Variety In The Sour Element

Lemon – Citrus limon

Varieties: Eureka Lemon (Citrus limon ‘eureka’), Lisbon Lemon (Citrus limon ‘lisboa’), Ponderosa Lemon (Citrus limon ‘ponderosa’)

There is only one species of true lemon, and it is the default sour ingredient in North American drink-making.  Any bar owner or manager in the U.S.A. will probably think of the lemon first when considering a list of fresh produce that will be needed.

The best lemons for use in the bar are of the Eureka variety that have ripened on the tree that and have never been sprayed with wax or stored under refrigeration.  Unfortunately, most commercially-available lemons are picked green and stored cold to prevent wastage.  Following demand, the lemons are gas-ripened yellow, waxed, and shipped.  Gas-ripening makes a pretty lemon, but without the same flavor as a tree-ripened lemon.  The wax interferes with the expression of the oils in the zest that is so important to many drinks.  Making refrigerated, gassed and waxed lemons into sherbet for punch is almost pointless.  That is because the oil of the zest never matured on the tree, was counter-acted by refrigeration, and then was sealed in by wax.  Most of what will rub off into the sugar is wax and any pollutants that it trapped.

The lemon is an ever-fruiting tree (or shrub) and if you grow your own, you should have some ripe fruit throughout most of the year.  Otherwise, find a vendor in a farmers’ market that sells lemons that are tree-ripened and have no wax.  You should be able to get a good smell of the oils in the zest of a tree-ripened, unrefrigerated, unwaxed lemon just by putting it near your nose.  Don’t be bothered if you find that tree-ripened lemons are often not as uniformly attractive as gas-ripened lemons.

The Lisbon variety of the lemon is sometimes sold in the U.S.A. as the ‘seedless lemon’ and its juice is just slightly more sour than the Eureka variety.  Ponderosa lemons are residentially grown in Southern California, but their grapefruit-sized fruit is almost never commercially sold.  Some consider it less attractive than smaller lemons, but many tasters would have trouble detecting any difference in its juice.

Key Lime – Citrus aurantiifolia

The default sour ingredient in most Latin-American drink-making, and the lime that was most-used in North American drink-making before 1926, is the Key lime.  The Key lime may still be legally marketed in the U.S.A. as the “bartender’s lime.”

In 1926 the Great Miami Hurricane decimated production of Key limes in the U.S.A.  This caused produce sellers to switch to Persian limes from California or Mexico.  But, any reference to limes made in North American, pre-prohibition drink books should be understood as Key limes.

Key limes are noticeably more tart than Eureka lemons, and so sugar amounts set for lemon juice may need to be adjusted when using Key lime juice instead.  The Key lime is so delicious that I use it even for all post-1926 drinks calling for lime – even though it would be more faithful to the origins of those ‘newer’ drinks to use Persian limes.  Since the Key lime yields less juice and has more seeds than does the Persian lime, a little more labor is required.  I believe it is very much worth the effort.

Persian Lime – Citrus latifolia

Common Seedless Variety: Bearss lime (Citrus latifolia ‘bearss’)

In English, the word ‘lime’ is used to describe citrus of any species that produces fruit that is preferred unripe.  The Persian lime is an altogether different species than the Key lime.

The Persian lime is now the most common lime in North American drink-making.  Persian limes are more tart than Eureka lemons, though not quite as tart as Key limes.  Persian limes do yield more juice than do Key limes, and the Bearss variety is seedless.  But, the Persian lime’s flavor is simply not as good as that of the Key lime.  Have you ever heard of anyone preferring Persian lime pie over Key lime pie?


The cranberry is also an ingredient in the sour element.  There are actually four species of cranberries.  Their Latin species names are Vaccinium erythrocarpum, Vaccinium macrocarpon, Vaccinium microcarpum, and Vaccinium oxycoccos.

Cranberry juice is not normally consumed pure.  Products called cranberry juice are usually one of two different things:

Cranberry-ade (a.k.a. cranberry juice ‘cocktail’) – cranberry juice diluted with a greater amount of water and sweetened with sugar.

Blended Cranberry Juice – cranberry juice blended with a greater amount of succulent juices (such as apple, grape or pear).  Labels for ‘cranberry juice’ bearing the words “100% juice” indicate a blend of some cranberry juice with a greater amount of succulent juices.

The best choice for mixed drinks is cranberry-ade, so that the main flavor is of the cranberry without other juices.

To make cranberry-ade, dissolve 3/4 cup granulated cane sugar into two cups pure, not-from-concentrate, cranberry juice before adding three-or-more cups pure water.  Stir.  Taste the cranberry-ade and add more sugar or water if desired.  The result should be as good as, or better than, anything sold as “cranberry juice cocktail.”  Keep the cranberry-ade refrigerated.

When cranberry-ade is used in drinks, it technically contains the sour, sweet and weak elements – but it may also be used as if it belonged to the succulent element.


Other sour element ingredients include: mango species that are sour, passion fruit (Passiflora edulis], cashew fruit (Anacardium occidentale), citric acid, acid phosphate, and most vinegar.


Semi-sour Fruit

Meyer Lemon – Citrus meyeri

The Meyer lemon is not a true lemon.  Some consider the Meyer lemon sweet enough to be considered part of the succulent element rather than the sour element.  That is because it is a hybrid between the true lemon (Citrus limon) and the sweet orange (Citrus sinensis).

2 thoughts on “Variety In The Sour Element

  1. Hi Andrew,

    Couldn’t find your email on this site. I wanted to drop you a quick note to say hi and mention that we’re developing a new and pretty exciting “best of the web” section on that we’re calling DrinkWire. Our site is an expert guide to the world of cocktails and spirits, and this new addition will feature stories from top journalists, bloggers, bartenders and other knowledgeable folks across the world. I was curious if you would be interested in being one of our contributors?

    Being a contributor to DrinkWire is super simple and should provide lots of extra exposure, reach, SEO and traffic for your site and content. More or less, we’re building DrinkWire to be’s very own community of expert cocktails-and-spirits contributors—aggregating the best content from top blogs, sites and experts across the web and promoting it to our entire audience. Our ultimate goal is to create a network of content from around the world, including cocktail recipes, bar reviews, spirits tasting notes and everything in between.

    Once you sign up and create your DrinkWire account, you can submit posts directly through the DrinkWire dashboard (either by manually composing/submitting them or dynamically by selecting recent stories pulled into your DrinkWire dashboard via your site’s RSS feed). Your dashboard will also keep track of stats like how many people are checking out your content and how many posts you’ve made.

    If you’re ready to sign up, please go here to create an account: Once you sign up and create your DrinkWire account, our system will begin crawling your site (optional) and you should see an archive of existing posts available for submission to us within a few hours.

    We won’t use posts from you unless you specifically submit them to us via your DrinkWire dashboard or if you tag them with either “DrinkWire” or “” on your end. However, from time to time our editors may ask for your permission and authorization to use a post we like that you didn’t submit. The goal is for us to get more great content on our site and for you to get more exposure and readers to your site. Please note that by signing up for the community, you’re giving us a license and permission to use your content.

    As you register your account, please make sure to take a moment to upload a photo and fill out your profile (all totally editable any time in the future):

    Please let me know if you have ANY questions. The entire signup process is very quick and easy, but if you have trouble, don’t hesitate to drop me a line or give me a call/text at 908-612-9223. Thanks!


    Nick Rhodes

Leave a Reply to The Liquid Culture Project Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s