Not that long ago, I was scanning the seasonings section in the grocery store, looking for some spice perhaps, or a non-alcoholic flavoring (I’ve been glad to see more of these in the stores lately, like my favorite vanilla paste product) when I saw something I hadn’t noticed before which immediately filled my head with possibilities. Some of you may be familiar already with “True Lemon”, but I had never heard of it until then! It’s since become one of my favorite and most frequently-grabbed bottles in my own spice cupboard.
True Lemon (I keep wanting to write “Tru Lemon” for some reason :P) is a crystallized lemon powder. It sounds very simple but it really packs a wallop. The idea of sprinkling lemon flavored powder on things instantly appealed to me (I like the flavor), but I’ve had less than positive experiences with other lemon products in the past. Even most bottled lemon juice does not taste very good to me, though I use it by necessity (yes, my lemonade or other baked products would taste better if I individually squeezed and strained a bunch of fresh lemons, but honestly I do not keep that many lemons on hand all the time in my freezer and they tend to go bad fairly quickly when I do buy them, so I don’t buy a lot at once. And frankly, that’s not on the top of my list of activities when preparing a quick recipe. I do buy them if I know I’m going to need zest, but they’re not constantly in my refrigerator). I specifically recall a lemon oil product I tried recently in hopes of using this to replace lemon extract in some sort of baked good (as I hadn’t found a non-alcohol version of lemon extract) and it was pretty bad. Heavy on the oil (it was mixed with another type of oil that I don’t recall, sunflower perhaps) and not much lemon flavor, and what there was seemed to go out of it within weeks leaving barely-lemony slightly rancid smelling oil. As I understand it, the actual lemon oil itself extracted from the peels isn’t particularly shelf stable, besides being fairly expensive (at any rate, I haven’t found a good source of that either).
The other thing that appealed to me immediately about the idea of the crystallized lemon powder was that it was dry, vs all other liquid lemon products. I envisioned sprinkling it on top of cookies before baking or on top of this type of lemon/poppyseed bread I started making last year and loving (sort of along the flavor lines of lemon poppyseed muffins, but healthier). I haven’t actually done that much baking since buying it, so I still want to try both of these uses, but I quickly discovered its versatility extends far beyond that.
I first of course checked the ingredients in the store, not wanting a repeat of the lemon-infused-oil experience. The True Lemon ingredient list reads: Citric Acid (no surprises there), Maltodextrin, Lemon Oil, Lemon Juice, Ascorbic Acid (Vitamin C). Contains Soy. Oh yes, and it has zero calories, too :).
The first thing I tried it on was a quick dinner of “fish in papillote” prepared with flash-frozen cod fillets and vegetables. I have made this quite a few times, sometimes placing lemon slices on top of the fish to cook into it. This does successfully impart a lemon flavor, but not necessarily much of one. Also, I’ve found when cooking lemon slices directly on fish and chicken, there is sometimes a slight bitterness imparted from the rind (possibly depending on the type of lemon or its ripeness, some of the rinds seem decidedly more bitter than others). Plus, this depended on having lemons sitting around, which as I previously mentioned, is not the case most of the time at my house. Since the fish is frozen, it’s also not a case where you can substitute lemon juice, because it just runs off (frankly I don’t think I would even pour it right onto un-frozen fish, due to the sogging factor).
As it turned out, the powdered lemon worked excellently in this respect, imparting an excellent lemon flavor to the fish and vegetables that I actually don’t think I could have achieved with real lemons, since the powder is so much more concentrated.
But the place True Lemon has really shone is a surprising one! I have been messing around a lot lately with cooking my own microwave popcorn in an attempt to reduce the amount of calories in the recipe, since I traditionally have made it with a lot of oil (I will post further about this after I get the procedure perfected to my satisfaction). The biggest current drawback of air-popped (or low oil popped) popcorn so far has been that I can’t actually get enough salt to stick to it for my taste. So on a whim one night, I dusted on some True Lemon in addition to the salt. It was amazing! Just a small amount of it (it didn’t have any trouble sticking) seemed to enhance the saltiness of the popcorn without making it into “lemon flavored popcorn”. I have been using it on every batch of popcorn since then along with salt! (I eat a lot of popcorn… it’s my favorite whole grain 😉 ).
I am quite excited to continue trying this powdered lemon on other dishes as well. It has a very pure taste with no other flavor notes working their way in there. The bottle wrapper includes an equivalency guide to substituting it for lemon juice in recipes (for example 1/2 tsp = 1 Tbsp juice) when I will be very inclined to do since it tastes so much better than any lemon juice I’ve bought. It also suggests other uses including sprinkling on fruits, vegetables, and salads. I can definitely see how it would enhance the flavor of a fresh salad from my garden, once spring rolls around :). In terms of its use on fruit, I’ve often used lemon juice in the past on fruit salad because it prevents the cut fruit (especially apples) from turning brown so quickly, and I think this would be a great substitution in that department (pineapple juice is another good option because it’s not as sour).
But I’m even more excited in exploring the other options presented by dry powder versus liquid lemon, rather than just substituting. For instance, I like the snack of a toasted flour tortilla drizzled with a little honey, then sprinkled with cinnamon and sugar (a good dessert to follow up with on taco nights). I’m looking forward to trying a lemon variation of this! And definitely will be trying it on top of some cookies and quick breads as I mentioned earlier. I’m also intrigued by the possibilities of using this along with the fruit called “miracle berry”, which if you eat a small amount of it makes anything eaten shortly thereafter that is sour, taste sweet instead (it’s really amazing…if you haven’t tried it I encourage you to do so… maybe I’ll explore it further in a future post).
Not just lemon!
After checking the True Lemon website, I see that they also have “True Lime”, “True Orange” and have also just come out with “True Grapefruit”, as well as some sweetened lemonade versions. While I haven’t personally had the urge to make anything grapefruit flavored recently, I really want to try “True Orange” :). I didn’t see any of these other flavors at my local Fred Meyer grocery store, but others have reported the True Lime being available at theirs, and the products are also available through the True Lemon website. I also saw there were some multi-packs available on Amazon, if you don’t see it at your local grocery.
There is also a coupon available on the True Lemon website (which can be printed and used at the grocery store) for $1 off any two True products :).
Incidentally, the powder doesn’t seem to have any issues with clumping and turning into an impenetrable rock that you have to chip out of the container (which always seems to happen to things like my garlic powder, or instant coffee), but I’ll be keeping an eye on that. At the rate I’m using it up, I don’t know that it will last long enough to do that anyway, though!
Update (The Bad, alas): I just found out that unlike True Lemon, True Orange also contains Stevia for sweetener. This makes me so sad. I’m campaigning for change on True Lemon’s Facebook Page along with other consumers! Join in if you agree! I’ve tried Stevia but I really dislike the taste, as with most sugar substitutes I’ve had. It’s unpleasant enough to my palette (maybe even worse than aspartame) that I couldn’t even finish some tea I’d sweetened slightly with Stevia (I have a bunch of unopened packets from that recent experiment… oh well! I was hoping this one being more natural might agree with me more but that was not the case).
Updated Update! Good news! (6/27/2016)
True Orange (and other flavors) are now available without Stevia or any other artificial sweetener! The company is moving towards natural sweeteners only, which I applaud (artificial sweeteners mostly taste bad to me). True Orange is still slightly sweetened, but with sugar, and in my opinion it tastes great :). They also have more “drink mix” options which are flavor combinations, so check the ingredients to see what kind of sweetener, if any, is used on a particular product when you purchase. True Lemon, as before, is unsweetened.
Have you ever tried any of the “True” products? I’d love to hear your ideas of other things you use it for or want to try it with. 😀