Meyer lemons are an intriguing hybrid that originated in China. Fruit expert David Karp explains.

Lynne Rossetto Kasper: What exactly is the small, yellow-orange citrus fruit called a Meyer lemon?

David Karp: Scientists believe the Meyer lemon is a hybrid, a cross between a regular lemon and either an orange or a mandarin. They're sometimes smaller than a regular lemon, rounder in shape, with a thin, soft and smooth rind which ranges from greenish when slightly immature to a rich yellow-orange when fully ripe. The rind lacks the typical lemon peel oil aroma and the pulp is darker yellow and less acidic than a regular lemon. The complex flavor and aroma hints of sweet lime, lemon and mandarin.

LRK: Where do they come from and where are they grown now?

DK: Like most citrus, Meyer lemons originated in China where they have been grown for at least several hundred years. Frank Meyer, a plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, found them growing near Peking and introduced them to the U.S. in 1908. Today most are grown in California's Central Valley, south of Fresno and in the Sacramento Valley. A few growers in northern San Diego County sell mainly to organic and farmer's markets. They're also grown in Texas and Florida. Peak season in most areas is November, December and January, but can extend to April.

LRK: What should we look for when buying Meyer lemons?

DK: A rich, orange-yellow rind indicates a fruit that was allowed to ripen fully before harvest so it will be succulent, juicy and aromatic. Look for a bright, shiny specimen. After a few days they begin to shrivel and the rinds become hard and dry, but they're usually fine inside.

LRK: How do you use a Meyer lemon?

DK: Use it for most purposes as you would a regular lemon. It's perfect for a soufflé or lemon tart and, because it's sweeter than a regular lemon, makes good lemonade requiring less sugar. On the other hand, when you want a more acidic lemon taste, as in a vinaigrette or marinade, you're probably better off using a regular lemon.

Karp's recommendations for mail-order sources:

Lynne Rossetto Kasper
Lynne Rossetto Kasper has won numerous awards as host of The Splendid Table, including two James Beard Foundation Awards (1998, 2008) for Best National Radio Show on Food, five Clarion Awards (2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2014) from Women in Communication, and a Gracie Allen Award in 2000 for Best Syndicated Talk Show.