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There are so many recipes that use lemon or lime juice because it's one of the best acids to use to enhance other flavors in your dishes.
Choosing lemons is simple - look for those that don't feel too heavy in the hand. Heaviness is a sign of a thick skin. The thicker the feel of the skin, the less flesh there will be - and the less flesh the less juice. Squeeze the lemon lightly and if it's too firm, the skin is too thick. It can take a bit of practice, but with the price of lemons today it's a good idea to be very picky.
Limes are pretty easy to select because they are generally thinner skinned. Comparing the feel of limes and lemons is a good way to learn to choose the best lemons.
Fresh lemons and limes keep fairly well in the crisper of your fridge (about 2 weeks). After a lot of testing, I have found that a large lemon with a thinner skin (or medium sized lime) will contain about 4 tablespoons of juice, but when a recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, you never really know exactly how this will affect your dish. Start with 2 tablespoons of juice and adjust the amount for taste.
I never use bottled lemon or lime juice. It just doesn't taste anything at all like fresh squeezed juice. This is because it is usually made from varying concentrations of juice, water and lemon or lime oil. If you must use bottled lemon juice, shake the bottle well. Use equivalent amounts of bottled to fresh lemon juice in a recipe.
There are a lot of ways to get fresh peel off of your lemons or limes. Keep in mind that you want to get just the yellow or green outer layer. The white part between that and the flesh is the bitter pith. The lemon zester has 4 or five small holes with cutting surfaces that are narrow enough to not cut down into the pith. You can also purchase a lemon stripper that cuts a larger slice of peel - the size of what one might use in a cocktail.
I prefer to use a microplane for the easiest removal of zest. It is simple to use and cuts just deeply enough to not get any pith. I can remove the zest of a whole lemon in a couple of minutes.
Meyer lemons are thought to be a cross between a lemon and an orange - possibly a mandarin orange. They are a Chinese fruit and were brought to the west by Frank Meyer. He was an agricultural explorer who worked for the USDA and introduced them to the U.S. in 1908 after a trip to China.
The Meyer lemon is a little rounder and the skin is between the color of an orange and a lemon. The flavor is not as tart, with a slight sweetness to it that makes it great for cooking and for dressings.
Key limes are smaller than regular limes, round and are actually more of a yellow color when fully ripe. They are more widely available in groceries now and are the main ingredient in Key Lime Pie. Most pie recipes, however, call for regular limes. If you do choose to use key limes, keep in mind that they are more acidic and have a more pungent and tart flavor than regular limes.
I have tested a bottled key lime juice for the Key Lime Pie recipe on the Dr. Gourmet web site. The Florribbean 100% Key Lime Juice was simply terrible. The pie was not edible and the finished product had a plastic taste to it.
1/4 cup lemon juice = 15 calories, 0 fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, <1g protein, 5g carbohydrates, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, Vitamin K = 0 mcg
1/4 cup lime juice = 17 calories, 0 fat, 0g sat fat, 0g mono fat, <1g protein, 5g carbohydrates, 0mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, Vitamin K = 2 mcg
Timothy S. Harlan, M.D.
April 21, 2008