What are lemons?

Oval in shape with a pronounced bulge on one end, lemons are one of the most versatile fruits around, and contain a high level of vitamin C.

Although the juicy yellow flesh is a little too sour to eat on its own, its citrus fragrance and tartness means it's wonderful combined with all manner of ingredients and dishes, from sweet to savoury. The bright yellow skin, when zested, can be used as well, making lemons a kitchen essential.

Find out about the health benefits of lemon water with our guide.

How to prepare lemons

To extract the maximum amount of juice, make sure the lemons are at room temperature, then firmly roll them back and forth on a work surface under your palm a couple of times – that helps to break down some of the flesh's fibres.

Alternatively, microwave lemons for around 30 seconds, depending on the size of the lemon – warming them up helps them give up more juice.

How to use lemons

Serve fresh wedges or slices with fish or add to the pan when roasting veg or meat. Add the zest to salads, baking or sauces. Use the juice to make salad dressings, lemonade, to deglaze a pan or add a couple of drops to water to make acidulated water for keeping chopped veg or fruit from discolouring. Use the flesh and peel in marmalades and preserves. Halve and use to stuff a chicken before roasting.

Watch our video on how to make healthy one-pot roast chicken with lemon juice & thyme:

How to store lemons

In the fridge (for a couple of weeks) or in a fruit bowl (for around one week). Once cut, wrap and keep in the fridge for up to four days.

When are lemons in season?

All year round, but at their best from January until March.

Learn how to grow your own lemons from the experts at Gardeners’ World.

Choose the best lemons

Look for unblemished, firm lemons that feel heavy for their size and have no tinges of green (which means they're underripe). Avoid very pale lemons, as they are older and will contain less juice.

The best lemons for juicing or serving in wedges are those with a smooth, thin skin. The best for zesting are those with a thicker, knobbly skin, which also tend to be on the large size.

If you intend to use the zest, buy unwaxed lemons (shops should state this clearly). If you can't find them, scrub the lemons thoroughly before zesting.

Alternatives to lemon

Try lime.