The Real Reason Meyer Lemons May Not Be True Lemons

Frank Meyer may have had one of the coolest jobs ever. Tom Rapsas, writing for Patheos, tells us Meyer was an agricultural explorer for the USDA in the early 1900s. He traveled the continent of Asia in search of new foods that might appeal to people in the U.S. Although he brought back several species of peaches, plums, and pears, and more than 2500 seeds and specimens altogether, it is the lemon — which is now named after him — for which he is most famous.

According to Aggie Horticulture, an extension of Texas A&M, "true lemons" are the Lisbon and Eureka varieties, the ones we're most familiar with. They're significantly higher in acid than Meyer lemons, which AllRecipes explain as being sweeter and more floral in flavor. Specialty Produce describes Meyer lemons as "highly fragrant" with herbal and spice notes, low acidity, a high sugar content, and few, if any, seeds. The entire fruit is edible, including the skin and pith. But why isn't the Meyer lemon considered a true lemon?

The Meyer lemon is a hybrid

Frank Meyer first started importing lemons from China in 1908, per Aggie Horticulture. There, the Meyer lemon wasn't an agricultural crop grown for consumption. The Chinese prized Meyer lemons as houseplants (according to Specialty Produce), with lovely, evergreen foliage and beautiful aromatics. The Meyer lemon is believed to be a cross between a true lemon and either a mandarin or a sweet orange, which explains its lower acidity and sweeter flesh.

Because the Meyer lemon is thinner skinned, it's more delicate, meaning that when you can find them in your local market, they tend to be more expensive than true lemons, says AllRecipes. They're worth it, though. The sweet, fragrant Meyer lemon is delectable and simple, as in a Meyer lemon soufflé or a Meyer lemon and strawberry chaser. Meyer lemons are also perfect for preserving, and the preserved lemons make a lovely topping for everything from goat cheese to flatbread pizzas. It is thanks to Frank Meyer's adventurous nature that we know this hybrid lemon and can enjoy its vibrant, delicate flavors.