Understanding Lemons

Once lemons were luxuries. Now the world produces three million tonnes of this vital ingredient and flavouring every year.

Growing lemons is very much a science. It takes time and money to find the best cultivated varieties (cultivars) that produce abundant fruit and resist disease and tolerate bad weather. For commercial cultivation, lemon seedlings are grafted onto young trees, or rootstocks, of different citrus species such as orange or grapefruit. These rootstocks usually resist rotting disease better than lemon trees. The origins of the lemon, citrus limon, are as old as civilisation itself. Some writers believe the lemon came from the borders of India and China. Others suggest the Middle East. Wherever the lemon’s geographical beginnings lie, by the first and second centuries AD lemons were cultivated in the Middle East and Greece. There is a mosaic of a lemon in the ruined Roman city of Pompeii. Other evidence suggests that by the second century Rome was importing lemons from North Africa. The fruit spread throughout the Roman empire. It thrived in the warm climate of the Mediterranean region. The lemon reached the Americas about five hundred years ago. Traditionally, the main varieties of lemons were the Lisbon, from Australia, and the Eureka, from California. But now more vigorous varieties have been developed, such as the Frost Lisbon and Frost Eureka. Some varieties are better for processing. Certain South American lemons, for example, yield more than 6 kg of oil for every tonne of fruit. There are three main methods to extract juice and oil from the lemon. Growing lemons is very much a science. It takes time and money to find the best varieties that produce lots of fruit.