Photo: Scott Phillips
When you buy lemons at the supermarket, more than 90% of the time they are one of two varieties, Lisbon and Eureka, which are the most common varieties grown in California and Arizona. The two are virtually indistinguishable to most shoppers and have a common flavor profile: the tart, acidic flavor we associate with lemons. A third supermarket variety, Bearss, is grown in Florida and is also quite similar in flavor.
Meyer lemons are not true lemons, but believed to be a cross between a lemon and a mandarin or orange. Compared to regular lemons, Meyer lemons are thinner- and smoother-skinned, rounder in shape, and have a deeper yellow-orange hue. Though not exactly sweet, Meyers are less acidic than regular lemons, and their zest and juice has herbal, even floral undertones that can add a wonderful nuance to any recipe calling for lemons (though if you're substituting them for regular lemons, your recipe may need less sugar than usual).Since they are more delicate, Meyer lemons are harder to ship and are rare at supermarkets, but during their season (winter to early spring), can often be found at specialty grocers.
Yuzu is another lemon-like citrus that's starting to trickle down from restaurant kitchens. This round, rough-skinned yellow Japanese fruit is a hybrid of a mandarin and an ancient citrus breed. The yuzu is intensely fragrant, with a flavor that combines notes of lemon and grapefruit. It's often used in seafood dishes, and is a main ingredient in Japanese ponzu sauce. Fresh yuzu can be difficult to find in the U.S. but it is beginning to show up at specialty stores during its winter season (From October to January, fresh yuzu is available via mail-order from Rising C Ranches, which also carries Meyer lemons). For a more accessible way to experiment with yuzu, look for bottled yuzu juice at Asian markets.