The lime is a round fruit that is pointed at both ends. It’s greener than the lemon, to which it is related.
Limes grow (in clusters) on a small citrus tree (rarely higher than 10 to 12 feet), which was native to India. It now grows in the Mediterranean basin, Mexico, the West Indies, Florida and southern California (the trees grow particulary well in southern Florida, where most U.S. limes are purchased).
The fruit is a source of lime juice and oil of lime, which is used to flavor food and beverages (Lime has a sharp, sour flavor). Limade is prepared from limes in the same way that lemonade is prepared from lemons.
The lemon is a small, yellow and oval-shaped fruit that’s slightly pointy at both ends (A thick, spongy membrane lines the skin. It encloses 6 to 8 parts that contain the pulp, juice and seeds. Lemons may have only a few very small seeds or non at all. The juice (rich in vitamins A, B and C) is usually very tart, but some types of lemons actually have sweet juice!). The skin is dotted with tiny oil glands that resemble pores.
The lemon tree’s native to southeastern Asia, but it’s grown commercially mostly in countries around the Mediterranean Sea and in southern California.
It’s a small evergreen wit spreading brances that it an irregular shape and is covered with short, stout spines, has long, pointed green leaves and large, fragrant flowers (that grow singly or in clusters). The buds are reddish purple, but the flower petals are white.
The lemon tree thrives in tropical and subtropical climates (the trees were once grown commercially only in dry regions, because rainly summers permit diseases to thrive. But due to the development of fungicides (fungus-killers) and frozen concentrates, lemon trees can be grown in humid, subtropical Florida. Practically all California growers use smudge pots to heat their orchards because the trees do not resist frost well. Sudden heat and wind can also affect both trees and fruit (windbreaks are used for protection).
These trees are raised by grafting buds to seedling rootstocks of other types of citrus fruits, such as grapefruit, the rough lemon (a relative of the lemon; the fruit’s not useful, but the rootstock’s sturdy) or sweet orange (the rootstock used most often in California).
They bloom and produce fruit almost continuously in the right climate and with proper care. The trees bear most fruit during winter and early summer.
Lemon trees do not require much water, just good, well-drained soil; too much water will grow the trees quickly, but produce less fruit. Overirrigaton may kill them.
Lemons must be picked by hand and pass a size test (Pickers use a metal ring to determine size. Each fruit is passed through the ring. Only those that are two and one-fourth inches or more in diameter are chosen). Smaller fruits are left on the tree until they grow larger.
Lemons are different from all other citrus fruits because they become more edible after they’re picked (and the green fruits are also picked. They’re then ripened in special curing rooms where the temperature’s kept at 56 to 60 degrees F., humidity 85-90%.)
In the past, most commercially-grown lemons were shipped as fresh fruit. But now, many are made into frozen concentrates. One important lemon by-product is citric acid, used as a base for carbonated beverages, as a laxative in medicines and as a flavoring in baked goods.
Lemon fruit and juice are widely used in cooking, beverages and candies. The oil’s used for flavorings and making perfumes.
The lemon is a special type of many-celled berry (a hesperidium).
How to Pick the Freshest Lemons and Limes
The juiciest, tangiest lemons have fine-textured skin and feel heavy for their size. Rough, thick skin is a sign of dry fruit. Tinges of green are OK, for they only mean the juice will be slightly more acid.
Avoid soft, spongy lemons with hints of decay on the stem ends.
Limes should be green, with no yellow (brown spots are OK). Avoid limes that are hard, for the pulp will be mealy and dry. Look for thin-skinned limes that give slightly.
Citrus fruits such as lemons and limes should be stored at a room temperature of 60 to 70 degrees and used within two weeks. If you prefer them cold, go ahead and refrigerate them, but don’t keep them in plastic bags.
Three Unusual Uses for a Lemon
1. Substitute lemon juice for vinegar in many recipes. The resulting taste will be fresher and brighter.
2. A squeeze (or two) of lemon juice will refresh the taste of canned, packaged or frozen vegetables.
3. Toss squeezed and grated lemons into the garbage disposal. They’ll keep it clean and sweet smelling.
British sailors became known as “limeys” because limes were their shipboard safeguard against scurvy (the vitamin C deficiency disease that once ravaged whole navies).
The world production of lemons is over 1.6 million tons every year. Used to freshen everyting from iced drinks to soap and perfume, the fruit is an excellent source of vitamin C.