Meyer lemons are a popular selection right now at supermarkets, especially as they’re coming into their peak season, which is late winter and early spring. But what exactly is a Meyer lemon, and what distinguishes them from other lemons you spot at the store?
Meyer lemons, or Citrus × meyeri, are a cross between regular lemons and mandarin oranges. These aromatic fruits have a uniform, round shape absent of any protrusions around the stem, a thin, edible, smooth skin, glossy green leaves and a golden yellow hue that’s reminiscent of a fresh egg yolk.
The Meyer lemon is native to China, where it was originally used only as a decorative houseplant, thanks to its dwarf size, fragrant aroma and ability to grow indoors with ease. In the early 1900s, the fruit was brought to the United States by Frank Meyer, an agricultural explorer who worked for the Department of Agriculture, and eventually cultivated in citrus-growing states like California, Texas and Florida.
Partly because of their historical use as a decorative plant and partly because of their delicate stature—thin skins made them hard to ship—Meyer lemons didn’t reach the mainstream American food audience until the 2000s, when Martha Stewart began featuring the fruit in tarts, pastas and other recipes.
With sweeter juice, a thinner peel, lower acid and a more prominent aroma, Meyer lemons are incredibly versatile. (Because Meyer lemon peels don’t have a thick layer of bitter white pith, you can cook with them, too.) Use them anywhere you desire a lemon flavor without the lemon’s characteristic biting, sharp acidity—in drinks, vinaigrettes, pastas, braises, desserts and more.
Share your favorite use of Meyer lemons with us below!