What Is a Meyer Lemon?

What's the difference between a Meyer lemon and a regular lemon? Here's what you need to know.

Winter might be cold and dreary, but it comes with one benefit: It’s peak citrus season—perfect for winter citrus recipes! Most grocery stores pack their produce displays with juicy pink grapefruit, super sweet tangerines, vibrant blood oranges and Meyer lemons, a lemon-orange hybrid that’s only available a few months of the year.

What makes this variety different from regular lemons, and is it worth its expensive price tag? Here are the juicy details.

What Is a Meyer Lemon?

Meyer lemons are a cross between a mandarin orange and a lemon, which makes them smaller, juicier and sweeter than regular lemons. Instead of being bright yellow, their flesh is a golden color and they produce more juice, too. Meyer lemons also tend to be more round than regular lemons, which are more oval-shaped.

They were originally used as decorative houseplants in China until a U.S. Department of Agriculture employee, Frank Meyer, brought them to the States. Because they have super thin skins, they’re difficult to ship, so they were confined to the citrus belt—California, Florida and Texas—for years.

Today, Meyer lemons are available in many specialty grocery stores and places like Whole Foods, but the extra precaution in shipping makes them more expensive. They also have a very short harvest season, so you’ll likely only find them between December and March.

What Do Meyer Lemons Taste Like?

What makes Meyer lemons so unique is they’re more sweet than tart. They have a tangerine-like flavor and lack the acidity and puckery finish of a regular lemon.

The skin and flesh have an almost herbal aroma, and you don’t need to worry about removing the peels before slicing them; because those thin skins are also edible.

How to Store Meyer Lemons

Just like any other kind of lemon, you’ll want to store your Meyer lemons in the refrigerator. They’ll last for much longer (up to a week) as compared to letting them sit on the kitchen counter. You can keep them in the crisper drawer, on a shelf, or in an airtight container to make them last for as long as possible. Learn more about how to store lemons.

However, if you plan to juice your Meyer lemon, take it out of the refrigerator and let it get to room temperature before you start. Or, you could even toss the whole lemon in the microwave for 10 to 20 seconds to loosen up the membranes in the fruit, which will result in more juice. Make sure you know how to juice a lemon without cutting it, while you’re at it!

Ways to Use Meyer Lemons

You can substitute Meyer lemons in most recipes that call for regular lemons, but their sweet flavor makes them especially well-suited for baked goods and desserts (especially ones made with lemon curd). Try pairing them with fish, like in this lemony grilled salmon fillets recipe, or using them to make salad dressings. If you find yourself with an abundance of this winter fruit, use the extras to make a batch of preserved Meyer lemons (which are the key to Alton Brown’s lemonade, by the way).

However, when a recipe calls for Meyer lemons, don’t substitute regular lemons (typically the Eureka or Lisbon varieties). Since they aren’t as sweet, your recipe will turn out much more sour and acidic than intended—which isn’t always a pleasant surprise when you take that first bite.

Give Meyer lemons a try in one of these Meyer lemon recipes we love or one of our top 10 lemon dessert recipes.

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Lindsay D. Mattison
After years of working in professional kitchens, Lindsay traded her knives in for the pen. While she spends most of her time writing these days, she still exercises her culinary muscles on the regular, taking any opportunity to turn local, seasonal ingredients into beautiful meals for her family.