Lemons & Limes in Cooking

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Lemons and limes are among the most common citrus fruits available throughout the year at most supermarkets. But unlike other citrus, such as oranges and grapefruit, lemons and limes are more useful in cooking than they are for raw eating or juicing. Many traditional and creative modern dishes make use of lemons and limes to provide tart, refreshing flavor.

Differences and Similarities

In some cases, lemons and limes are interchangeable. Other recipes call for both, though substituting one for the other will simply produce a less complex citrus flavor. According to the website Recipe Tips, limes are both more tart and have stronger flavor than lemons. This means that you'll need less lime to compensate for a greater amount of lemon. Some traditional recipes rely on one specific type of fruit, such as salmon with lemon, key lime pie and lemon tarts.


Some recipes that call for lemons or limes rely on their juice to provide fresh, tart flavor. For recipes that call for larger quantities, you may need a citrus juicer, but in other cases you can simply slice the fruit into a wedge shape and squeeze it to spray your mild entrees such as fish and poultry dishes. To select lemons or limes for juice, choose larger pieces of fruit and use them quickly before they lose moisture content.


Zest refers to the grated skin of a citrus fruit. In the case of lemons and limes, zest has a tart, somewhat bitter flavor that calls out other flavors in food and balances salads, breads, entrees and even desserts. To produce zest from the skin of a lemon or lime, use a zester or a fine food grater. Select fresh lemons or limes with clean skin that has an even, pebbled texture.


Lemons and limes are also suitable for garnishing food and drinks. Many classic cocktails use lemon twists, which are long, curling twists of the rind, or lime wedges to impart subtle citrus flavor while making the drink look more appealing. Fruit has a generally short shelf life, which can be an issue. Limes in particular are quick to perish, which makes it important to use them as quickly as possible if you're concerned about your food's appearance.