Photo Credit: a-healthy-body.com
Lemon desserts and dishes seem to bloom in early spring along with other bright yellow things — daffodils, the sun, and dandelions — that return to us this time of year. Lemons can be as crucial a flavor-enhancer as salt. But while salt is a mainstay in most every pantry, lemons are often overlooked.
Lemon can be the star of the show or a brilliant supporting actor. It's practically indispensable in fish dishes and pairs beautifully with all sorts of vegetables, raw and cooked. Lemon juice can brighten up soups, stews, sautés, and marinades. It is often the “secret” ingredient in a recipe.
Lemon is a feature in many cultural dishes, from the Middle East eastward to India and westward to Europe, and in the Americas. The story of the lovely lemon is a relatively recent chapter in the history of human cuisine.
A Bright History
The fruit is thought to have originated possibly in northern Myanmar or China, but more likely north-eastern India and Pakistan. It was probably a hybrid cross between the sour orange and the citron. By the 4th century BCE some kind of lemon-like fruit was cultivated as far south as the Arabian Gulf and may have been brought back to Greece by Alexander the Great.
The citron, and later lemons, were carried to ancient Rome, where they were a rarity, prized by the wealthy for both decorative and medicinal use. Mosaics featuring both fruits date back to Rome in the first century, while the remains of carbonized lemons have been recovered from the ruins of Pompeii, destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Arabs took the lemon further west in their conquests, and there is evidence the Crusaders brought it to Europe when they returned from Palestine. The name may come from the Arabic laymun, although similar words are found in Old French. Lemon was being referred to explicitly by the 13th century, when the Arabs had conquered most of what is now Spain. Southern Spain became an important area for lemon cultivation.
Christopher Columbus is known to have taken lemon seeds on his first voyage of exploration in 1492, planting them on the island of Hispaniola. Lemon trees were grown widely in the Americas following in the footsteps of Spanish exploration. During the 18th and 19th centuries lemons were planted in American soil, specifically, California and Florida. Mexico now the world's second-largest producer of the fruit, behind India.
While it was grown as an ornamental plant in early Islamic gardens, the lemon was used for medicinal purposes also. It was found useful as a cure for nausea and sea sickness. While vitamin C had not yet been discovered, it was discovered the juice prevented scurvy, a disease that ravaged crews on long sea voyages.
In the kitchen (or galley!) lemon has the power to add flavor and balance to almost any recipe – from sweet to savory dishes. Indeed, a squeeze of lemon is as good as a dash of salt in bringing out the flavor of just about any food. On your tongue, salt and lemons work a similar kind of magic.
Biochemically speaking, salty and sour taste receptors are relatively simple compared with their sweet, bitter and umami counterparts: Tasting salty and sour flavors depends solely on the detection of ions — sodium for salt, hydrogen for sour — whereas tasting other flavors depends on more complicated receptors. Acidity, like saltiness, also leads to an increase in salivation — both flavors literally make food more mouthwatering.
For most dishes — with the obvious exception of baked goods and lemon-marinated meats and vegetables — a squeeze of lemon should be added just as the cooking finishes. Cooking lemon for a long period of time will concentrate the flavor and can make it bitter. It can also dull the color of vegetables if added too soon, whereas it will brighten color if added at the end (so long as you haven’t killed it with overcooking).
If you do go overboard and your food tastes too sour, a tiny bit of sugar (just a pinch at a time!) should save the day, even in savory dishes. While lemon juice is used for its acidic properties to balance flavors and add tartness, lemon zest is often used to add a bright, zesty flavor to dishes. Lemon juice and zest play nicely with bitterness, sweetness, piquancy, and umami, helping them reach their full potential.
The greatest concentration of the lemon’s uplifting flavors and aromas are found in the outermost portion of the peel, also known as the zest. The peel of the lemon is composed of the zest (thin colored layer) and pith (thicker white, spongey layer). The zest is where you’ll find the most flavor-bang for your lemon-buck hiding, because it contains much more lemon oil than does the juice. The flavor and aroma of lemon oil is mainly composed of the aromatic compounds citral and limonene. When removing the zest, take care not to include the pith. Zest which contains pith will have an unpleasant bitter note.
The scent and flavor of lemon have been labeled as refreshing, energizing, zesty, and clean. Research conducted on lemon's olfactory properties found that lemon oil enhances a positive mood. In cooking, zest is especially handy in instances where you want to add infuse concentrated amounts of sweet, citrus flavor, but not additional liquid or tartness, as with pie crusts. Lemon zest is used to into a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
The Best of the Zest
VomFASS Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil is enhanced with the natural essential oils extracted from lemon zest, providing a lemony full flavor and aroma without the hassle or possible bitterness of zest. Toss vomFASS Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil with salads, vegetables, and pasta. Rub it onto pork, chicken, and fish. Bake it into cakes, muffins, and snacks. And add a dash to anything and everything containing mayonnaise.We know you’ll want to have a beautiful big bottle on hand as your very own “secret” ingredient.