Be on the lookout for these elusive lemons in late winter and early spring.

Heard of Meyer lemons? If you're lucky you'll find these special lemons in the produce aisle in late winter and early spring. What makes them so special? We're so glad you asked. These enchanting lemons have a sweet, floral flavor that is perfect for adding to desserts, cocktails, and more. Keep reading to learn all about Meyer lemons and what makes them different from regular lemons.

Bushel of meyer lemons on white background
Credit: Meredith/Blaine Moats

What Are Meyer Lemons?

Meyer lemons were first brought to the United States from Beijing, China, in the early 20th century. They are named after Frank N. Meyer, a United States Department of Agriculture employee who identified the plant while in China and brought them back to the States.

Up until that point Meyer lemons had been mostly used in China as decorative houseplants. When chefs like Alice Waters began using them as an ingredient in their dishes, however, it was not long before they became mainstream.

Meyer lemons are a small, sweet hybrid lemon. They're thought to be a cross between a regular lemon (Eureka and Lisbon variety) and a mandarin orange. They have a smooth, thin rind with a deep yellow hue. Their pulp is pale orange, with a sweet, floral taste.

What's the Difference Between Meyer Lemons and Regular Lemons?

The good news is, you can tell the difference between Meyer lemons and regular lemons just by looking at them. Regular lemons are much larger in size and brighter in color when compared to Meyer Lemons.

Meyer lemons have a deep yellow skin and dark yellow pulp. Their skin is smoother than that of a regular lemon. And they're smaller in size and more round than regular lemons.

When it comes to taste, it's easy to tell a Meyer lemon from a regular lemon. They are less acidic and sweeter. In fact, when Cook's Illustrated conducted a pH test, they found standard lemon juice to be 1.3 times more acidic than Meyer lemon juice. There's even a difference in the the rinds of the two lemons — the Meyer lemon has a much more fragrant rind when zested.

Can You Substitute One for the Other?

The answer is: it depends. Because Meyer lemons have a sweeter, more floral flavor than regular lemons, they make an excellent substitute for regular lemons in dessert recipes.

However, if your recipe demands a bolder, more acidic flavor from its lemon juice (like this lemon vinaigrette), Meyer lemons aren't going to deliver quite the same results as regular lemons in these instances.

If you want to make a Meyer lemon recipe but don't have any on hand, you can substitute a mix of equal parts fresh lemon juice and orange juice or tangerine juice. You can also substitute equal parts lemon zest and orange, tangerine, or mandarin zest for a grated Meyer lemon peel.

When Are Meyer Lemons in Season?

Meyer lemons are available in stores between December and May. Their limited season and fragile skin (which makes them more difficult to ship) naturally makes them more expensive and harder to get your hands on than regular lemons.

Though the season may be short, you can easily extend it with the help of your freezer. To freeze Meyer lemon juice for later use, freeze the juice in ice cube trays. Transfer the cubes to a freezer-safe bag and store for up to six months. You can also preserve zested peels by drying them in the sun and adding them to salts, cures, and marinades.

Where to Buy Meyer Lemons

Because of their thin peel, Meyer lemons don't travel as well and aren't as widely available as regular lemons. They're going to be more widely available in citrus-growing regions (looking at you, Florida). You can find them in some specialty and organic markets during the winter and spring months.

How to Store Meyer Lemons

Store Meyer lemons in a sealed plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. When stored in the fridge, Meyer lemons will last up to a week. Stored at room temperature, they will last for a few days.