (Citrus limon) are loved globally for their acidic and sour taste. They can be easily paired with sweet and savory dishes and are one of the most acidic natural substances found in the world, which makes them helpful for cleaning. Lemons have a high concentration of Vit C which also makes them a perfect addition to fruit salads to help make them healthier. But is lemon a fruit? Or is it a vegetable?
Table of Contents
- What Is a Lemon?
- What Is the Difference Between Botanical and Culinary?
- Lemon Juice
What Is a Lemon?
To explain it simply, a lemon can be described as bitter orange, but instead, it is yellow.
This description may seem weird, but there is no way to compare it easily to something else unless you compare it to other citrus fruits, such as key lime. The easiest way to describe a lemon is that it is an insanely sour and bitter natural food that can be used in almost any dish when cooking.
Lemons are grown from a small evergreen tree similar to other citrus fruit and have a thick outer skin known as a peel. They are a rich source of vitamin C and can have many seeds inside of them that you can eat, although it is not exactly tasty or pleasant to do so.
The edible part of the lemon breaks into segments similar to an orange. Although they are not typically peeled, it is more common for them to be cut into slices, halved, and then squeezed. The outer peel can be grated with a microplane to extract lemon zest, which is great for flavoring and garnishing savory dishes, baked goods, and desserts like lemon meringue pie.
What Does a Lemon Class As?
If you are unfamiliar with some of the terminology surrounding food, then this may be confusing. There are two ways to identify food, and that is by either a botanical or a culinary definition. Botanically is the most common way to identify what an item in the produce section may be classed as. In this case, botanically speaking, a lemon is a fruit as it has seeds enclosed within the flesh.
Similar to how an apple has the seeds within its core, orange has the seeds in each segment. A lemon has seeds inside of it which is what defines it as a fruit. In a botanical sense, some items are classed as berries instead of fruit. This is true for the lemon, technically. A berry is a fruit that has no pit or stone inside of it and is often brightly colored and either very sweet or very sour. A lemon matches this description and is, therefore, technically a berry. Although many people still refer to it as citrus fruit and not a berry.
Lemon is a hybrid fruit that is a cross between a citron fruit and a bitter orange. This idea of crossbreeding is very common among citrus fruits and has been done many times to produce a lot of the fruits that are now common in grocery stores and markets globally. The naturally growing citrus fruits are mandarin orange, pomelo, papeda, and citron. Together, these citrus fruits have been used to make a lot of other fruits, such as lemon and lime.
A lemon tree, also known as a Citrus limon, is a small evergreen tree native to Asia. The tree grows an ellipsoidal yellow fruit called a lemon that can be used for both culinary practices and cleaning. The pulp and lemon rind can also be used in cooking and baking. Lemon trees thrive in hot and humid weather and produce incredibly sweet aromatic blossoms.
Any domestic lemon tree can and will grow to between 10-20 feet and be around 15-20 feet wide. Dwarf varieties of this tree should stay under 10 feet, whereas container trees may be even shorter than this. The main varieties of lemons you can grow will be true lemons or Meyer lemons.
Not only can a lemon tree make your yard look a lot nicer and smell nicer, but the benefit of having fresh lemons grown in your own yard is one huge plus.
Other Citrus Fruits
While lemons are one of the most popular citrus fruits available, they certainly aren’t the only ones. There are so many other fruits, such as:
- Seville, bitter, orange
- Blood orange
- Finger lime
- Kaffir lime
- Mandarin orange
- Navel orange
As you can see, citrus fruits are very expensive, and they all differ massively despite being in the same citrus family. While most of the fruits in this family have a bitter taste, some are sweet with sour undertones, making them completely different in terms of flavor and how you use them in cooking.
What Is the Difference Between Botanical and Culinary?
As mentioned earlier, the way in which natural produce is defined is either culinary or botanical. This may be confusing, but the easiest way to sum it up is that botanists group items together based on how they grow and form, whereas the culinary definition focuses on how they taste and act in cooking.
The botanical definition for food changes based on how the food is grown, how it forms, and what it looks like. For instance, where the seeds are placed and how the seeds look are very important for botanists. Any item of food without seeds or with pits instead will be classed differently solely on this, even if the rest of the item is the exact same. This approach is very scientific and is therefore typically used for a more technical description of produce.
The culinary definition of fruit and veg focuses more on how the item tastes and acts while being cooked. Seed placement matters less here, although there is some inspiration from a botanical definition as to how some items are classed. However, it is much less strict, and there is plenty of odd ones out in each category, thanks to how lenient the identifying system is.
As an example, while zucchini is botanically classed as a berry, in a culinary definition, it is, by all means, a vegetable. This is because it has a mellow and deep flavor that is not described as either sweet or sour. There are a lot of other factors that go into this classification, but the main one is that it does not taste like fruit or berry and is therefore cooked with a bunch of other vegetables and is also classed as one itself.
A tomato is a good example of this difference in identification as botanically, it is a fruit due to the seeds being on the inside. However, the flavor profile of a tomato is full of umami (the same food chemical found in meat) and is therefore used in dishes that fruits and berries are not used in, granting it the title of vegetable.
The juice of a lemon is one of the most versatile ingredients around. It can be used so often in cooking to flavor dishes, making sauces, salad dressings, and much more. It’s also being used extensively in cleaning.
The properties of lemon are interesting as it has about 5-6% citric acid in it, which is one of the most naturally acidic substances known.
Because of this high acidity, the juice is flavorsome but also has cleaning properties, which makes it so adaptable.
Cleaning With Lemon Juice
As mentioned, lemon is highly acidic, which makes it great for cleaning.
But to speak more on this, I am talking about cleaning clothes, workspaces, and more. Not your body, as it is too acidic to be healthy. The steam from a bowl of water and lemon juice can make a messy microwave kneel in fear in minutes. The juice can also rid your fridge of any odors it currently holds.
Using the juice on a lot of things you’d generally use harmful cleaning products on is a great way to save money. You’ll also be more environmentally friendly!
Cooking With Lemon Juice
Cooking with lemon is the most popular thing to do with it. The flavor is so easy to pair with other flavors.
One of the best pairings is using a dash of lemon juice on top of cooked fish, to give it a fruit hint.
Another way to use the juice in cooking is to splash some in certain broths and soups. This will balance out all the flavors inside of it. It’ll take some research and practice, though. After all, flavors combine differently but acidic flavors such as lemon help cancel out salty flavors that may be overwhelming. This can really help step up your soup and broth game. Doing so will leave you feeling more satisfied with your cooking skills as a whole.
Another common use for the juice is to drizzle it over pancakes and similar baked goods such as waffles. This will add a fruity flavor to them.
The most popular thing to do with lemon is to make lemonade. It is an insanely tasty and refreshing drink that has all of the flavors of a lemon but reduced sourness.
Health Benefits of Lemon Juice
The health benefits of lemon are quite impressive, but the main one is the high concentration of vitamin C. Lemons and other citrus fruits are notorious for helping pirates and world war 1 soldiers fight off scurvy. This is because scurvy is a vitamin c deficiency, and citrus fruit has a long shelf life. Therefore, lots of lemons or limes could be stored and then eaten to avoid your body running low on vitamin C.
Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is also needed for a healthy diet. It helps against things such as breast cancer, kidney stones, and bad immune systems.
Both botanically and culinarily, lemon is considered to be a fruit due to the seeds being grown on the inside and also having a generally fruity and sour flavor profile.
Technically a lemon is classed as a berry due to it having small seeds on the inside, however, it is common for people to refer to it as a fruit instead to avoid confusion.