Lemons probably originated on the Indian subcontinent and limes in Southeast Asia. Depictions of lemons were found in early Roman mosaics. It seems likely that both lemons and limes were popularized in Europe at the time of the Crusades, and Columbus may have brought the seeds of both fruits to the New World on one of his voyages. Citrus fruits, including lemons and limes, were established in what is now Florida by the 1500s.
In the 18th century, the British navy ordered ships going on long journeys to carry limes for their crews, resulting in the nickname “limeys” for British sailors. The limes were discovered to prevent scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency. During the California Gold Rush, scurvy was so rampant and fresh produce so scarce that miners were willing to pay a dollar a lemon. That would be $20 for each lemon by today’s standards. It wasn’t until vitamin C was discovered in 1932 that scientists understood that it was this vitamin, not the fresh fruit itself that protected against scurvy.
Because they are tropical plants, lemons and limes are grown in warm regions in the United States. The commercial lemon and lime industry is centered mainly in Florida and southern California, where citrus cultivation was established during the Gold Rush. Florida claims the bulk of the lime production and California has most of the lemon production.
Types of Lemons and Limes
Discover the flavors of specialty Meyer lemons, Key limes, and other types of lemons and limes.
Lemons and limes: nutrition
These tart, flavorful fruits contain some potassium and are rich in vitamin C. Just 2 tablespoons of lemon juice provides a little over 15 percent of the RDA. Lime juice contains less vitamin C than lemon juice, with 2 tablespoons providing just 10 percent of the RDA.
Along with supplying substantial amounts of vitamin C, the health benefits of these fruits also rest in their fiber and phytochemicals. The peels of lemons and limes are rich in limonene phytochemicals, which seep into the juice and may help protect against cancer.
How to Cook with Lemons and Limes
The juice and zest of lemons and limes add tart flavor to soups, curries, salads, vegetables—and even to baked goods.
Published February 29, 2016