When Life Hands You Lemons

Whilst Lemon Curd is quite possibly my favourite topping for a slice of thick toasted white bread it is also a highly versatile preserve with multiple possible applications in the kitchen (though I will not be eating duck with a lemon curd marinade again). What you might not know is that lemons belong in the Rutaceae family (along with oranges, grapefruits and limes among others) and that they probably reached Europe around the same time that the Roman Empire was flourishing. Citrus fruits have a pretty cool history being at the cutting edge of human exploration, colonisation and conflict from being brought back from Alexander the Great’s invasion of India to their arrival with conquistadors in Florida.


There are around 140 countries producing citrus fruits but Brazil, The United States and China by far produce the most. Production of citrus is constantly growing but currently sits around the 110 million ton mark and covers 18.7 million acres. In terms of lemons and limes this figure is about 13.7 million tons (and no I will not be squeezing out any smiles there). In terms of the production per acre is usually around the 5.3-6.7 tons per acre mark. Most stunningly is the fact that about 90% of all the citrus fruits produced globally are actually consumed domestically (in the country of production). Whilst it’s not the biggest producer of citrus fruits the Mediterranean region is certainly the biggest exporter of citrus in its fruit (rather than juice) form. In terms of imports the UK, the Netherlands, France and Germany are the biggest importers. This shouldn’t be too surprising as these countries suffer from bitter winters in which citrus plants struggle to survive and produce good yields.


Lemons are pretty great. They are hugely important in boosting the human resistance to a range of health problems thanks to their high vitamin and reasonable fibre content. The citric acid in lemons may help prevent the formation of kidney stones. Citric acid and vitamin C both help the body absorb iron which can help to prevent anaemia in people with low amounts of Iron in their blood. Their high vitamin C levels whilst beneficial when you have a cold also help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease which is also helped by the plant compounds hesperidin and diosmin found in lemons.

Threats to and Impacts of Production

Whilst I’ve painted a pretty rosy picture so far but here comes the doom and gloom (sorry in advance). We’re going to focus on the production of citrus fruits in Florida here as it’s a pretty good representation of the threats to citrus production globally.

The majority of the water (about 90%) being used in Florida comes not from the sky but from the permeable aquifers underground. The extraction of this water has led to problems with sinkholes forming and saltwater permeating into previously fresh water wells. Agriculture isn’t entirely to blame but it does use around 50% of the water produced in the state. The problem with citrus groves is that they have relatively short root systems and they are very water hungry. Thanks to their tropical/subtropical origins they are evergreens that constantly shed and replace their leaves as they grow (resulting in a lot of wasted water). More damming is the evidence from Australian citrus production that shows mature citrus plants requiring 7-8 mega litres (1 Million Litres or 100,000 cubic meters) of water per hectare per annum to maintain healthy production. Ok, Florida’s stands in all honesty probably require a little less thanks to a slightly more favourable climate and some advancement in irrigation techniques but that’s still a lot of water. In the case of citrus, whilst it’s produced in 140 countries in how many of those countries is the climate suitable to long term sustainable production?



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