The Romans used lemons in all types of poisons in their traditional medicine. However, we use them to add extra zing to our savoury foods.
Some believe the fruit belongs to Southern India, some to Burma or China. Whatever the origin, it was first introduced to Europe by Arabs who brought them to Spain in the 11th century, almost at the same time as in Northern Africa.
Generally believed to be a hybrid of sour orange and citron, lemon is considered important to bring flavour to our food. Despite being tart, acidic and astringent lemons are surprisingly refreshing. Though available throughout the year, the peak season is from May to August.
Lemons are oval in shape and have a yellow texturised outer peel. Like other citrus fruits, their inner flesh is enclosed in eight to ten segments. The wonders of citric acid were discovered by Europeans in the medieval times and the benefits of lemon juice were recorded in the 13th century.
Lemon juice is widely used in a variety of food and drinks; the most common being lemonade, soft drinks and cocktails. It is also used as a short term preservative, especially for food items that tend to oxidise and turn brown after being sliced, such as apples, bananas, avocados, etc., where its acid denatures the enzymes that cause browning and degradation.
The juice and rind of lemon are used to make marmalade, while its slices and rind are used to garnish food and drinks. Lemon zest, the grated outer rind of the fruit, is used to add flavour to baked food items such as puddings, rice, etc. Lemon preserves are as much part of Moroccan food as lemon pickle is that of Indian and to some extent Pakistani cuisine.
This yellow wonder is blessed with the power of curing digestive problems like nausea, biliousness, heart burn, constipation and worm infestations. It also works as a liver tonic by increasing the production of bile which helps digest fat and dissolve gallstones. For people planning to lose weight, this is an essential ingredient to all diet plans since it is known to boost metabolism and burn calories.
Enriched with vitamin B and C, it helps accelerate the healing process, treat infections, reduce fever and improve calcium metabolism. Not only that, it is also a diuretic due to which its use is highly advisable for people with urinary tract infections, uric acid problems, kidney stones, arthritis and rheumatism. It contains flavonoid, a compound that works as an antioxidant. It also plays a role in decreasing the incidence of colon, prostrate and breast cancer. Besides that, it aids in flushing bacteria and toxins from the body.
In cases of internal haemorrhage and bleeding from the nose and gums, lemon juice can do wonders. It not only stops bleeding, but also strengthens the vessels making them less vulnerable to rupture. The potassium content makes it valuable for the heart; it increases HDL levels while lowering blood pressure.
Lemon balms are recommended for all types of fever, due to its amazing ability of enabling the body perspire. Menstrual cramps are also relieved by its application. Besides this, these balms are also used to lift the spirits in cases of anxiety, menopause and depression. When applied to the skin, the balm brings out the hidden radiance, detoxifying and erasing wrinkles. When applied over acne it not only dries it but also stops its spread.
A mixture of lemon in coffee helps in treating malaria as well as headaches and migraines. To relieve heart burn, drink a glass of water with two teaspoons of lemon juice in it.
To get rid of dandruff, apply lemon juice to the scalp, massage and then rinse your hair as usual; while for softer hands and feet, soak in equal parts of lemon juice and water, rinse and then dry with a towel. Lemon juice applied on the face gives a beautiful glow to it.
Before the development of fermentation based processes lemons were the primary commercial source of citric acid. It is also a great cleaning agent; nowadays it is claimed to be an ingredient of many dishwashing detergents. A halved lemon dipped in salt or baking powder is used to brighten copper utensils. Lemon juice helps remove the grease, bleaches stains, and acts as a disinfectant and deodoriser; when mixed with baking soda, it removes stains from plastic food containers.
Lemon oil is used as a wood cleaner and polish, where its solvent property is employed to dissolve old wax, fingerprints and grime.
Lemons remain fresh at room temperature for about a week if they are not exposed to sunlight. To get more juice out of a lemon bring it to room temperature before squeezing.
Lemons which have a rather thin skin are more juicy as compared to those with thicker peel; so while buying lemons choose those which are heavy for their size and the peels have a finely grained texture. They should be completely yellow in colour as those that have a green tinge are not fully ripe and hence will be more acidic. Signs of over-mature fruit include wrinkling, soft or hard patches and dull colouring.
Lemon juice and zest can also be stored for later use. Place freshly squeezed lemon juice in ice cube trays, when frozen store them in plastic bags in the freezer. Dried lemon zest can be stored in a cool and dry place in an airtight glass container.