When life gives you expensive lemons

Squeeze every last drop

September 12, 2008

Have you priced lemons lately? Then you know they’ve gone through the supermarket roof.

I disregard seasonality and buy lemons throughout the summer because, well, I’m addicted to my vinaigrette: garlic, salt, a squeeze of lemon, vinegar (usually red wine), and olive oil. But lately I’ve begun to think twice before throwing a few in my basket.

This week, the Seattle Times explains why lemons have risen in price; basically, Ventura County, California, which is the biggest supplier of lemons in this country, was hit by a frost in January 2007, diminishing the 2008 crop.

Lemons are spendy.

That, coupled with poor crops from other countries that import lemons to the U.S. and rising fuel costs everywhere, has resulted in steep prices — and put the squeeze on lemon lovers like me.

So it’s timely that on Gourmet.com this week, food editor Ian Knauer shows how to squeeze a lemon to extract the most juice.

First, he suggests (and this is important) bringing your lemon to room temperature.

Then, halve the lemon lengthwise, rather than horizontally. This seemed to me like great advice — until I remembered my lemon squeezer.

A lemon squeezer and a traditional glass juicer.

I love, love, love my lemon squeezer. It’s basically a bright yellow, hinged metal tool that works like a garlic press: You nest a lemon half in the “bowl” on one side, then squeeze to extract the juice, which drains through holes in the bowl while the seeds, helpfully, stay put.

The lemon squeezer is fast, it’s easy to clean (I just rinse it well immediately after using and set it in the dish drainer to air-dry), and it’s effective. Or so I’d been thinking.

But now I wondered. The lemon squeezer doesn’t accommodate lemons sliced lengthwise, as Gourmet.com suggested. Was I going to have to alter my lemon-juicing methods?

I set up an experiment: two lemons, one lemon squeezer, one traditional glass juicer, and a measuring cup.

First, let me admit up front that I forgot to warm the lemons, so the amount of juice overall that I was able to extract was less than what Ian Knauer probably could’ve produced. Rats.

Still, what I found was reassuring.

Using the lemon squeezer, I extracted about 40 milliliters of juice from a horizontally cut lemon.

Next, with a lemon cut lengthwise, and using the glass citrus juicer, I was able to extract — are you ready for this? — 40 milliliters of juice.

Yes, the exact same amount either way.

However, the second method took a lot longer, because I had to fish out the many seeds that were floating in the juice.

Using the lemon squeezer, I extracted about 40 mL of juice.

Using the glass citrus juicer, I extracted the same amount — 40 mL — of juice.

So, happily, I get to keep my beloved squeezer without worrying that I’m not getting the most out of my lemons.

And dear reader, if you happen to have a lemon squeezer that you love, you can, also without regret, keep yours, too.

Now time for some lemonade . . .

There are 7 comments on this item
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1. by janice on Sep 23, 2008 at 11:49 AM PDT

My tip for making the most of expensive citrus--don’t forget the zest. I use a microplane grater to get the zest, then freeze it in an ice-cube tray with a little water to help it hold together. I don’t think the frozen zest would be good in baking because of the added water, but it’s great in stir-fries, soups, pasta . . . I haven’t tried freezing it without the extra water, but now that I’m typing this up, I think I should see how it works.

The only problem with this frugal approach is that it makes the skin of the fruit softer so the sides tend to split when I squeeze out the juice. That’s probably not an issue if you use a lemon squeezer.

2. by maggie on Sep 24, 2008 at 11:13 AM PDT

I’ve been wondering why lemons had gotten so pricey! Thanks for this.

3. by Tiersa Rodell on Mar 4, 2009 at 6:15 PM PST

Great article!! I have a key-lime squeezer that I LOVE and now I want a lemon squeezer too! (the key lime squeezer is too small for standard lemons and limes) I am embarrassed to say that it sat in the drawer for a year or two before I finally discovered its value! :) So now my question to you is, how do you keep it from squeezing everywhere when you first press down on it? Either way I will never give it up!

4. by James Berry on Mar 4, 2009 at 8:33 PM PST

@ChefBliss: I’ve never had problems with juice squeezing everywhere. I put the citrus into the squeezer with the sliced edge toward the outlet on the bottom (which is not intuitive, given the shape of the squeezer — but it is correct). Does that help at all?

5. by Tiersa Rodell on Mar 9, 2009 at 4:41 PM PDT

@James Berry, thanks, it does. I think I am just trying to use too-big limes in a small squeezer!! Thanks!

6. by DawnHeather Simmons on Mar 9, 2009 at 6:09 PM PDT

This is very interesting -- and good to know. I, too, was wondering why lemons had shot so high. I only bought my lemon squeezer about a year ago, and have found it to be as useful -- and indispensible as my garlic press. Can’t function without either one. When I was a kid, I was taught to roll your lemons about on the counter for a minute before squeezing them -- breaks up the little juice packets inside and makes it easier to extract the juice. And to Janice, yes, if the skins split, with a squeezer, it’s not a problem. I’m as addicted to lemons as I am to garlic -- if I was told I couldn’t have either, I would not know how to cook! Oh, and to James Berry, even when you load your squeezer correctly, on occasion, juice will shoot at in every direction. I find that this happens most often if I have a really juicy lemon, and I’m trying to rush. Just squeeze gently. And tip your squeezer sideways when you’re done, as sometimes a little pool of juice winds up on the top of the inside-out shell after it’s squeezed.

7. by JudithK on Mar 11, 2009 at 8:00 AM PDT

I use a little wooden reamer, so it doesn’t matter what size citrus fruit you are juicing. It has a knob end for you to hold and a pointy end that you stick into the fruit. Twist it around a bit and you can extract every bit of juice.
And I’m with Janice on the zest! None of my citrus fruit escapes with its skin intact.

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