Winter might be a season of dormancy for many plants but for citrus trees — like lemons — it’s a time when they’re at their best.
Melbourne-based fruiter Thanh Truong (aka The Fruit Nerd) shares a couple of tips to pick a good lemon and the best ways to cut and store them.
If you’re looking to grow your own lemons, he says there’s a trick to growing a big, juicy lemon tree — and it has to do with the type of fertiliser you use.
How to pick a juicy lemon
What signs should you look out for when it comes to picking a ripe, juicy, lemon? Thanh says it’s all in the texture of the skin.
“Smooth skin lemons represent maturity or ripeness,” he says.
“It’ll mean there’s more juice and it’s heavier, whilst one picked a little less ripe [will] be bumpy and it’s not going to have as much juice in it.”
Farmers usually harvest lemons when they’re transitioning from white to yellow, so if you’re buying lemons from the supermarket, Thanh recommends picking one that’s “at a darker yellow stage”.
There are a few lemon varieties grown in Australia: Eureka, Lisbon and Meyer (each with different benefits). If you’re a fan of citrus fruit like Thanh, then a Meyer lemon could be a good option for you.
“This is my favorite lemon,” he says.
“It’s half a lemon and half a mandarin, which gives it the qualities of both — it’s got the aroma and perfume and sweetness of a mandarin, but it’s got the sourness and tang of a lemon.
“My hack if you can’t buy a Meyer lemon, is to squeeze one part lemon and one part mandarin and you get the perfect, zesty, sweet tang,” he says.
Urinating on your lemon tree can help it grow
For a long time, people have sworn by urinating on citrus trees to help them grow and Thanh says this underrated hack can produce some good results.
Urinating on a lemon tree will give you [a] comparable amount [of nutrients] to a general fertiliser. These nutrients help with tree health, more flowering and more fruits,” he explains.
If you’d rather stick to a store-bought product, Thanh says a good fertiliser for your lemon tree generally includes nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium (NPK) in the ingredients list.
Cutting and storing lemons
You might have noticed chefs rolling their lemons before they cut them and then wonder why they do this extra little step?
Juicing a lemon can be a tough job, but Thanh explains when you roll a lemon before cutting it, it makes juicing easier.
“When you roll the lemon, you’re actually crushing the vesicles, so the juice is going to be easily accessible once you squeeze it” he says.
What you’re using your lemons for will determine the best way to cut it.
If you’re making homemade lemonade or cooking a recipe where you want to get all the juice out of your lemon, Thanh recommends cutting it horizontally rather than vertically. This way you’ll squeeze all the juice out of each segment.
But if you’re looking for lemon wedges to have alongside your food — like fish and chips — then cutting it vertically is the way to go.
The great thing about lemons — unlike some other fruit — is they last a long time. If you store them in a fridge, you’ll be able to keep them for up to six months.
Is bottled lemon juice a good alternative?
Bottled lemon juice could be a good alternative but there is a difference in taste.
“Bottled lemon juice has got preservatives in it and might have been cooked to make it shelf stable so it’s going to have a much more mellow lemon taste,” Thanh says.
“If you want something zingy and you’re going to eat it fresh, [like in salads, cocktails, or oysters] then a fresh lemon is the way to go.
“If you’re cooking a savory dish and [cooking] the lemon juice down, bottled juice is actually a good option,” he says.
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