Looking Back on Lemon's Sweet and Sour History

Two lemons beside ten slices and lemon seeds on flat white surface

Lemons are an integral part of some of our most iconic beverages, pastries, desserts and assorted tasty knickknacks. They’re also the central ingredient in Colorado's Best Drinks' iconic Sparkling CBD Lemonade. But while you may well have known all that we'll bet you didn't know that August 29th is National Lemon Juice Day.

In honor of our tart friend we’ve decided to put together a brief history of the lemon beginning with this list of lemon-related fun facts:

  • There are three recognized types of lemon: acidic, rough and sweet
  • Florida, California and Arizona produce more lemons than any other US states
  • Lemon trees when properly cared for can live more than 100 years
  • Ladies of the French Imperial court used to redden their lips by rubbing them with lemon
  • British navy ships were required to stock lemons to prevent scurvy in the 19th century
  • The average lemon tree can produce up to 600 lbs of lemons per year
  • Lemon juice is typically 5% citric acid
  • The largest lemon ever weighed an incredible 12 pounds
  • Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to North America during his 1st voyage
  • India produces three million tons of lemons annually
  • Sparkling CBD Lemonade and Sparkling CBD Lemon Iced Tea are two of our our most popular drinks
  • Lemons were considered a prestige food during the 17th century and often appeared in still life paintings of the time to denote luxury

Now that we have a little better idea of the cultural and culinary importance of this noble fruit, let’s dive into the history of lemons.

Lemons Throughout History

Lemons as we know them today are thought to have originated in central Asia, perhaps China, northern India or Pakistan some 3,000 years ago. It is believed to be a hybrid fruit, likely resulting from the crossing of the citron and the orange (the citron looks similar to a lemon but has a rougher appearance and is believed to be one of the very first citrus fruits).

As the years passed the lemon made its way through the Middle East into Macedonia and Greece during the 4th century BC. Within a century or so of arriving in Europe lemons arrived in the Roman Republic and quickly became a favorite of the aristocracy. Lemons trapped in the ruins of Pompeii when it was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD were excavated in the mid-twentieth century.

Why "Lemon"?

As the lemon spread throughout Europe 2,000 years ago it was also gaining in popularity in the Middle East. And in fact, the word "lemon" is believed to be derived from the Arabic word "laymun". By the 13th century, the word "lemon" was accepted as the name for this tart treat and was in common use throughout the Mediterranean states of the time.

In the late 15th century Christopher Columbus set sail to find a western trade route to the Orient that didn't require sailing all the way around Africa. Instead, he stumbled upon what we now call North America. Important for this historical tome is the fact that he brought lemon seeds with him and planted them on what is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic. In the decades after Columbus Spanish soldiers also planted lemon trees as they made their way across Central America into Mexico.

The Lemon in Art

During the 17th century, Dutch merchants became insanely rich, primarily from the spice trade with what were known at the time as the Dutch East Indies. To commemorate their success they were fond of commissioning the best artists of the day to paint their portraits as well as scenes depicting aspects of their luxurious lifestyle. It was at this time that what we now think of as "still life" painting was born, and the lemon was a central character.

Painters chose lemons because they were extremely difficult to grow in the cold, dank nether reaches of northern Europe. So if you had lemons on your table it was a sign that you were wealthy enough to pay to import them. The painting below by William Claesz Heda is from 1635 and proudly displays a semi-peeled lemon enjoying pride of place on the table next to some of the other accouterment of high living.

Of course, we would have preferred if Heda had included a can of our Sparkling CBD Lemonade, but we’ll give him a pass on that.

Heda wasn't the only Dutch master to immortalize the lemon in his meticulously crafted still-life paintings. It's estimated that lemons appear in more than 50% of all works by recognized masters during the 17th century. While they may or may not have been aware of it at the time these artists were creating an indelible historical record of their day, with references to the main obsessions of the time: international trade and conspicuous consumption.

Lemons in the 21st Century

Besides being one of the most popular flavors of our crisp and refreshing Sparkling CBD Sodas, lemons have become an $8 billion dollar global business. Every year some 25 million tons of lemons are produced with India being the largest producer, Spain being the largest exporter and the US being the world’s largest importer of lemons.

CBD Sparkling Soda: the Ultimate Lemonade

Where would society, and Colorado's Best Drinks, be without the lemon? It has been a part of civilized society for thousands of years, provides the basis for many of our most delicious recipes and the lemon business employs countless thousands worldwide. Happy National Lemon Juice Day!