Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Brazilians call the lemon limão siciliano which literally means Sicilian lime. There is no single word in Portuguese to distinguish lemons from limes, and for Brazilians, lemons are not a fruit distinct from the lime - they are a lime that happens to be yellow, have a different shape, aroma and taste, but nonetheless they are still limes.
As recently as three or four years ago in Fortaleza, Flavors of Brazil's home base, it was impossible to find a lemon anywhere. For us, as Canadians used to having the option to chose lemons or limes, it was difficult indeed to be restricted only to limes in cooking and in drinks. As much as we love limes, and we love them a lot, there are times and places that call for lemon, not lime. Iced tea is one - it's just not the same without a thick wedge of lemon. Not that Brazilians drink iced tea; they don't. So Brazilians didn't miss that wedge in a frosty glass of iced tea. Lemon curd is another personal favorite, one that's surprisingly easy to make at home - that is, if there are lemons available. There weren't so no homemade lemon curd.
The increasing presence of lemons in Brazil is probably due to the increased sophistication and increased buying power of Brazilian consumers. Recent years have been very kind to the Brazilian economy, and enormous numbers of Brazilians are making their first trips outside of South America - principally to the USA and Europe, where lemons are easily found. Perhaps this created a demand that hadn't previously existed, resulting in astute ranchers and farmers planting lemon groves and eventually lemons in supermarkets around the country.
As there is no tradition of cooking with lemons in Brazil, dishes that feature the flavor of lemon are most easily found in contemporary, upmarket restaurants in Brazil's larger cities, and recipes are found in food and wine magazines. There are signs, though, that lemon's distinctive flavor is catching on in Brazil. Our local ice cream shop, which makes their own ice cream from natural flavors, recently added limão siciliano to their list of flavors. We also spotted a limão siciliano mousse on a local restaurant's dessert menu. But the surest sign of all of the surging popularity of the lemon was in a neighborhood bar. They've started to offer a caipirinha de limão siciliano, substituting chunks of lemon for the limes in the original recipe. It's not-surprisingly delicious!
We're all for traditional, local foods and ingredients, but the arrival of lemons on our culinary horizon is very welcome news. Now if we could just figure out how to get Brazilians interested in celery!