The Lemon: International Culinary Workhorse

The lemon, a fragrant, oval-shaped member of the citrus family, shows up all over the kitchen, from appetizers to desserts. While not eaten alone like its cousins the orange or grapefruit, lemons supply juice and an outer zest that are used in dishes all over the world. In culinary school, aspiring chefs learn many uses for lemons, whose flavor can stand alone or be the perfect complement to another dish.

Impressive Culinary Background

Lemons are available year-round, making them a standard feature in any chef's kitchen. Dangling temptingly from trees, lemons grow in several locations throughout the world, with California and Arizona as the top producers in the United States. Originally from southern Asia, lemons reportedly appeared in Italy in 200 AD. They were prized from the beginning, traded throughout Asia and Europe and traveled to the Americas with Christopher Columbus. Besides the distinct tart flavor that chefs love, lemons contain large amounts of vitamin C, with its attendant health benefits.

Chefs Find Lemons Versatile

The lemon is the star of beverages such as lemonade or the Italian liqueur, limoncello, and of classic dessert favorites such as lemon meringue and lemon bars. Chefs also use the lemon as a flavor enhancer, particularly for fish, vegetables and sauces such as Hollandaise. With its high acid content, the lemon is found in salad dressings in place of vinegar and as a marinade to tenderize and flavor meat.

While virtually every international cuisine incorporates the lemon, chefs use it especially often in Greek favorites such as lamb and chicken. The lemon also has a practical function; chefs apply lemon juice to sliced avocados and other fruits to avoid discoloration.

Culinary students quickly learn to appreciate the lemon as a hard-working kitchen companion. Although small, lemons are an essential culinary component that chefs everywhere keep close at hand.

Purdue University, Department of Horticulture & Landscape Architecture
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