February 25, 2006
Squeeze that Lemon

In a recent post, Justin described a way of juicing citrus that gets a lot of juice by cutting the fruit up and then squeezing. We had an off-line discussion about whether his method or my usual method of sticking a fork in the side of a lemon and reeming it out was more efficient.

Recently, we've been using a new tool, a citrus press that "squeezes the bejesus" out of the citrus. So who's right? Only experimentation could determine.

I took a set of nine lemons, weighed them in sets of three and rearranged the lemons within the sets to get a similar weight of fruit in each group to test. Why not limes? Lemons were on sale and they're pretty similar to limes in any case. You can decide if the results are valid when generalized to all citrus.

Group One consisted of 14.5 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.
Group Two consisted of 14.4 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.
Group Three consisted of 14.6 oz. of lemon, pre-squeezing.

I then made up three cards and shuffled them as well as I could, dealing out the cards so each set got a different method of juice extraction. The results are shown below.

I then picked three similar bowls and weighed them to ensure similar weights and so we can adjust for the amount of juice correctly. Weight, rather than volume was used to measure the amount of juice produced, and the juice itself filtered through a colander to remove any seeds or unjuiced pulp that might have been extracted from the lemons and which might skew the results.

Technique 1 was Justin's dissembly method.

The lemons had the bottom trimmed, cut into three sections, plus a core section left behind, then all bits squeezed and juice extracted. I refer you again to Justin's post for a better description of this technique (plus a recipe for some yummy mojitos).

Technique 2 was the mechanically assisted squeeze method.

The lemons were cut in half, placed in the squeezer and squeezed. The squeezed half was then reversed so the inner section faced out and squeezed again.

Technique 3 was my usual fork method.
The lemons had a fork stuck into the side of the lemon, and then reemed out.

Each technique was used for three lemons.

The results:

A little math is applied and here are the final results:

Method 1 - Justin's Dissembly method. Produced 8.35 oz. juice from 14.5 oz. fruit
Method 2 - Mechanical squeeze method. Produced 9.60 oz juice from 14.4 oz. fruit
Method 3 - Barrett's fork method. Produced 7.85 oz juice from 14.6 oz fruit.

Dissembly: .576 oz juice/oz fruit
Squeeze: .667 oz juice/oz fruit
Fork: .538 oz juice/oz fruit

Conclusion - the mechanical squeeze method is by far best of these three, producing almost 20% more juice proportionally than my fork method, and 14% more than the dissembly method.

However, the mechanical squeeze method does require a specialized piece of equipment that not everyone has and of course, may yield less satisfactory results if you are not able to bring as much pressure to bear on the device. If you are stuck with a fork, a knife, and a bunch of citrus, Justin's method yields a better result than my fork method, though it takes a little longer than the fork technique.

Note - at no point were any of the lemons rolled, pre-bruised, microwaved, or had anything done to them that might skew the results. Perhaps in a future post, we'll examine the effects of microwave preparations versus rolling versus leaving the citrus to be squeezed unadulterated.

The other conclusion we can draw is that squeezing a bunch of lemons can lead to a really good smelling kitchen.

Posted by Barrett in Maryland at February 25, 2006 12:50 PM Print-friendly version

So, watcha going to do with all that lemon juice?

I had never even heard of the fork method. We have a small mechanical juicer that works great - cut the lemon in half, put half cut side down on the juicer, push down, the juicer rotates, out comes juice. Fun post, thanks Barrett!

Posted by Elise on February 25, 2006 at 3:14 PM

Elise, glad you asked. I think you'll see a post involving a lemon and something interesting granita sometime in the next week or so...

I highly recommend the fork method if you've had a bad day. It's very good for working out one's agressions.

Posted by barrett on February 25, 2006 at 3:22 PM

Another mechanically assisted trick I've seen is to use kitchen tongs as a sort of vise to squeeze each lemon half.

Posted by oscar on February 25, 2006 at 3:34 PM

Pretty good statistics, but if you had measured the results for each lemon, we could have calculated (albeit with a rather wide margin of error since n=3) whether or not the results were statistically significant. If you really want me to geek out, we'll have to squeeze a minimum of 3*30=90 lemons (so as not to make assumptions about underlying distributions and take advantage of the central limit theorem). Do you have a recipe for bathtub granita?

Posted by Justin on February 25, 2006 at 5:47 PM

Hi Barrett,
Thanks for the great lemon-squeezing breakdown. I've never heard of the fork method either, but I have to say, it does sound like an excellent stress-reliever. My question is about the seeds. Do they stay in the lemon when you use the fork to extract the juice? Or am I misunderstanding the meaning of "reemed out"?

Posted by Jennifer on February 25, 2006 at 6:09 PM

Justin, if we squeezed 90 lemons, I'd be concerned about the validity of the results because of fatigue in the biological component (e.g. the squeezer/forker/dissembler). Perhaps a robo-squeezer is in order. As for bathtub granita - I think some lemon meringue pies might also be in order.

Jennifer - the seeds can be caught in the fingers if you run the juice down the forking hand (really, I didn't just swear there). Usually, you lose a few into the juice. All the methods let some seeds through. The colander is essential for perfectly clean juice.

I'm surprised no one's heard of the fork method before. It's one Emeril uses on his shows (or he did), though I didn't learn it from him.

Posted by barrett on February 25, 2006 at 6:33 PM

I like the tong idea, but i use a spoon in half a lemon. I'd be interested to see if there is a differnece between that and the fork. Don't you get a lot of extra pulp with the fork too?

Posted by Brett on February 25, 2006 at 9:32 PM

I have that lemon gadget. It works wonders. It even strains out the seeds.

It works well on limes, too.

Posted by Barbara on February 26, 2006 at 7:36 AM

Personally, I am a fan of the good old-fashioned wooden reamer. It doesn't filter out the seeds, but the nice sharp edges do a great job and extracting pulp and juice. Messy but fun and best of all dirt cheap!

Posted by Meg in Paris on February 26, 2006 at 10:05 AM

Homemade creme de cassis has been the beverage of choice at my place for the last few weeks, so I'd have to recommend that those 90 lemons get zested and turned into a big batch of homemade limoncello.

Of course, then you'd need two other batches: one to quantify the effect that zesting before juicing had, and the other, conversely, to figure out what effect the juicing methods had on the zestability of the lemons.

(And while you have the services of a Colombian statistician for this effort, you might as well measure the axis lengths of each lemon and have Justin do a multivariate regression, since I'd wager the lemons juice differently depending on how spheroid/ovoid they are.)

Posted by Sweth on February 26, 2006 at 8:17 PM

I love science!

Posted by Kuz on February 26, 2006 at 11:08 PM

Ha! I thought about the spheriod aspect of it too (ratio of pulp to skin). Who made the creme de cassis you've been enjoying?

Posted by Justin on February 27, 2006 at 6:25 AM

You might as well bring the variety of lemon into it as well. Certianly there are breeds of lemons that have thicker and tinner skins, and presumably those that have more or fewer seeds, both of which would affect the fruit/juce ratio.

But then, if this were completely scientific, we'd have robo-squeezers and breed idealized genetically identical lemons.

Posted by barrett on February 27, 2006 at 9:47 AM

Barrett, now you're just being ridiculous.

I was thinking a centrifuge to separate the pure lemony essence from the water since, no doubt, the lemon juice would vary from lemon to lemon.

Posted by Justin on February 27, 2006 at 11:04 AM

I'm also a fan of the wooden reamer. It works great and I think I bought mine for $2. Also it is easy to clean.

Posted by Shevvi on February 27, 2006 at 5:23 PM

Good work, Barrett, but I think you missed the best juice extraction method of all. Have you tried the "Lucy" method- putting them into a large wooden vat and dancing on them?

Posted by the pragmatic chef™ on February 27, 2006 at 6:15 PM

We have the Braun electrical juicer. Granted, it is another small kitchen appliance that occupies precious counter space, but it really speeds up the process of juicing several lemons or oranges.

Posted by Margina Ferrer on February 27, 2006 at 6:46 PM

Were any small animals or children harmed during this experiment?

Posted by Micky on March 1, 2006 at 2:48 PM

Micky - No, but we did start a new lemon-scented religion based on the phrase "Squeezes the Bejesus". Does that count?

Posted by barrett on March 1, 2006 at 2:59 PM

I've been using the same citrus squeezer I bought in guadalajara 10 years ago. Have never tried another method, and I don't think I will. Excellent post!!

Posted by lars on March 1, 2006 at 8:04 PM

thanks for that research. I always wonder. I usually roll them before cutting them and squeeze. For as many lemons as I squeeze, I will most definitely hve to invest in a squeezer.

Posted by jacquie on March 2, 2006 at 2:01 PM

Great experiment in the name of research! I'll keep the results in mind for my next lemon cooking session!

Posted by Pille on March 6, 2006 at 12:05 PM

Brett, what brand of hand-held juicer do you have that works so well? I've read that some are just too wimpy.

Posted by terri in salem on November 9, 2008 at 6:08 PM
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