How the lemon was invented (2018)

163 points
1/20/1970
a year ago
by thunderbong

Comments


spott

Citrus taxonomy is fascinating. Of all the citrus that we have, there are only three "natural" plants: the mandarin, pomelo and citron. Everything else is some cross between these: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus_taxonomy, in particular, this graphic: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citrus_taxonomy#/media/File:Ci...

a year ago

kibwen

On the topic of produce taxonomy: cauliflower, broccoli, cabbage, brussels sprouts, kale, and kohlrabi are all just cultivars (selectively bred) from Brassica oleracea (wild mustard/wild cabbage).

a year ago

bradrn

> Of all the citrus that we have, there are only three "natural" plants: the mandarin, pomelo and citron.

Well, not quite… there’s a bunch of other, more niche Citrus species too. For instance, here in Australia you might see finger limes (Citrus australasica) now and again. But it’s true that all the most widespread citruses are hybrids of those three.

a year ago

candiddevmike

This is fascinating! I recently learned that not only can grapefruit mess with medications, but also other citrus-adjacent things like bergamot oil (earl grey tea). This taxonomy makes a lot of sense.

a year ago

sowbug

I always thought the word "pomelo" was a portmanteau like tangelo or pluot. Turns out it's the OG. TIL.

a year ago

masswerk

In German, lemons are still citrons (Zitronen), while Limone applies to limes only and there is no such thing as a distinct concept of a lemon (which may or may not explain the fame of German engineering ;-) ).

a year ago

jxf

Highly recommend calamansi if you've never tried it before. It's very prevalent in Phillipine cuisine; I first came across it as a sorbet flavor and I'm absolutely hooked on them now. They're a sort of super-acidic version of a cross between an orange and a lime.

a year ago

mc32

Where do kumquats fit? And where are the "Lisbon" lemons that are so popular?

a year ago

friend_and_foe

this is mostly true. There are a few citrus varieties that until recently werent widely commercially cultivated. A prominent one is the cumquat, and there are a couple of native Australian citrus species that are now beginning to be cultivated that are not cultivars of the 3 core citrus species.

a year ago

MoSattler

I've recently been delving deeper into our food ecosystem and have realized that the notion of consuming "natural" food, in its strictest definition, seems quite untenable. It's fascinating to note that all meat - be it chicken, beef, or pork - are all outcomes of intensive human-driven breeding and domestication processes.

A similar scenario extends to the realm of fruits, vegetables and even grains, where the majority of what we consume today are far-removed variants of their wild counterparts, owing to selective breeding over centuries. Essentially, the food items that constitute our regular diets wouldn't exist in a truly untouched, natural environment.

Edit: I'm not saying that this is bad, just that it's interesting.

a year ago

thegrim33

Sure, but this is also the nirvana fallacy; just because the food available to you isn't 100% perfectly "natural" doesn't mean that it's bad/wrong or that you shouldn't strive to eat as natural as possible anyways.

a year ago

Karellen

> the notion of consuming "natural" food, in its strictest definition, seems quite untenable.

If not strictly natural foods, then what? I can't stand supernatural foods - the ectoplasm really doesn't agree with me. I'd like to try preternatural foods, but I've never been able to find a genuinely miraculous grower or farm to get them from.

a year ago

crazygringo

This is correct. If you wanted only food unaffected by humans you'd need to live a hunter-gatherer lifestyle which could probably only support something like 1% of the world's current population.

But on the other hand, why consider domestic/bred species as "unnatural"? We exist in a symbiotic relationship with them, and there are symbiotic relationships all over nature.

a year ago

pjc50

Well, yes. We domesticated everything and moved it around the world to optimal growing locations. Thus enabling is to have such a large number of humans. "Back to" movements have a tendency towards accidental mass famine.

a year ago

taskforcegemini

>It's fascinating to note that all meat - be it chicken, beef, or pork - are all outcomes of intensive human-driven breeding and domestication processes

there's still animals in the wild though, that get hunted and eaten

a year ago

a_c

A related idea is that, the existence of certain species is purely because of human consumption. They wouldn't exist in the current form if we stopped eating them completely.

a year ago

Giorgi

Not to drive into offtopic here, but it always baffled me how can humans look at results of hybrids, like a mule, a lemon, or at breeding and still claim evolution is not real.

a year ago

AndrewKemendo

When you begin to interrogate the origins and history of everyday things, you’ll quickly notice how “New” and tailored to extremely modern humanity it is.

Broccoli for example is only about 2000 years old via an aggressive selective breeding of mustard/brassica, and no modern grain genetics are more than a few thousand years old with the last known distinct genetics being only 12000 years old.

The Anthropocene is everywhere you look when you start really looking

a year ago

dabluecaboose

It's pretty nuts to look at Teosinte, the grass that was bred into corn/maize, and seeing how it compares to modern giant hulking ears of corn that we use for everything from fueling cars to sugaring drinks.

a year ago

RandallBrown

I love that broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccolini, and way more are all the same plant.

It's like how poodles, corgis, Great Danes, and dachshunds are all just dogs.

It blows a lot of people's minds when I tell them.

a year ago

darkwater

But then people scream "GMOs are not natural!"

a year ago

helsinkiandrew

> The first lemons came from East Asia, possibly southern China or Burma. (These days, some prefer to refer to Burma as Myanmar. I’ll try to stay out of that controversy here and stick to fruit.)

The Myanese (or Burmese if you prefer) have been calling it Myanmar in English since 1989 - I think just about everyone uses that except the US government nowadays don't they?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Names_of_Myanmar

a year ago

Daub

The name was changed by the ruling Junta, for whom there is little love. I can't speak for everyone in Myamar/Burma, but the many people I know there are entirely happy to be referred to as Burmese.

a year ago

titanomachy

Really interesting! From that article:

“In the Myanmar language, Burma is known as Myanmar Pyi (မြန်မာပြည်). Myanmar Pyi is the written, literary name of the country, while Bama is the spoken name of the country. Burmese… has different levels of register, with sharp differences between literary and spoken language.”

English doesn’t have such distinctions, so that partly explains why we get so confused about the name.

a year ago

lordnacho

Regarding scurvy, I read an essay that said the cure actually needed to be re-discovered. Someone had decided to load the ships with a related citrus fruit that had much less vitamin C in it, leading to doubts about the hypothesis since it meant sailors would get scurvy despite getting citrus. This got cleared up later, and IIRC later yet someone figured out the critical ingredient.

a year ago

emmelaich

https://idlewords.com/2010/03/scott_and_scurvy.htm

It's been submitted to HN quite a few times.

a year ago

[deleted]
a year ago

durron

The article (appropriately) glosses over a fun butterfly effect. The large export of lemons to Britain is a core reason for the existence of the Italian mafia.

https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23831830-600-why-the-...

a year ago

vanderZwan

Geez, we're never going to run out of things we can blame on the British Empire, are we?

(this is a joke. I'm joking. I think)

Seriously though, I wish that wasn't paywalled. Sounds like a really interesting bit of story.

a year ago

blakesterz

Gastropod has a great episode if you're into this kind of thing:

https://gastropod.com/museums-mafia-secret-history-citrus/

  "A slice of lime in your cocktail, a lunchbox clementine, or a glass of OJ at breakfast: citrus is so common today that most of us have at least one lurking on the kitchen counter or in the back of the fridge. But don't be fooled: not only were these fruits so precious that they inspired both museums and the Mafia, they are also under attack by an incurable immune disease that is decimating citrus harvests around the world. Join us on a historical and scientific adventure, starting with a visit to the ark of citrus—a magical grove in California that contains hundreds of varieties you've never heard of, from the rose-scented yellow goo of a bael fruit to the Pop Rocks-sensation of a caviar lime. You'll see that lemon you're about to squeeze in a whole new light."
a year ago

haha69

Huh... so life doesn't give you lemons [1]... you make them...?

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_life_gives_you_lemons%2C_...

a year ago

spiritplumber

I'm gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!

a year ago

kibwen

"When a thirsty time traveler gives you the idea for lemonade, make lemons."

a year ago

moffkalast

Following up that mention of Rose's Lime Juice: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rose%27s_lime_juice

> The preservation of the fruit juice was usually done through the addition of 15% rum.

So lime, rum, presumably also water? That's almost a mojito right there.

a year ago

bitshiftfaced

The author states that lemons were a human invention, which to me sounds like humans deliberately bred them this way. I'd find it more likely that the cross happened through open pollination, which is also true of many recent citrus that people grow. Humans were in the loop, but "human invention" goes a bit far.

a year ago

tonymillion

Dogs

a year ago

hprotagonist

counterexample: corn.

a year ago

photochemsyn

For more details: Wu et al. 2018, "Genomics of the origin and evolution of Citrus"

https://www.nature.com/articles/nature25447

> "To investigate the genetic diversity and evolutionary history of citrus, we analysed the genomes of 58 citrus accessions and two outgroup genera (Poncirus and Severinia) that were sequenced to high coverage, including recently published sequences as well as 30 new genome sequences described here... We identified ten progenitor citrus species by combining diversity analysis, multidimensional scaling and chloroplast genome phylogeny."

a year ago

nemetroid

> In most languages of Europe, citron is the word for lemon, deriving from the Latin word citrus. This can cause some confusion, since the citron and the lemon are two different fruits. Fortunately for English speakers, we use different words for them and thus have an easier time keeping them straight in our heads.

I... what? Other languages use different words for the different fruits, too.

a year ago

Pxtl

I'm just surprised that all those citrus fruit could be interbred. I knew about brassica, but afaik that was the reverse process -- selecting for features in a common ancestor, like how all the myriad breeds of dogs come from far-less-diverse wolves. In this case, we're mashing up a bunch of different plants with their own lineages.

a year ago

aceazzameen

I think I used to live at a place with a citron tree. I always thought they were lemons, but the pith was always much thicker and they tasted so much better than store bought lemons. Sometimes a hint of sweetness in them! I've always wanted to try a real citron to compare, but I don't know where I can even get them.

a year ago

Pxtl

Aside: you can still get Rose's Lime Juice, which is really a cordial. It's cornsyrup heavy but still is a very nice mixer. Mix with gin for a gimlet, or with club soda for a fun soft drink for kids.

a year ago

jamiek88

Flashback, my grandad used to drink lager and lime! Rose’s lime juice is like sausage rolls and arctic roll. Iconic.

a year ago

pazimzadeh

There is a fruit in Iran called Narang which looks like an orange but is sour. It has tons of seeds. It might be the same thing as the Seville orange. It's great on fish.

a year ago

NoZebra120vClip

That is interesting, because the Spanish word for "orange" is naranja (both the color and the fruit).

a year ago

Swizec

> who patented a product called Rose’s Lime Juice. This worked as well as lemons, and the Royal Navy mandated that the product be issued to all ships

Limes did not work to prevent scurvy. Steam ships just happen to be fast enough that nobody noticed. This is why everyone in Scott’s polar expedition got scurvy - limes didnt work, but they thought they would.

https://timharford.com/2022/08/cautionary-tales-south-pole-r...

a year ago

maxk42

Wrong. Limes do prevent scurvy. However the British Navy at that time failed to distinguish between limes and key limes, believing them to be the same fruit. Key limes have very little ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and they were further processed and stored in a way that eliminated what little vitamin C they had.

a year ago

psychphysic

Life didn't give us lemons we gave lemons life!

a year ago

dcanelhas

Interesting. Lemons are called "Limão Árabe" in Brazil (Limão being the word for Lime). Perhaps that was due to Columbus then?

a year ago

nologic01

Came here for the invention of the lemon problem but was disappointed it is about real lemons

a year ago

oniony

They're taking the pith: the citron's skin looks about the same thickness as the lemon's.

a year ago

tgv

How would you know it's a cross-breed and not some spontaneous/random mutation?

a year ago

KevinChen6

Fruit (ripe fruit) tastes delicious because it needs to be eaten by animals, and then the seeds can walk around with the animal's feces, which helps plants reproduce, which can also be explained by Darwin's theory of evolution. With such a sour taste as lemon, no animal will like to eat it, which is likely to lead to the extinction of this plant. Therefore, the evolution of nature is unlikely to have such a thing as lemons.

a year ago

Julesman

Wait, who still says Burma?

a year ago

[deleted]
a year ago

alex_smart

So, we just posting from r/popular now? Wtf?

a year ago