Saturday, March 12, 2016

Citron – The Lemon. The Lemon, the Lime, the Citron, the Kaffir Lime and the Pomelo in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated October 2021
Photograph courtesy of liz west

The lemon family members in this post

Cedrat                              – Citron;

Chadec                              – Pomelo;

Citron                                 - Lemon

Citron-Caviar                    - Lemon Caviar. (not, in fact, a family member).

Citron Vert                         – Lime;

Combava or Kombava     – Kaffir Lime

Without any doubt, the lemon is the most significant fruit in the French kitchen, even though the lemon did not originate in France. France has taken advantage of the lemon’s culinary potential; try and imagine fish dishes without lemon or many sauces without lemon, or even some meat marinades without lemon. Imagine the taste of fruits and vegetables that need acid to retain their color, and what the taste would be like if they had been touched by vinegar instead of a lemon. Probably close to 50% of French cakes and other desserts include lemon or zeste de citron, lemon zest in their recipes.

 Citron - Lemon

Lemons came from Asia, probably from China. When the lemon reached Africa is disputed, though we know that the ancient Egyptians used and grew lemons as a food supplement and as antiseptic hundreds of years before the Romans and Greeks. The lemon almost certainly reached Southern France via the Phoenicians, those early Mediterranean seafaring wholesalers, hundreds of years before the Greeks and Romans arrived in France. 

The lemon is an Old World Export to the New World as Columbus took the lemon to the New World, and that was before anyone had realized that the lemon could prevent scurvy on long sea voyages. When the British made India a colony, they found that the lemon was already there; lemons went well with the gin the British bought from the Dutch.

 The lemon became important in trade long before vitamin C was discovered. Then Scottish-born Doctor James Lind (1716-1794) showed the British Navy that citrus fruits eaten during long sea voyages prevented scurvy. The British Navy adopted this proven remedy very quickly; forty years later! 

 Citronnée  - Lemon flavored.

Citronnier, Limonier or Citrus Limon – The lemon tree.

The lemon results from cross-pollination between the cédrat, the citron, and the citron vert, the lime; that came about naturally thousands of years ago. The botanists assume that a bee made a mistake, and voila, we have the lemon. (More about the cédrat, the citron, the lime, and the kaffir lime at the end of this post).

The citron, the lemon, on French menus:

Blancs de Poulet au Citron avec Riz aux Petits Légumes – Chicken breast cooked with lemons and served with rice and young vegetables.

Tarte Meringuée au Citron
Lemon meringue tart.
Photograph courtesy of Goulven Champenois

Citron Pressé - Freshly squeezed lemon juice served with ice-cold water and sugar on the side. You may say that fresh lemon juice and water is a drink that you could have anywhere, and that may be true. Nevertheless, in France, you will learn to appreciate the effect of a citron pressé, drunk slowly on a hot day while watching the world go by from a sidewalk café. Then a Citron Pressé has an impact that can only be described as mystical. I have made citron pressé and drunk citron pressé in many lands and many situations. Nevertheless, the terroir of France does something to a citron pressé that is very special.

Citron Pressé

Côtes d’Agneau Marinées au Garam Masala, Gingembre et Citron - Lamb chops prepared with garam masala, ginger, and lemon. 

Sauté de Calamars sur Carpaccio de Chorizo et ses Légumes Marinés au Zeste de Citron - Lightly fried calamari, squid, on a Carpaccio of chorizo pork sausages and vegetables marinated and flavored with lemon zest.

Une Tranche de Citron  A slice of lemon

Lemon slices.
Photograph courtesy of Thad Zajdowicz

Citron de Menton

France's most famous lemons are the Citron de Menton – These acclaimed lemons are grown around the town of Menton on France's Mediterranean coast up against the Italian border. Menton has a unique micro-climate that is perfect for many tropical fruits. There is much more to Menton than just lemons; Menton is in the department of Alpes-Maritimes, the Côte d'Azur, Provence, and for those that gamble just about ten km (6 miles) from Monte Carlo. When in Menton, in the other direction, away from Monte Carlo, within less than one km (3/4 of a mile), you are in Italy and 35 km (22 miles) from San Remo. You can walk, or drive, across the border, thanks to the EU. Walk across the border rather than drive; it is lined with shops, some with fantastic window displays; ignore those with made-in-China tourist knick-knacks.

The citron, the lemon, in the languages of France's neighbors:

(Catalan - llimera or llimoner), (Dutch - citroen), (German – zitrone), (Italian - limon ), (Spanish - limon or imonero), (Latin - citrus limon).

Citron-Caviar - the Australian Finger Lime.   

Citron-Caviar  Despite the taste and the name, the fruit is not a citrus fruit. This fruit with a lemon-lime taste is the Australian Finger Lime, most often seen on menus as Lemon-Caviar. The thin fruits come in a variety of colors and in sizes from 4 - 8 cm (1.6" – 3.15") long. The fruits contain their juice in tiny capsules that will burst in the mouth with a lemon-lime flavor, which is the source of the name Lemon-Caviar.

Citron-caviar, lemon-caviar on French menus:

Truite et Haddock Mariné Façon Gravlax, Radis et Citron Caviar  - Marinated gravlax of trout and haddock accompanied by radishes and citron-caviar.

Tartare de Coquillages, Coriandre et Citron Caviar – A shellfish Tatar flavored with coriander and citron-caviar.

Citron-caviar – Finger Lime
Photography courtesy of Molly.

Citron Combava, Kombava or Citron Kéfir - Kaffir Lime 

Citron Combava, Citron Kéfir, and Cumbaba – This citrus fruit is mostly called the kaffir lime in English. The rind and the juice of the kaffir lime are used in many Asian dishes as well as French Creole dishes, especially in the overseas French Caribbean departments of Martinique and Reunion. The kaffir lime is a small bumpy green fruit, most of which are less than five cm (2") in diameter.

The Citron Combava - the Kaffir Lime on French menus:

Carpaccio de Bar de Ligne  et Caviar au Citron Combava – A Carpaccio of wild European Sea Bass marinated in the juice of Kaffir Lime and served with caviar.

Kaffir limes
Photograph courtesy of Plants Guru

Crème Brulée Vanille au Citron Vert Combava  - Vanilla Crème Brulee flavored with the Kaffir Lime.

Lisette de Nos Côtes Marinée, Citron Combava, Céleri Rave- A young mackerel from our coasts marinated in the juice of the Kaffir Lime and served with celery root, Celeriac.

The citron combava, the kaffir lime, in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - combava), (Dutch - mauritius papeda), (German - kaffernlimette), (Italian – combava), (Spanish - lima kafir), (Latin - citrus hystrix).

Citron Vert – Lime

Citron Vert  The lime, the fruit that gave the British their nickname, “Limeys.” When the British Navy went to sea, they took lemons and limes to prevent scurvy. All the other maritime nations caught on to the benefits of lemons and limes at a later date, but by that time, the name Limey had stuck with the British. There are many fruits that bear the name lime and this post shows the most popular lime in France, the Persian lime.

Photograph courtesy of bungasirait

Anneaux d’Ananas Farcis à la Gingembre  et Crème Citron Vert  Pineapple rings filled with lime and ginger sauce.

Carpaccio de St Jacques au Citron Vert – A Carpaccio of scallops marinated in lime.

Tartare de Thon au Citron Vert  A tuna Tartar flavored with lime.

Sorbet Citron Vert – A lime sorbet.

Margarita Cupcakes with Lime Frosting
Photograph courtesy of Jamie

Limes are no longer essential on long sea voyages, but in the French kitchen, they remain irreplaceable for the taste they add to many dishes. 


The citron vert, the lime, in the languages of France’s neighbors:


(Catalan - llimes dolces ), (Dutch - limoen ), (German - limette),( Italian - lima, limetta ), (Spanish - lima), (Latin - citrus latifolia)).




Citronnier Meyer - The Meyer Lemon


Citron Meyer - The Meyer lemon. A cross between a lemon and an orange or a mandarin. The cross probably originated in China, the home of all citrus fruits

The Citron Meyer, the Meyer lemon on French menus:

Lotte de Capbreton, Crème de Choux Fleurs, Vierge de Tomates, Citron Meyer et Graines de Moutarde et Amandes - Angler fish (monkfish) served with a cauliflower cream and warm sauce of tomatoes, Meyer Lemon, mustard seeds and almonds.

Poulet Rôti au Citron Meyer – Roast chicken flavored with the Meyer Lemon.

Capbreton is a small fishing town and a popular summer vacation spot in the department of Landes in Nouvelle-Aquitaine in southwestern France. Located at the mouth of the Boudigau and Bourret rivers, the town is situated about 40 km (25 miles) north of Biarritz. 

The Citron Meyer - The Meyer lemon in the languages of France’s neighbors:


(German - meyer-zitrone), (Italian - limone citrus meyeri), (Spanish - citronnier meyer), (Latin - citrus meyeri).


Cédrat – The Citron


Cédrat  – The Citron; this fruit’s English name complicates matters for English speakers in France, as the French for a lemon is citron.


The cédrat, the citron, is mainly used in France for confitures, jams; sometimes it is added to other dishes and pastries as its lemon aroma is more robust than most lemons. There are quite a few members of this family, and they mostly look like large lemons; citrons have a strong lemon smell but very little taste. The peel of a citron is thick, and historically it was valued for the oils in its skin.


The Cédrat - the citron.
Photograph courtesy of fromasia

The Cédrat - the citron on French menus:

Saint-Jacques Marinées Comme un Carpaccio au Zeste de Cédrat, Salade d'Endives et Legumes – King scallops marinated like a Carpaccio and flavored with the zest of the citron. Served with an endive salad and vegetables.

Canard Colvert Sauvage, Infusé de Citron Cédrat – The wild Mallard duck, infusion with the citron.

According to most botanists, the citron and the lime preceded the lemon; then, after a bee-pollinated the wrong tree, we received the all-important lemon. The citron, the lemon, and the lime originated in Asia; whether they originated in China or India, Persia, Thailand remains an ongoing discussion among botanists.

We know that the Egyptians already grew and used lemons long before the Greeks or Romans, so it is fair to assume that they also grew citrons. Today, the citron is often associated with the Jews as it is a fruit used in celebrating their Sukkot festival, the Feast of the Tabernacles. The Israelites probably brought the citron and the lemon and lime to the Land of Israel when they left Egypt. 

The Cédrat - the Citron in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan – poncir), (Dutch - sukadeboom), (German - moschus-zitrone), (Italian - cedro degli Ebrei ), (Spanish - acitrón, ), (Hebrew -etrog), ( Latin - citrus medica).

Chadec, Pomelo - Pomelo

Chadec or Pomelo – Pomelo; the citrus fruit. The time-honored French tradition has an English sea captain, called Shaddock, bringing the seeds of this fruit from Malaysia to the French Antilles in the French Caribbean. In the French Antilles, the name Shaddock became Chadec. Today Chadec is used alongside pomelo in French markets and on menus. Today, [omelos are grown wherever other citrus fruits may be found, including the South of France.

Ceviche de Dorade Royale, Avocat, Pomelos, Kumbawa et Sésame – A ceviche of gilthead sea bream, avocado, pomelos, kaffir lime and sesame.

Tartare d’Avocat et Crevettes de Madagascar Pomelos et Coriandre Fraiche – A Tatar of avocado and Madagascan shrimps, pomelos and fresh coriander.

Asperges Blanches des Landes Croquantes, Segments de Pomelos, Hollandaise Acidulée, Tapenade – Crisp white asparagus, from the department of Landes, served with pomelo segments and accomTapenpanied by a tangy hollandaise sauce or a tapenade.

Photograph courtesy of tinabasgen

Pomelo in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - pampelmusa or pomelo). (Dutch -pimples), (German - pampelmusen), (Italian – pummelo, pomelo),  (Spanish  - cimboa, pampelmusa, pomelo), (Latin - citrus maxima).



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Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2016, 2021
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Connected Posts:
Crevettes and Gambas - Shrimps and Prawns. Shrimps in French Cuisine.


  1. I love this drink :)

  2. Thanks for the comment. I cannot agree more, a Citron Presse in France has magic found nowhere else.