In the depths of winter and into the early spring, there's a bright sparkle if you know where to look: Meyer lemons hitting the shelves of the produce section. But just what is it that makes these lemons so special? And are they really that different from regular lemons?
If you've ever wondered about the difference between Meyer lemons and regular lemons, here's what you need to know.
When we talk about regular or common lemons, we're usually referring to Eureka or Lisbon lemons. These are the two most common lemon varieties found in the produce section.
- Appearance - Compared to their Meyer counterparts, regular lemons are noticeably larger in size, with thick, textured, bright, sunny skin, and medium yellow pulp.
- Taste - There's a reason most of us don't eat them out of hand — regular lemons are highly acidic. They're moderately sweet, but known for a tang that will make your mouth pucker.
- Availability - While there are certain times of year that trees will bear more fruit, regular lemons know no season. You'll find them readily available in the produce section all year long.
Recipes with Regular Lemons
Meyer lemons, on the other hand, were first introduced to the United States from China in the early 20th century by Frank Meyer, from whom they also got their name. This sweet winter citrus is thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. And that's what really sets it apart.
- Appearance - Meyer lemons are smaller and more round than regular lemons, with smoother, thin, deep yellow to orange skin, and dark yellow pulp. The differences are very distinct, especially when you see both varieties side by side.
- Taste - While they're moderately acidic, Meyer lemons don't have the same tang as regular lemons. Instead, they're much sweeter — so much so that some people enjoy adding the raw segments to their salads or desserts. Their rinds also have a more complex scent than regular lemons — a spicy bergamot fragrance that tastes and smells more like an herb or a spice.
- Availability - While regular lemons are readily available all year long, Meyer lemons are more seasonal. Your best bet for finding them is from December through May.
Recipes with Meyer Lemons
A regular lemon and a Meyer lemon
Can They Be Substituted for Each Other?
Yes, in most cases. Both Meyer lemons and regular lemons can be used in the same ways. You can juice them for cocktails, spritzers, or a vinaigrette, and use the pulp or zest for an array of sweet and savory dishes alike.
Just remember that regular lemons lack the sweetness of Meyer lemons. So, regular lemons will add a stronger acidity, while Meyer lemons will add more sweetness to a recipe. Also, some recipes really rely on that herbal, spicy quality of the Meyer lemon rind, and substituting the more brash and less nuanced peel of a regular lemon can make a recipe turn out rather differently.
Our suggestion when substituting regular lemons or lemon juice for Meyer lemons, is to go slowly and start with half the amount, then taste before adding the rest.
Have you ever tried Meyer lemons? Tell us your favorite way to cook or bake with them!
(Image credits: Kelli Foster)