All About Lemons and How to Use Them

All About Lemons

Fresh Lemons at the Market
Lemons. Pedro Alberto Perez / EyeEm/Getty Images

Lemons add acid, which can heighten other flavors, and a bright, tangy flavor to foods. Lemons are full of vitamin C, folate, fiber, and potassium. See how to choose the best lemons and how to use them below.

Almost all lemons sold in North America are either Eureka or Lisbon. These lemons are so similar - medium-sized, oval, bright yellow inside and out, with a tangy and bright flavor - that they are grown and packed together.

A much smaller Meyer lemon crop comes ​from California, Arizona, and Florida. Meyer lemons are sweeter than regular lemons, with an orange-like flavor and aroma.

When Are Lemons In Season?

Lemon tree
Clive Nichols/Getty Images

Unlike other citrus, lemons don't need a ton of heat to ripen. They also bloom and ripe concurrently - that is, they'll have blossoms and fruit on the same tree at the same time. Trees in particularly temperate areas can have fruit ripening year-round (or almost). Commercial trees, however, tend to be harvest 3 or 4 times in their season, which is about 6 months long. Most lemons (95%) grown in the U.S. are from California and Arizona, with coastal California groves harvesting in late winter through early summer and Arizona groves harvesting in fall and early winter. 

How to Buy and Store Lemons

Bowl of Lemons
Lemons on the Counter. Hero Images/Getty Images

As with all fruits, look for lemons that feel heavy for their size. Also, the old wives' tale is true: smaller citrus fruit is juicier. As luck would have it, our bigger-is-better culture has made smaller citrus fruit cheaper, too. Look for small, heavy fruit without bruises, cuts, or blemishes that will lead it to rot or mold quickly.

Lemons will be juiciest when stored at room temperature—just in a bowl on the counter works great. They will keep longer, though, if stored loosely wrapped in plastic in the crisper drawer in the fridge.

How to Juice Lemons

Turning lemons into juice
Juicing Lemons. Westend61/Getty Images

Lemon juice is the common way to use lemons.

Get as much juice as possible from lemons:

  1. Have lemons at room temperature
  2. Roll lemons firmly on a counter with the palm of your hand to loosen juice sacs
  3. Cut in half and juice with a lemon reamer, or citrus juicer
  4. Or - my favorite method - cut into quarters, leaving the stem end attached, and squeeze with your hands, using your fingers to work out every bit of juice (this method also whitens your fingernails, softens your cuticles, and smooths your skin)

How to Use Whole Lemons

Jar of Preserved Lemons
Salted Lemons. imagenavi/Getty Images

When most people think of using lemons they think of lemon juice. And lemon juice has endless uses. But lemons are also a whole fruit. Not one, perhaps, most of us would consider eating out-of-hand, but a whole fruit nonetheless. Lemon sections can be great in otherwise sweet salads, and preserved lemons are softened and mellowed by a long soak in salty lemon juice, rendering their peel not just edible, but delicious. Plus, lemons can be used as an all-natural, non-toxic cleaner, softener, and deodorizer.

How to Freeze Lemons

Frozen lemon juice
Freezing Lemon Juice. Kylie Townsend/Getty Images

The juice sacs in the lemons will burst if you freeze the fruits whole. Luckily, if you're willing to separate lemons into their juice and their zest, they freeze beautifully.

How to Freeze Lemon Juice

Lemon juice freezes very nicely indeed. So feel free to juice lemons and freeze the juice - in quarts, cups, or ice cubes, whatever amount works best for you.

How to Freeze Lemon Zest

Lemon zest - the bright yellow part of the peel (never include the bitter white pith beneath)- also freezes very well. Grate it off of lemons before you juice them, freeze it in a small resealable plastic bag, and use in teaspoon portions to add to salad dressings, soups, or roasts. 

More Ways to Make Lemons Last

You can freeze the juice and/or zest, as outlined above, or make preserved lemons to keep lemony goodness around... or, you can make treats to keep in the cupboard (or the fridge if you don't want to deal with hot-water-processing them) if you find yourself awash in lemons:

Sweet Lemon Recipes

Fresh lemons and lemonade
Homemade Lemonade. jeff giniewicz/Getty Images

There is almost no end of sweet uses for lemons. Lemon Bars

Savory Lemon Recipes

Egg Lemon Soup. Photo © Molly Watson

Lemons are most commonly used in desserts, but lemon juice just may be the perfect, gentle acid for homemade salad dressings, and it has other savory uses as well: