It is a common misconception that a lemon will ripen off the tree after it has been harvested, however, this is not true. Contrary to popular belief, a lemon will not ripen off the tree. Furthermore, the ripening process of the lemon will typically stop once it’s been picked. That being said, there are certain ways to slow the process of spoilage or delay the ripening process.
Lemon Ripening Stages
When a lemon is ripe and ready to be picked, the end stage of ripening has been completed. At this time, the lemon has reached its maximal sugar content. Additionally, the water content of the lemon has decreased and its acidity has increased. As soon as a lemon is picked, the ripening process stops and the sugar content will not increase nor will the water content change.
The Effects of Temperature
The effects of temperature on the ripening process of the lemon varies, though. As the temperature decreases, acidity increases, making the lemon more sour. This is why, in colder climates, lemons picked will typically be more sour than those picked in warmer climates. On the other hand, a lemon that has been stored in warmer temperatures will complete its ripening process on the tree and will be sweeter when picked.
Limes, unlike lemons, will not ripen off the tree after they have been harvested. The same characteristics of a lime in regards to its sweetness, color, and acidity will remain even after it has been picked. This notably differs from a lemon, where characteristics such as water content and sugar content change over time.
Tips for Prolonging Freshness
To preserve a lemon and keep it fresh, one should place the lemon in the refrigerator; this way, the process of spoilage is slowed down. Additionally, if the lemon is freshly picked from the tree, wrapping it in paper towels can cause it to last longer as the absorbent material can prevent the moisture from evaporating from the skin.
Factors that Contribute to a Lemon’s Ripening
Different factors contribute to the ripening of a lemon, such as climate, type of soil, and environment. All of these contribute to the flavor, texture, and the ripening of a lemon. For instance, lemons harvested in cold climates will be more acidic and less sweet, while those harvested in hot climates will produce a sweeter, softer lemon. Similarly, lemons harvested from rocky soils will produce a more acidic result compared to those harvested from plain soils.
Ripening upon Arrival
Sometimes lemons will ripen after its arrival in a grocery store. This means that over time, its sugar content, water content, and acidity will increase as it is exposed to certain conditions. Therefore, a grocery store lemon may be ripe and sweeter than a lemon freshly picked from the tree.
Unripe Lemons in Grocery Stores
Although ripe lemons may be sold in grocery stores, the majority of the lemons are typically obtained through cold storage in order to keep them fresh. As stated before, cold temperatures cause the acidity of the lemon to increase and its sweetness to decrease. This way, the lemon is presented in its original stage, even though it has been stored for a long period of time.
Uses for Unripe Lemons
Unripe lemons are very useful, not just for their tartness and acidic features, but for their medicinal purposes as well. For example, lemons can be used to help with digestions issues and for relieving nausea. Additionally, due to its acidic properties, unripe lemons can be used to make preservatives, condiments, and other flavoring components.
Suitable Temperatures for Storing Lemons
If one needs to store a lemon for a while while keeping freshness, temperatures should range between 33˚F to 45˚F. This range is recommended as it slows down the rate of spoilage and keeps the color, shape, and flavor intact. Additionally, the lemon should be placed in a breathable material, such as green, paper or muslin bags, as dryness will ruin the lemon.
Optimal Time for Using Lemons
Depending on how the lemon was stored, its optimal time to be used varies. Generally, it is best to use lemons no more than 5-7 days after its arrival, either from the store or after it has been picked from the tree. This way, one can ensure the lemon is as juicy, sweet and flavor packed as possible.
The Effects of Pesticides on Lemons
Pesticides can have an extensive impact on the ripeness and flavor of the lemon. In fact, certain pesticides can cause the lemon to spoil faster than usual or even render it useless, leaving a sour taste and a strange appearance. Consequently, it is important to buy organic lemons to ensure no pesticides were used in the process.