Wednesday, June 13, 2012

FRUITS OF BRAZIL - Lemon (Limão Siciliano)

Although the bright yellow citrus fruit called lemon (Citrus limon) is, along with the lime, the closest we have to the original wild citrus fruit that was domesticated in South Asia in prehistoric times, lemons in Brazil are still something of a novelty. Up until fairly recently, they were virtually unseen in Brazilian markets and supermarkets where the lime reigned supreme.

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.

However, recently, lemons have been showing up on supermarket shelves with increasing regularity everywhere in Brazil. We first spotted them in gourmet delis and shops where they sold for astronomical prices (which we paid due to our homesickness for lemons). Then they started showing up in standard supermarkets, still expensive but not ridiculously so. And this year prices have actually started to come down, which probably indicates a larger commercial crop has finally reached the market.

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!


  1. James, Brazilians do drink iced tea. It's just a different variety: mate gelado.

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  2. True enough - I wasn't thinking of mate gelado, but you're right. I guess in my mind I was thinking of the drink that Brazilians refer to as cha preto.
    Thanks for the input.

    1. Absolutely right and a shame too. Some nice earl gray with plenty of squeezed lines (or lemons :)) is just as nice as some mate gelado.

  3. Hi guys! I enjoy these lemon/lime posts. I will show them to students who insist on using the English word "lemon" for everything.

    Also, I know this is a flavors of BRAZIL blog, but perhaps you could post a recipe for lemon curd...? My grandma gave me hers, but she cheats and uses lemon juice! It seems like a lot of work to make it with real lemons.

    1. Danielle, how many lemons do you need??? An electric citrus juicer should make it an easy task, no?

    2. Danielle - Here's the recipe I use for lemon curd. It comes from Nigel Slater, an English food writer.

      For the grated lemon peel, I use a microplane grater, as it makes for much finer zest.
      juice and zest of four lemons
      1 cup granulated white sugar
      1/2 cup unsalted butter
      3 whole eggs + 1 yolk
      Cut the butter into small cubes. Combine the lemon juice and zest, the sugar and the butter in the top of a double boiler. Heat over hot water, making sure the water doesn't touch the top of the double boiler, whisking occasionally until the butter melts.

      Lightly beat the eggs and the extra yolk, then whisk them into the lemon mixture off the heat. Return the mixture to the stove and let it cook for 10 minutes, stirring regularly, or until it thickens and becomes custard-like.

      Remove from the heat and let cool completely, stirring from time to time. When completely cool you can can it in sterilized jam jars, or put into jam jars and keep in fridge for up to one month.


  4. "There is no single word in Portuguese to distinguish lemons from limes, and for Brazilians, lemons are not a fruit distinct from the lime".
    Maybe that´s true in Brazil, but in the Portuguese language there is the word "lima" that means "lime". In Portugal and other portuguese spoken countries limão and lima are two diferent fruits. "Limão" is the yellow variety and "lima" the green one.


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