"This lemon will cure that cough of yours," advised a fellow market-goer. It turned out that her motherly advice wasn't simply anecdotal. The Sweet Lemon, or Sweet Lime depending on who you talk to, is incredibly high in Vitamin C and has been a favorite of Mediterranean and Persian cultures for centuries for that very reason.
Native to Southeast Asia, the Sweet Lemon suffers from a bit of an identity crisis here in the states. The "true" sweet lemon, genetically speaking, is actually quite difficult to come by. Genetic clones of the true sweet lemon -- a mutant strain off of other true lemons like Eureka -- are occasionally available through UC Riverside's Citrus Clonal Protection Program, but on a very limited basis and certainly not for commercial production. What we usually find at market stalls is genetically separate from the sweet lemon and even has a different species name: Citrus limettoiodes. The trip from Southeast Asia to Persia to the U.S. muddied the translation of the common name, but it's easily identifiable, especially after an eye-opening taste.
Despite its name, the sweet lemon isn't especially loaded with sugar. It just lacks any kind of acidity, making whatever available sugar in the pulp pop, since it's not competing with anything. The common description of the fruit is often relegated to insipid and dull, but that's mostly when comparing to other citrus. On its own merits, the sweet lemon has a clean and slightly floral fragrance, concentrated -- as with most lemons -- in the rind. The pulp is very mild and succulent. It's a squat, palm-sized fruit, nearly flat at the stem end and with a small nipple on the blossom side. And it does have seeds, few or many depending on the variety you get.
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Robin Smith at Mud Creek Ranch (Santa Paula) sells the fruit as Persian sweet limes at the Ojai, Hollywood, Santa Monica (Wednesday) and Santa Barbara farmers markets. Jeanne Davis (Fallbrook) sells a slightly larger variety at her stands at the Beverly Hills and Hollywood farmers markets. Both have said they'll have the sweet limes/lemons well into spring.
"The customers who love it most say it cures everything," said Davis. "But I think it just tastes good."