Lemons and Limes: Pucker Power

by Bree West

lemons_and_limes_picLemons are small, oval shaped, bright yellow fruits belonging to the Rutaceae family and. They have a characteristic, sour smell and taste, and are acidic and tart, but still quite refreshing! Lemons contain mainly sugars and fruit acids, particularly citric acid. The peel of the lemon has two layers, the outermost layer ("zest") which has some essential oils, and the innermost layer which has no essential oils but does have a variety of health-promoting compounds.

Though we all think of 'sour' when we think of lemons, there is also a sweet variety of lemons, mainly the Meyer lemon, which is becoming increasingly popular. Meyer lemons are rounder and less acidic. Of the sour lemons, Eureka and Lisbon are the main types. The Eureka has fewer seeds and a more textured skin, while the Lisbon is seedless with smoother skin.

Lemon trees do not handle cold climates well and can therefore be somewhat difficult to cultivate. But, fortunately, lemon trees flower continuously and have fruit in stages of development during most all of the year; a single lemon tree can produce as many as 3.000 lemons a year.

Lemons are native to southern China and Southeast Asia, where they were cultivated for thousands of years. Arab traders later carried lemons to Asia from where they spread to Europe where they were later carried to the New World by Christopher Columbus. Today, the United States—particularly California and Florida—and Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, and Turkey are the main producers of lemons.

Limes are similar to lemons; they have a textured outer shell and a sour fruit. Limes however, are green in color and typically smaller in size than lemons. They can be sweet or sour, though sweet limes aren't very common here in the United States. And sour limes actually have more sugar and citric acid concentrations than do lemons. Sweet limes do not have any citric acid, which makes them sweet in flavor. There are two main types of sour limes available, the Tahitian and the Key. Key limes are smaller and more acidic than the Tahitian variety.

limes_nutrition_vitamins_picLimes originated from Southeast Asia and were brought to Egypt and North Africa in the twentieth century by the Arabs. Later, they were taken to Spain where they spread to Europe and then were brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus. Of all citrus fruit trees, lime trees are the most susceptible to frost, which makes the Caribbean and other such warm, tropical places an ideal place for their production and cultivation.

Lemons and limes became increasingly popular after the 1890's when doctors discovered that people with scurvy (a disease caused by a vitamin C deficiency) could be cured by drinking citrus juice. Lemons were in such high demand that people were willing to pay a whole dollar per lemon—an incredibly high price for that time period. Scientists have since proven that lemon juice is beneficial because it is the most potent and concentrated source of vitamin C. In addition, lemons contain vitamins A, B1, B6, and P as well as potassium, magnesium, folate, flavonoids, and an important phytochemical called limonene. Limonene from lemons is currently being used in scientific studies to dissolve gallstones and is also showing some amazing promise in preventing cancer. The white spongy inner parts of the lemon contain the highest amount of limonene.

Limes don't have a very different nutritional profile from lemons. They too are great sources of vitamin C and also have B6, potassium, folate, flavonoids, and the important phytochemical limonene. Limes do have some phytochemicals that are high in antioxidant and anticancer properties, including flavonoids and limonene.

Interestingly, research has shown that lime juice can affect cell cycles. Specifically, it can affect the decision a cell makes to divide (mitosis) or die (apoptosis). Additionally, lime juice can help boost the activity of white blood cells, thus helping to enhance the immune system. Another interesting benefit of limes is that they act as strong antibiotics. This was demonstrated when many small villages in West Africa had a cholera outbreak, or epidemic. Cholera is a bacterial disease that is caused by vibrio cholerae in the intestines. The activity of this bacteria causes severe and serious diarrhea. Researchers found that consuming lime juice in the subject's main meal strongly helped to protect against cholera.

lemon_tree_vitamin_c_imageWhen purchasing lemons or limes, hold the fruit and decide if it is heavy. The heavier the fruit and the thinner the skin, the more juice it has. A ripe fruit should be firm, with a fine-textured peel and a deep yellow or green color. Acidity varies with the color of the lemon; a deep yellow lemon is less acidic than a lighter or greenish yellow one. Marks on the surface of the fruit usually don't affect the inside fruit, but obviously bruised or dried-out fruit should be avoided.

Store-bought lemons or limes should be stored at room temperature and away from direct sunlight or heat. They can last without refrigeration for about two weeks and if kept in the fridge, they can last up to six weeks. Additionally, lemons and limes can be juiced and stored for later use. To do this, simply squeeze the juice out of the fruit, pour it into ice cube trays, and place in the freezer. The frozen juice can be thawed out when ready for use. Lemon or lime zest can also be used, and can be dried to keep for later use if kept in a cool, dry place.

4 Ingredient Raw Lemon Pudding

Yield: 1 cup of pudding

Servings: 4


  • 1 avocado
  • 6 medjool dates, pitted (yield: 1/2 cup)
  • flesh from 2 lemons – without peel or seeds (yield: 1/3 cup) *see note
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
Find the directions halfway down the page at HealthfulPursuit.com

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