The Amazing Power of Lemons and Limes

There are so many awesome flavors which are fresh and exciting but the ones which truly stands out to me are the flavors of lemons and limes. I always keep a good quantity of both of these citrus varieties on hand and store them in my refrigerator cooling drawer as they remain fresher for a longer period. They are an integral part of my pantry and I use them routinely for a myriad of dishes. Not only are they both useful in culinary preparations but they are also fantastic cleaners and purifiers and are well known for their astringent properties. I love them for cooking and making desserts, salad dressing, seafood dishes, roast chicken and many pasta dishes just to name a few.

Lemon rosemary scones

The bright yellow skins of lemons immediately bring to mind sunshine and goodness. This citrus is like a magical ingredient and is a flavor booster for so many things with just one squeeze. The lemon rind and the flesh are equally valuable and useful. A zest of lemon can brighten and tone the flavors of sweet foods making them more exciting and fresh tasting. Try some lemon zest on plain yoghurt with some honey. Grate lemon zest onto your couscous or quinoa salad; it will elevate them to another level. Add a bit of zest to your custards, oatmeal or porridges and sweeten with a bit of honey or brown sugar. Discover how this small addition can liven up some basic flavors to something special.

Lemons were first cultivated in Asia. They then found there way to the Middle East and Europe by traveler and traders. They are a hybrid between a bitter orange and a lime. Lemons are rich in vitamin c and are a little less acidic than limes. As lemons are much larger than limes, they give far more juice per fruit than their smaller cousin. Lemons have a distinctive sour taste and like limes, they help stimulate your saliva glands. This process is absolutely necessary for the taste buds receptors to send messages to your brain, which in turn help you to perceive flavors.

A squeeze of lemon on the flavor scale is equal to a dash of salt in food enhancement. It is important to know how to balance your flavors, as too much of either of these enhancers can spoil the meal.

Lemon’s sour taste packs a punch to the flavor profile. Adding acids to foods cuts back on greasiness and helps to ramp up the fresh taste. Both lemon and lime juice contain citric acids which help to break down fats, carbs and proteins. A slice of lemon or lime in warm water is a great palate cleanser as well as a good way to keep our bodies trim. Lemons are also highly valued in aromatherapy as they aid in relaxation.

Lemons and limes are great cleaning agents as both have astringent properties. A lemon dipped in salt or baking powder is wonderful for cleaning copper and brass. They are also natural sanitizers and deodorizers. Clean and freshen your sink disposal with a lime or lemon cut in two. Flip the switch with water flowing and then whizz them in the disposal to freshen and deodorize. Lemon oil is extracted from the skins of the fruit and is used for wooden furniture cleaners and polish as well as other general household cleaners. These two citrus along with grapefruit are well known for their disinfecting properties.

Above: small Key limes are tart and full bodied.

Limes also originated in Asia and are very important elements in the cuisines of India, Thailand and Mexico. There are several varieties of limes, each having a particular flavor and can vary in appearance from the bumpy skinned and highly fragrant Kaffir limes to the smooth small Key limes and the most commonly used larger Persian limes.

Ceviche made from fresh Dorade fillets are marinated in lime juice with sweet peppers, onions and hot peppers.

Limes have wonderful pickling qualities and are good as quick preserving agents and prevent foods from oxidizing and turning brown. Limes are essential in making ceviches, guacamole and key lime pies. No seafood dish would be complete without the tangy fresh zest of a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. Limes also add a wonderful acidic factor to so many dishes and really heighten the flavors of many cocktails and drinks. Limeaid is made and enjoyed all over the Caribbean and is a cool refreshing treat for all ages. Fresh lime juice is an essential ingredient for making rum sours, caipirinhas and mojitos. Likewise, Planters punch or ‘ti ponche ‘ which is very popular in the Caribbean requires a serious measure of lime juice along with a good rum as the basis of the libation. Fruit juices such as orange and pineapple are also added along with a dash of angostura bitters and some grenadine syrup. This drink is the flavor of the islands.

Watermelon and cucumber mojito with fresh muddled limes. Recipe on previous GGHS post

It should be noted that lime juice has a propensity to burn the melanin when exposed to ultra violet light and cause discoloration. If you are at the beach and you squeeze some fresh lime into your drink or on your grilled seafood and some liquid drips down on your hands or body accidentally, be careful to wash off the area before going into the sun. Exposure to the sun of your body part that has lime, will quickly cause the skin to burn and darken. The just attests to the awesome power of citrus.

There are so many tasty dishes to which a bit of zest or juice of citrus is added unbeknownst to many. A squeeze of lime or lemon juice is tantamount to a pinch of salt in seasoning. It is an important food and flavor enhancer. I often liven my creamy seafood pasta sauces with a bit of lemon zest and a squeeze of juice which give a wow factor. I also find that green beans and asparagus become brighter and their natural flavors awaken with the addition of lemon juice or some fresh zest. I also make lots of fruit compotes and I find that the zest is such a lovely addition. In my opinion it tones the sweetness of the fruit and sugars and brings a better harmony to the final product. It is important to learn the fine balance in adjusting flavors and the subtle differences between ‘just enough’ and ‘overkill’. Remember that practice really does make perfect in this realm.

Guacamole and Pico de Gallo both require lime to meld the flavors successfully.

If I was asked which ingredients were important in cooking as great flavor enhancer, I would have to say citrus and particularly lemons and limes. Often their value is overlooked and underestimated as most merely see them simply as acidic flavors. I have learned to deeply appreciate these little gems and I value the subtle differences which each one possess. Each fruit has its own character and sometimes they are not suitable to replace each other in recipes. This is especially true in cake and dessert recipes. One thing is for sure, the flavor of lemons and limes are essential in capturing umami. They help to balance flavors and assist foods to reach their full potential. Discover them again and reevaluate the wonderful flavors of these amazing fruit.

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