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A Brief History of the Meyer Lemon

In California winter does not arrive with snow and ice, it arrives with citrus. Tons of it. Trees in every back yard are overflowing with delicious oranges, lemons and grapefruit and even if you don’t have a tree, as I don’t, your friends and neighbors will bestow upon you bags overflowing with the abundance of the season. One of the absolute favorite citrus fruits specific to the California coast is the Meyer lemon. The taste is very unique. It is less acidic than the Eureka lemon commonly found in the supermarket and has a slightly sweet, almost orangey flavor that lends perfectly to everything from drinks to deserts. 

Chefs like Alice Waters have long celebrated the virtues of this unique fruit, and it is considered so historically important that it has been board onto the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Although many know the fruit, few know the history behind it or how it got its name.

Frank Meyer, a USDA plant explorer brought this unique lemon from China to the United States in 1908. The tree is thought to be a hybrid of a Eureka or Lisbon lemon and a Mandarin orange from China. Just 10 years after introducing the lemon that bares his name to the United States, Frank perished in the Yangtze River exploring the wilderness of south China for the USDA. 

In the 1940s the Meyer lemon had become very popular however a pair of viruses threatened to wipe it out until UC Riverside scientists created a new selection that was virus free. Now known as the Improved Meyer lemon, the tree that bears Franks name is once again wildly popular as a back yard fruit and small growers however it is not cultivated much by commercial growers. If you are lucky enough to find Meyer lemon where you live enjoy this liquid gold in recipes like our Meyer lemon Herbalicious Sorbet and Herbalicious Meyer Lemonade Fizz. 


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