Citrus is in season!..at least it is in California. If you are lucky to live in an area where you can get organic lemons from a trusted source, you are probably as happy as I am :)
But do you toss the seeds and the peel? You may be squeezing lemon juice on salads or add some to your drinks but does the peel end up in the trash? I used to throw away the non-juicy parts…not for quite a while though!..
I've always loved lemon zest. My mom used to add some to some sweet dishes and desserts so it's nothing new to me. In certain parts of Africa and other parts of the world it's also commonly used as a condiment, usually in a fermented form. The zest is used every now and then by people in western cultures but, in general, the peel is not nearly as utilized as it could be. I, personally, used to throw them away because I just never trust the ones from the store. Lately, however, I have been getting a lot of Meyer lemons from a friend and I couldn't be more grateful! I've always left the seeds in for juicing and dressings (blended ones) and now the peels are saved too! More often than not, the peel gets used in something soon after I used the juice of the lemon, and if not, I save it for later so I will have some handy when I have no lemon to peel. Why bother?
The Hidden Treasures of Lemon (and other citrus*) Peels
Being rich in vitamin C and calcium is a good start, but did you know that lemon peels have a myriad of other health benefits? By adding lemon zest to your dishes or consuming whole lemons instead of just their juice, you'll get to take advantage of their
- cancer fighting properties
- ability to dissolve bad estrogen (a lot of which we have accumulated over time in our bodies)
- anti-fungal qualities
- mood enhancing / uplifting, anti-depressant properties
- high fiber content (to support digestion and regular elimination)
- maintaining of youthful skin / anti-wrinkle qualities (hence the frequent usage in cosmetics)
- boosting of the metabolism (which supports weight loss)
- strengthening the bones (due to their high mineral and vitamin C content)
- blood pressure regulator quality (potassium content)
- cleansing effect (lemon juice and the peel are both known to assist in the cleansing of the liver)
- ability to reduce oxidative stress (elimination of free radicals, and thereby, prevention of diseases)
- amazing flavor (lemon peel is an amazing flavor balancer if not used in large quantities)
*Be aware, that lemon and lime peels are edible raw, but others, like the peel of orange, grapefruit, etc, have to be fermented / candied / cooked or prepared some other way before consumption.
Quite a list, right? If these benefits appeal to you, I recommend that you…
Get organic lemons from a trusted source.
Wash them and either juice them whole, or peel them first (you will save some of the pith that is so rich in bioflavonoids) or carefully cut the zest part of the peel off with a sharp knife. This way, if you're not using the whole lemon then you can save the peel or zest for later to be used in other dishes.
What do I do? At first, I thought I would save the zest only. But why break them down more than necessary? Before I ever grated any I realized the ideal way would be to just save the entire peel and if I don't use them soon freeze them that way. So I cut 1-2 inch pieces and put them into jars (any container will do) and I always have some within reach.
How to eat them?
Besides the obvious (eating some peel whenever using lemons) you can:
- add a piece of peel to a smoothie (avoid using too large of a piece because it can throw off the flavor, for example, make your smoothie more bitter than you'd like)
- add zest to salads by sprinkling some on top or mixing some into your salad dressing
- add zest to desserts by mixing some into your cookie dough or adding some to a batter or cake mix, or sprinkle some on top of any sweet dish
What Else To Use Citrus Peel For?
Since I love the aroma, I also put a lot of peels on top of the heat vents, in the colder months when the heater is going, and keep replacing them. They provide a small amount of humidity as well as a wonderful smell that fills up the space. Obviously, they're a much better "air-freshener" than the chemical-based, artificial diffusers you can plug into an outlet.
They're also a great disinfectant so you can use them to clean your cutting board or sink by just rubbing them on the surface to be cleaned.
Warning: Watch out for rabbits (or other pets??) because my little guys "steal" them and run off with them! They love peels, however fresh or dried out they are, they grab them off the vents and run, like dogs with a bone. So funny! :) So if you notice that yours are missing you might know where to look for them, or who is to blame….haha. Also, make sure to use entire halves (like after squeezing a lemon) or longer / larger pieces to avoid having them fall through the slots and end up in your heat pipes!
Alright, hopefully, just in time before you start preparing a lot of New Year's party drinks and end up with tons of peels that you would toss…now you know what to do with them! : )
Have a Wonderful New Year, Everyone! ♥