Lemons are such versatile ingredient and a staple in so may recipes. You can use all of the fruit itself – rind and juice – and even the leaves. So if you love to cook, having your own lemon tree is a great option to have fresh lemons on hand. Even if you only have a small garden, or just a patio or balcony, you can grow a lemon tree. Some varieties grow very well in pots. But which is the best type of lemon tree to grow if you love cooking?
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Just how many types of lemons are there?
A lemon is a lemon, isn’t it? Most people know of a couple of different types of lemon, such as the popular Eureka or Lisbon lemon.
Traditional citrus lemon originates from Asia, but varieties of these delicious citrus fruits are now grown commercially all around the world from Italy and Spain to Brazil, Australia and the US. Some types of ‘lemon’ are actually hybrids between lemons and other types of citrus like mandarins or limes.
The dozens of lemon variteies available today include:
- Yen Ben
and many more. This enormous variety might seem overwhelming if you are trying to choose one type of lemon to grow.
Choosing the right type of lemon to grow
A lemon tree is a wonderful addition to most gardens, The tree itself is evergreen, so looks attractive all year round. The small white lemon blossoms smell divine and I always love the pops of yellow from the ripe fruit.
When choosing the best type of lemon tree to grow at home, you need to take into account your local climate and the lemon varieties that grow well where you live. This might not be the same as the lemons you see for sale at the shops, as these can be imported from elsewhere.
The best way to know is to visit your local plant nursery and see which types of lemon trees they have for sale. Read the growing directions to see what type of soil is suitable and how much light the lemon tree needs, Does it need a sheltered spot? Will you need to keep your lemon in a pot so it can be brought inside over winter? Talk to the nursery staff about where you are planning to plant your tree and see what they recommend.
Once you have narrowed down which varieties grow well where you live, then it’s time to consider other factors, most importantly how they taste.
Popular lemon varieties for cooking
Most lemon recipes use the traditional tart, acidic lemon flavour that we are used to. The high acidity level of lemons is why they taste sour. These acidic lemons are the ones most commonly grown commercially and likely to be available at your local shops.
The humble Eureka lemon is probably best known as the traditional ‘backyard’ lemon tree. It’s also known as the Lemon 4 Seasons in New Zealand, because it produces lemons all year round (although the biggest crop is in in winter).
Eureka lemons trees are almost thornless. They also grow well in containers, so they are a great option for your balcony or patio or where you might need to bring your lemon inside during cold winters. Dwarf Eureka lemon trees are a great option for pots.
When it comes to cooking with lemons, Eureka lemons are very versatile. They have a thick, aromatic rind which makes them perfect for zesting. The lemons are quite large and yield a lot of juice. And they are quite often nearly seedless.
Lisbon lemons are quite similar to Eureka lemons in many ways. You can spot a Eureka lemon by its characteristic pointy end.
The Lisbon lemon tree is quite thorny and slightly more resistant to heat and cold than the Eureka lemon. If you grow a Lisbon lemon, you can expect it to produce more lemons in winter.
Lisbon lemons are just as versatile for cooking with as Eureka lemons. However they have a thinner skin which can be harder to zest and the they do usually have more seeds.
Meyer lemons are a much sweeter variety of lemon than Eureka or Lisbon lemons. That’s because they are a cross between a citron and a manderin (Mandarin orange). The fruit is smaller and rounder than other lemons and the rind is thinner and slightly more orange too.
Growing a Meyer lemon tree is a good option in cooler climates as it is reasonably hardy and more cold tolerant than some other varieties. The tree has very few thorns, which is a bonus. Meyer lemons grow all year round, but produce their main crop in winter. Because of their thinner skin, Meyer lemons can be more easily damaged.
I have a Meyer lemon tree because it is more resistant to the cool winters where I live, and also because it’s my favourite to cook with. The sweeter taste of Meyer lemons makes them a wonderful choice for desserts and baking.
More unusual lemon varieties
If you already have a traditional lemon and have room for another, you might like to consider growing a more exotic variety too. You can never have too many lemons!
These beautiful variegated pink lemons are a type of Eureka lemon. A natural mutation produced lemons with a striped outer skin and a spectacular pink flesh.
As part of the Eureka lemon family, pink variegated lemon treess have similar growing requirements. They also make excellent container plants..
You can use pink lemons in any type of cooking. The juice is quite clear with just a hint of pink and the flavour is much milder than traditional acidic lemons too. Pink lemons really come into their own when used as garnishes or slices, where the beautiful pink colour is on display.
You can buy your own beautiful pink variegated lemon from Yarden.
Buddha’s hand fruit is a type of citron that looks a lot like a lemon, although a very lumpy one. You can see how it gets it’s name from the ‘fingers’, which can be open or closed. This unusual ‘lemon’ makes for a spectacular ornamental display.
The Buddha’s hand tree is similar to a thorny lemon tree with large oblong leaves and strongly scented white flowers. Like most lemons, it is sensitive to frost, heat and drought and grows best in temperate climates.
Buddha’s hand fruit doesn’t doesn’t have pulp, juice or seeds. The inside is just white pith, so it can’t be used to replace lemon juice in recipes. However, the beautiful aromatic rind can be used in many different ways.
You can replace the lemon zest in your favourite sweet and savoury recipes with Buddha’s hand zest and it also makes a fantastic garnish. It is quite strong, so don’t use too much! The rind can also be candied or made into a beautiful marmalade.
So which are the best types of lemons for cooking and which should you grow at home? My personal favourites are:
- Eureka lemon – best all round lemon for juice and zest
- Meyer lemon – best lemon for sweets and desserts
- Variegated pink lemon – best lemon for pretty garnishes
But if you have the space, I’d always recommend planting more than one variety!
More about lemons
Make sure to check out our recipes for ways to use your fresh home grown lemons. Meyer lemons would be prefect for our delicious lemon curd. And find out how to make the most of your fresh citrus from our handy tips for cooking with lemons.
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