Wednesday, June 29, 2011
Spotlight Food - Lemons and Limes...
I know you might not think much about lemons or limes when you’re in the grocery store or cooking dinner. In fact, if a recipe calls for lemon or lime juice more then likely you use the bottled stuff. It’s handy in a pinch I’ll give you that, and I certainly always make sure to have some on hand myself, but nothing beats fresh lemon or lime juice squeezed right out of the fruit. Both lemons and limes are tart, and sour, because of this a lot of people may find them disagreeable, but they’re absolutely indispensable in cooking. The juices from both of these fruits truly bring out the flavors of a dish in a completely unique way. I use lemon or lime juice at least once everyday in something, making it my most used but usually my most overlooked ingredient. In the past it was something I threw into my cooking because a recipe told me to, or because I needed a sort of light tart flavor, it’s only been in the past few months that I’ve truly started to embrace and appreciate both lemons and limes for their versatility and value.
Lemons - (Citrus limon) are a small oval fruit of mysterious origins, though they’re presumed to have originated in either India, Northern Burma or China where they have been cultivated for more then 2,500 years. It is thought that lemons first entered Europe through Southern Italy around the 1st century A.D. however they were not widely cultivated at that time. Around that time the lemon was also introduced into Persia, Iraq and Egypt, but it wasn’t until the Arabs brought the lemons to Spain and Northern Africa in the 11th century that they gained more popularity. The Crusaders who discovered the fruits growing in Palestine are credited with introducing the lemon into other European Countries. Christopher Columbus on his second journey to the New World in 1493 brought lemon seeds to the Americas, where lemons have been growing
in Florida since the 16th century.
Lemons are vitamin C rich foods containing close to 50% of your recommended daily value for Vitamin C in a quarter cup. They are about 5%-6% Citric Acid, which is what lends them their characteristic sour taste. During the California gold rush in the mid 1800's they were highly valued for the protection they offered minors and developers from scurvy. The demand was so high that people were willing to pay up to $1 per lemon, a price that is still considered high today. Lemon juice or oil has been used in everything from the culinary world, to aroma therapy, alternative medicine, natural insecticide, and as a household cleaning product.
The Major producers of lemons today are Italy, Spain, Greece, Israel, Turkey and the United States.
Limes - Like lemons Limes have a somewhat mysterious history, though they are thought to have originated in Southeast Asia. Arab traders are credited with bringing limes back from their journeys to Asia and introducing them into Egypt and other parts of Northern Africa in the 10th century. In the 13th century the Arabian Moores brought the limes to Spain, and from there they were spread through southern Europe during the crusades. Along with Lemons, Limes made their way to the Americas on Christopher Columbus’s second journey in 1493 where they were subsequently planted in many Carribean countries, whose hot and humid climates were ideal for growing limes. Cultivation of limes in the United States began in the 16th century when Spanish explorers brought the West Indies lime to the Florida Keys, where we now have the Key Lime.
Though limes have less citric acid then lemons do, and are therefor not as effective in providing protection against scurvy, they were used frequently by the British colonists in the West Indies because of their abundant growth in the region. It’s this excessive use of limes that earned them the nickname ‘limey’ a term that is still commonly used as a colloquialism for people of British decent.
The Major producers of limes are Brazil, Mexico and the United States.
Both lemons and limes contain unique flavonoids that are known to have antioxidant and anti-cancer properties. A flavonoid in limes called flavonol glycosides has been of particular interest. These flavonoids have been shown to stop cell division in many cancer cell lines, but they are perhaps more interesting for their antibiotic effects. In several villages in West Africa experiencing cholera epidemics, lime juice was included in the main meal and was determined to have been protective against the contraction of cholera. After more experimentation researchers found lime juice to have a strong protective effect against cholera.
On top of their amazing phytonutrient content lemons and limes are both excellent sources of vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants in nature. Vitamin C is the primary water soluble antioxidant in the body. It travels through the body neutralizing any free radicals which it comes into contact in the aqueous environments of the body both inside and outside cells. (Free radicals can interact with the healthy cells of the body, damaging them and their membranes)
Since free radicals can damage blood vessels and can effect cholesterol by making it more likely that it’ll build up in artery walls vitamin C can be helpful for preventing the development and progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease.
Research has shown that consumption of fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C is associated with a reduced risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke and cancer.
In animal studies and lab tests with human cells compounds in citrus fruits, including lemons and limes, called limonoids have shown to help fight against cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach and colon. Scientists from the US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) have shown that our bodies can readily absorb and utilize a very long acting limonoid called limonin that is present in citrus fruits in about the same amount as vitamin C. In the ARS study 16 volunteers were given a dose of limonin in amount ranging from those that would be found in 1-7 glasses of orange juice. Blood tests showed that the limonin was present in the plasma of all but one of the volunteers, with concentrations highest within six hours of consumption. However traces of limonin were still present in five of the volunteers 24 hours after consumption.
Limonin’s bioavailability and persistence may explain why citrus limonoids are such potent anti-carcinogens that may prevent cancerous cells from proliferating. Other natural anti-carcinogens like the phenols in green tea or chocolate for example remain active in the body for just 4 to 6 hours.
The ARS team are now studying the potential cholesterol lowering effects of limonin. Lab tests indicate that human liver cells produce less apo B when exposed to limonin. (Apo B is a protein that is part of the LDL cholesterol molecule needed for LDL production, transport and binding. Thus higher levels of apo B mean higher levels of LDL cholesterol)
Studies have shown that while high doses of supplemental vitamin C - such as vitamin c capsules - make osteoporosis worse in laboratory animals, eating vitamin C rich foods such as lemons and limes provide our bodies with protection against arthritis. The findings presented in the Annuls of the Rheumatic Diseases were drawn from a study of over 20,000 subjects who kept diet diaries and were arthritis free at the beginning of study. It was found that those who consumed the lowest amounts of vitamin C rich foods were more then three times more likely to develop arthritis then those who consumed the highest amounts.
So there you have it folks - eat your vitamin C don’t supplement it, and don’t forget about our good friends lemons and limes. I know that upon first glance they may not seem so appetizing, but there are plenty of ways they can be used to enrich your life.
I guess the most obvious way to use lemons or limes is to make homemade lemonade or limeade, and I don’t mean the kind that you pour out of a box and add water too. Cut those beauties open, squeeze out their juice and mix it with water and a bit of your favorite sweetener, and bam! You have a refreshing glass of ‘ade rich with vitamin C. I actually make a really delicious cranberry lemonade for which I’ll post the recipe later. Use the zest of lemons and limes in baking. You can put the zest in anything from muffins, to scones, to cakes to cupcake, to cookies and breads. Use the zest and the fresh juice in salad dressings. Use fresh lemon juice in red lentil soups. Mix fresh squeezed lemon juice and zest into brown basmati rice. Squeeze fresh lime juice over Pad Thai, or mix fresh lime juice with peanut butter and roasted garlic to make a nice dipping sauce for vegetables. You can squeeze the juice of lemons and limes on just about anything and if you feel so adventurous you can even slice lemons and limes sprinkle them with a bit of sugar and eat the flesh right off the rind like you might an orange. You can also use them, their juice, and their zest to make delicious pies or puddings. Lime juice it has to be said is definitely one of my favorite salad dressing components. I couldn’t live without it.
Happy and Healthy Eating to you.