What Makes Meyer Lemons So Special?

Bon Appétit

If ever you cross a recipe calling for Meyer lemons and think to yourself, “pshaw, any old lemon will do.” Think again. The truth is, they’re an entirely different breed. Compared to sour Eureka and Lisbon lemons (the varieties you’ll find year-round at most grocery stores), Meyer lemons are sweeter and less acidic, with lovely floral undertones. Slice into a Meyer lemon and its perfume-like aroma will fill the kitchen with notes of lavender and bergamot that linger in the air like the most wonderful scented candle.

So what are these marvels of nature, and how do you cook with them? Here’s what you need to know.

What are Meyer lemons, and why do BA editors love them?

Rounder and with smoother skins than conventional lemon varieties, Meyer lemons boast a golden-yellow rind and deep yellow flesh. Thought to be a hybrid between a citron and a mandarin orange, they’re sweeter, less acidic, and more aromatic than regular lemons.

“I love Meyer lemons because their skins are so sweet,” says test kitchen director Chris Morocco. He also notes that “the fruity floral flavor of their juice is so rounded and inviting, with just enough acid.” Production assistant Carly Westerfield says she never appreciated Meyer lemons until she moved to California: “Then I got it,” she says. “I love them in sweet applications when I want the flavor of lemon, but less acidity,” like in panna cotta and sorbet, Carly says.

Native to China, thin-skinned Meyer lemons were first brought to America in 1908 by USDA employee Frank N. Meyer, for whom they’re named. These fruit trees thrive in full sun and have become popular in warm climates like California, Texas, and Florida. For most of the 20th century, this lemon variety was considered too thin-skinned and tender to withstand the rigors of large-scale commercial distribution. And so it became known as the “backyard lemon,” grown almost exclusively on neighborhood citrus trees.

That is until chefs like Lindsey Shere, who led the pastry program at Chez Panisse for nearly three decades, started using them. In Chez Panisse Desserts, published in 1985, Shere highlights the lemons’ unique floral qualities in recipes for Meyer lemon soufflé and Meyer lemon meringue pie. In the early aughts, the unique citrus fruit featured prominently in chef Craig Stoll’s Meyer Lemon Budino at San Francisco institution Delfina and pastry chef Karen Demasco’s Meyer Lemon Shortcakes With Meyer Lemon Curd at Locanda Verde in NYC.

Today, Meyer lemons star in both sweet and savory dishes. They add brightness to the Risotto al Limone at Via Carota, an Italian restaurant in New York City, and the Agrodolce Chicken at Irwin’s in Philadelphia (one of our Best New Restaurants of 2022). Sweet or savory, you too can cook with Meyer lemons at home—more on that below.

Where can I find Meyer lemons?

Luckily for us, Meyer lemons are more widely available these days. Look for them at the grocery store in the winter months (a.k.a. citrus season); they peak in January and February, but you’ll likely see them stocked through early spring. You can also order Meyer lemons online from growers like Rincon Tropics or Pearson Ranch, or invest in your very own Meyer lemon tree. Note that it will likely be at least two years before the tree starts bearing fruit.

How can I use Meyer lemons?

You can substitute an equal amount of Meyer lemon juice in any recipe calling for regular lemon juice. It won’t deliver the same puckery punch; instead, adding a more balanced sweet-sour tang and floral undertones. Lemon curd is good, but Meyer lemon curd? Otherworldly. Carly loves to twist a wide strip of the aromatic peel over a martini, but the grated zest is equally delicious in cakes and scones. Let the floral flavor shine in lemon bars, lemon ricotta cake, lemon meringue pie, or any of our favorite lemon desserts. Have too many lemons? You can always make our favorite lemonade, sweetened with a syrup made from the muddled rinds.

Their mild acidity and lush fragrance make Meyer lemons a natural fit in desserts, but they’re also great in savory dishes where you want brightness without astringency. Try them in dishes like Pasta al Limone, Chicken Piccata, or lemony white fish. Chris also uses them for a less acerbic take on preserved lemons—a perfect excuse to make this vibrant preserved lemon loaf cake.

Seeking more inspiration? Our friends at Epicurious compiled all their favorite Meyer lemon recipes.

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Author:Zoe Denenberg | Website:www.bonappetit.com

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