Can Meyer lemons be used in place of standard lemons? We entered the test kitchen to find out.
Meyer lemons were first introduced to the United States from Beijing, China, in the early 20th century by Frank Meyer, a United States Department of Agriculture employee. Typically available from December through May, they are thought to be a natural cross between a standard lemon (Eureka or Lisbon variety) and a mandarin orange. Meyer lemons are smaller and rounder than standard lemons and boast smooth, thin, deep-yellow skin and pale orange pulp. They are also less acidic and sweeter—in a pH test, we found standard lemon juice to be 1.3 times more acidic than Meyer lemon juice (their pH values are 2.23 and 2.33, respectively)—and their rind is more fragrant when zested.
To see how Meyer lemons compare with standard lemons in cooking, we used both in our Lemon Posset and Lemon Pound Cake recipes. In both instances, tasters found the “sweeter, more floral” Meyer lemons to be an appealing substitute for standard lemons. In our Lemon Vinaigrette recipe, however, the Meyer lemons produced a “weak” dressing, lacking the “acidic punch and boldness” to stand up to rich olive oil.
THE BOTTOM LINE: For applications that don't depend on the bracing acidity of a standard lemon, a Meyer lemon can be a fine substitute. But where a recipe demands bold, bright flavor for balance, reach for a standard lemon.