As a bartender living in Asia I faced the challenge of lemons being fairly expensive for citrus style cocktails. So, of course I did my research about other citrus fruits that could be used to replace a lemon. I found a citrus fruit called citron, which is one of the original citrus fruits together with papeda, pomelo and mandarin orange.
You are probably wondering what is the difference between lemon and citron? Well…both citron and lemon are fruits from the category of citrus. Citron is larger in size with a very fragrant skin, edible rind, gentle bitterness and zero juice if any. On the other hand lemon is a hybrid of citron and bitter orange. Citron is a fruit known to most consumers in its preserved form rather than its natural form, while lemons are cultivated for its culinary and non-culinary use of the juice and skin.
The origin of the fruit is unknown however seeds were found in Mesopotamian excavations dating back to 4000 B.C. There are stories that the armies of Alexander the Great carried the citron to the Mediterranean region around 300 BC. Before the cultivation started to spread all around the world, the citron was imported from Persia, now known as Iran. The tree was introduced to Italy in the 3rd century, however it was destroyed by barbarians in the 4th century and the only plantations that have survived till today are citrons grown in Sardinia and Sicily. You can find many different cultivars in North India and across China, the most popular citron is “buddha’s hand”. Different cultivars of citrus (oranges, grapefruits etc) fruit were introduced to Europe through Spain, who then brought the citrus to America during their colonisation.
Citron fruit have been a part of the day to day lives of many civilisations and several parts of the trees have been utilised. For example leaves, twigs and flowers are distilled for the perfumery industry. Wood branches are used as walking sticks and for agricultural implementation across India.
The citron fruit is very fragrant and it has been used widely in medicine, and perfumery. The skin can be candied and used as snacks or part of pastry cooking and decorations. As there is several cultivars of citron, some of which are juicy, the juice has become an essential part in culinary world. In India the fruit of the wild “chhangura” is pickled. While the entire fruit of the “fingered citron” aka “buddha’s hand” is eaten.
How familiar are you with the usage of citron or lemon in alcoholic beverages? One of my favourites – is the traditional Italian liquor called Limoncello. Have you tried it?
Bartenders note: “The essential oils from citron are more delicate than from lemon.”