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Let’s Hear it for Lemons

by Tammera Karr, PhD

One late night, I traveled back in time with “Food Fights – Culture and War” by Tom Nealon. It is always exciting to read some little tidbit of history that gives you an ahhaa moment. That is the case with lemons and citrus, utilized heavily in Mediterranean diets.

I came upon an interesting section on Lemonade and the plague; it turns out lemonade became a trendy drink in the 1640’s in Italy and Paris. When the second round of plague hit in the 1660’s cities like Venus, Naples, and Paris were relatively untouched unlike the first round were 100,000 people died. Author Tom Nealon tracked down the role of lemonade a popular and trendy beverage of the time. Lemonade was sold from street stalls and made in homes, the peal and citrus off cast went into the street/alley and dock trash piles frequented by rats which carry the flea that hosts the bacteria responsible for the plague. The rats fed on the citrus filled with limonene (Limonene is a clear, colorless liquid hydrocarbon classified as a cyclic monoterpene, and is the major component in oil of citrus fruit peels)  which it turns out kills the bacterium responsible for the plague….so the population was saved due to the rats and people being healthier from eating and drinking lemons.  NOW I know why the Italians have such a big citrus drink culture.

Citrus are native to southeastern Asia but have been grown in the Mediterranean basin for centuries. The citrus trees and fruit are of great importance in Mediterranean countries and, in the case of orange, mandarin, and lemon trees, they found the Mediterranean area soil and climatic conditions perfect to develop high fruit quality. [1]

Of all citrus fruits, lemons and limes have the highest citric acid content, about 1.4 grams per ounce, or about 8 percent of their dry weight. Lemons and limes also contain ascorbic acid, or vitamin C, and malic acid. Citric acid from lemons and limes is often used as an additive in food preparation, both to add a tart flavor and as a preservative. For example, citric acid helps prevent browning of fresh vegetables and maintains the color of meat during storage. It also prevents the crystallization of sucrose in candy and promotes flexibility and separation of cheese slices.

Lemons also contain a small amount of malic acid, which is tart but enhances the sweetness of sucrose in fruit, according to an article published in the Journal of Experimental Botany in March 2006. The human body also produces malic acid. According to NYU Langone Medical Center, malic acid may have therapeutic benefits for individuals with fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia may have trouble using or producing malic acid, which can affect normal muscle function. [2]

Epidemiological studies have shown an inverse relationship between dietary flavonoid intakes and cardiovascular diseases. Citrus fruits are the main winter fruits consumed in the Mediterranean diet, so they are the main source of dietary flavonoids. The possible beneficial effects are due, not only to the high amounts of vitamins and minerals but also to the antioxidant properties of their flavonoids. Dietary flavonoids may help to supplement the body antioxidant defenses against free radicals. These compounds’ beneficial effects are due to their antioxidant activity, which is related to the development of atherosclerosis, cancer, and to anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial activity. [3], [4]

 

Sources

[1] ciTrUS aS a comPonenT of The meDiTerranean DieT: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/311911612_Citrus_as_a_Component_of_the_Mediterranean_Diet

[2] https://www.livestrong.com/article/164362-difference-between-citric-acid-and-ascorbic-acid/

[3] Citrus flavonoids: Molecular structure, biological activity and nutritional properties: A review: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodchem.2006.11.054

[4] https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0308814606009356

Citrus an Imported Fall Food

by Tammera J. Karr, PhD

Many of us grew up with citrus foods being part of the holiday season. I remember not only getting tangerines, pomegranates, and oranges in my stocking but also nuts in their original packaging. Today we wouldn’t dream of putting nuts in their shells and a hammer in the hands of most children.

Grapefruit was another fruit that seemed to be reserved for the fall, and today I know that new crop grapefruit from Florida and Texas are harvested in the fall like apples in the Northwest.

Grapefruit’s bitterness can make it hard to love. Folks cover it in sugar or mix it with other fruits just to get it down.  History tells us Americans were once urged to sweeten grapefruit with salt. Oh, the horror! Ad campaigns from WWI and WWII tried to convince Americans “Grapefruit Tastes Sweeter With Salt!” as a 1946 ad for Morton’s in Life magazine proclaimed.  The pairing, these ads swore, enhanced the flavor.

So does salt make grapefruit taste sweeter?

Grapefruit and salt do have a history – But, it was more publicity to boost revenues then science in 1946.  Today there’s science to back this anecdotal claim.

Grapefruits are relatively new – a hybrid formed from the spontaneous union of two foreign transplants — the Javanese pummelo and the East Asian sweet orange — in Barbados in the middle

Morton Salt Ad 1940’s

of the 18th century. First grown commercially in Florida at the end of the 19th century, grapefruit quickly went from being a novelty to being a daily necessity and made fortunes for farmers.

Tart and tangy with an underlying sweetness, grapefruit has a juiciness that rivals that of the ever popular orange and sparkles with many of the same health promoting benefits. Although available throughout the year, they are in season and at their best from winter through early spring.

Grapefruits usually range in diameter from four to six inches and include both seed and seedless and pink and white varieties. The wonderful flavor of a grapefruit is like a paradise as is expressed by its Latin name, Citrus paradisi.

Early 20th century cookbooks and recipes in magazines offered an abundance of ways to use grapefruits in sweet confections, as well as in savory-sweet salads. But the most common option was the one still familiar today — at breakfast, chilled, sliced in half, sprinkled with sugar.

The salted grapefruit had its fans. In 1911, an Iowa woman calling herself “Gude Wife” wrote into the “The Housemother’s Exchange,” a national advice column, to recommend salting grapefruits. “Salt neutralizes the bitter taste as well as the acidity,” she advised. Others wrote in to back up this endorsement. “I think you will find that many Southerners always salt their grapefruit,” wrote “M.B.L.” from Philadelphia. “I am sure that if you once try it you will agree with me that it is good.” Salting citrus fruit remains a practice in the Southwest and Southeast.

Grapefruit does the kidneys good.

Want to reduce your risk of calcium oxalate kidney stones? Drink grapefruit juice. A study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found when women drank 1/2 to 1 liter of grapefruit, apple or orange juice daily, their urinary pH value and citric acid excretion increased, significantly dropping their risk of forming calcium oxalate stones.

In a 2006 study, participants added either red grapefruit, blond grapefruit or no grapefruit to their daily diet. The results indicated that both types of grapefruit appeared to lower LDL cholesterol in 30 days: total cholesterol by 15.5% in those eating red grapefruit and 7.6% in those eating blond grapefruit; LDL cholesterol by 20.3% and 10.7% respectively; and triglycerides by 17.2% and 5.6% respectively. No changes were seen in the control group that didn’t eat any grapefruit.

So push the pie and sweets to the side and grab some of those wonderful citrus fruits we used to enjoy as kids instead. You know back when we were full of energy and stuff!

To your good health in the holiday season.

 

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2016/11/14/491376510/grapefruit-and-salt-the…

http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=25

 

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