Eating Raw Lemons Is a Surprisingly Common Habit. We Find Out Why.

Collage: VICE / Images: (L) Koh Ewe (R) Courtesy of Trazia Rae Williams 

But Y Tho explores a plethora of funny, strange, and peculiar trends to provide long sought-after answers to questions that have been swimming in all our heads.

“OK, serious question: Does anybody have, like, that really weird food that they’ve been eating forever but it’s just super, super, super good?” said Trazia Rae Williams while cutting up lemons on a plate.

As the video goes on, Williams sprinkles salt over a lemon wedge and pops it into her mouth, chewing without so much as a twitch of an eye.

On TikTok, Williams’ content mostly consists of food recipes that average around 100,000 views. But when she posted that video of her spontaneously eating a lemon in April last year, it went viral with over 4 million views.

We’ve seen our fair share of weird DIY comfort food and strange cooking hacks, but the simple act of biting into a raw lemon seems to supersede others in terms of gustatory extremity.

TikTok videos tagged #lemonchallenge, which have garnered over 423 million views in total, see people biting into lemons while attempting to keep a straight face; on WitchTok, eating lemon peels has people claiming that it gives them euphoria.

TikTok’s fascination with lemon trends are just one facet of an offbeat—yet surprisingly common—eating habit that is adored by some but makes others squirm in sour silence.

While some Italian recipes incorporate lemon wedges into salads, many of us mostly stick to lemon zest or a squeeze of lemon juice for that extra oomph in our food.

Why do people enjoy eating lemons raw, and sometimes whole? I picked the brains of those who have embraced raw lemons as a way of life.

Raised by a single mother who worked as a waitress, Williams said she often hung around her mother’s workplace as a kid. 

“She would sit me in the high chair while she was at work, and then she would just let me have a bowl of lemons,” said Williams. 

As it turns out, the habit of eating raw lemons is, for many, a surviving legacy of a core childhood memory.

Mumbai-based VICE writer Shamani Joshi said she started sucking on lemons as a way to combat severe motion sickness as a kid and brought her habit into adulthood.

“I had really bad motion sickness. So every time I would travel in a car, there’s two things I would always carry: an airbag and a lemon,” said Joshi, who would suck on a lemon every time she felt queasy during a ride. “And I think somewhere along the way, that got embedded in my head because I started doing it even outside the car.”

Hanako Montgomery, a Tokyo-based writer for VICE, said that for her, biting into whole lemons is an inherited preference.

“My father eats it this way,” explained Montgomery. “So I think I’ve just picked up a lot of his habits.” 

Besides chomping on lemons, other habits she picked up from her father include eating grapefruit pith, chewing through seeds, and chomping into apple cores. 

“I like the chewy sensation of a lemon—of, like, you biting into the peel, and then part of the pith, and then the actual meat of the fruit,” Montgomery said. 

Aida Pasheva, a content creator who grew up in Siberia, had a similar experience. She picked up the habit from her mother, who got the idea from their Azerbaijani relatives. Pasheva said she is “a big fan of lemons” and often enjoys her lemon slices with salt.

Meanwhile, Emma Melvin, a 20-year-old student living in Hawaii, said her love for lemons was born out of a childhood ritual.

“My mom can’t drink water without lemon squeezed into it,” she said. “So as a baby, she used to feed me her leftover lemons. She would just squeeze the juice out and then give me the rest.”

Melvin now eats lemons, cut into wedges like oranges, a couple of times a week. But instead of craving the sheer sourness of lemons, Melvin finds that the appeal of the citrus fruit is more about its freshness. In fact, she hates sour candies but has always loved anything lemon-flavored.

“It’s refreshing and it’s natural tasting,” she said. “But the artificial sour, it hits differently. I just don’t like that.”

For some, it started as an innocent curiosity. 

“Ever since I was little, I was really addicted to eating strange stuff, like really sour things or things like plants and leaves,” said Nicole Manning, a 27-year-old sales consultant in Sydney. She eats lemons a couple of times a month, usually peeled.

Manning thinks her interest in lemons may be linked to sensory processing disorder, a condition common among people with autism like herself. Those with the condition are over-responsive or under-responsive to stimuli including sights, sounds, and tastes. 

A 2007 study on adolescents with autism showed that they were significantly less accurate in identifying sour tastes, compared to control participants. 

“So the reason I like eating lemons so much is because they’re so sour. A lot of people find them too sour but I find them really enjoyable,” explained Manning, who revels in any chance she gets to enjoy a whole lemon.

Naras Lapsys, a Singapore-based consultant dietician, cautioned against chomping into one too many lemons as the acidity could wreak havoc on tooth enamel. He added that acid reflux is also a valid concern, but only for those who are already prone to the condition. 

“If you’re at risk of reflux, [or] if you have reflux, then it could be a trigger,” he said, adding that for those who have healthy stomachs, lemons are probably not going to cause any harm.

As extreme as it sounds, Lapsys said that eating raw lemons isn’t a major cause for concern, as long as people remember to rinse the outer layers before taking a bite.

In fact, it could be a healthy habit.

“I would say the main benefit for eating lemons is going to be the vitamin C content,” said Lapsys. Vitamin C is known for its multiple benefits including boosting the immune system, improving the absorption of iron, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

“So we could certainly call it a healthy thing to do, and you could sit there and crunch your way through and eat a lemon,” said Lapsys.

And crunch my way through, I did. Feeling brave one afternoon, I took a lemon and got down to tasting it, in the different ways I’ve seen people do.

First up was the Snow White apple bite—except it was nearly impossible to pierce through the waxy lemon peel with my teeth. I made a little incision on the lemon with a knife and tried again. This time, I managed to chomp my way into the flesh, and it tasted surprisingly mild. This isn’t bad at all, I thought to myself, and declared my first battle with the notoriously acerbic fruit won. 

I tried biting into a raw lemon like an apple to understand why people do it.

I chomped on a lemon in an attempt to understand its citrusy appeal. First up, biting into it apple-style. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

A lemon wedge was a different story. Turns out, I hadn’t actually gotten to the full glory of lemony flesh with my Snow White bite. As I sucked on, I found myself in a tart grimace, teeth bared and fingers curled, waiting helplessly for the taste to dissipate—pretty much the sour overload I expected from lemons.

I ate a lemon wedge to understand why people eat raw lemons.

Next, I confronted the lemon wedge. Collage: VICE / Images: Koh Ewe

My next attempt had me dipping lemon slices in salt and sugar (separately). This brought me a little more insight into the appeal of fresh lemons. The grains of salt and sugar buffered the impact and saved my tongue from being directly assaulted by pure lemon juice. I still found my face contorted in agony, though.

I learned that there are many reasons why people thirst for lemons. Things like a natural or developed palate for unusually sour tastes, inherited eating habits, and an endearing testament to core childhood memories, are all little idiosyncrasies that define us.

Hearing the vastly different stories behind people’s preferences for lemons in their various forms—sliced, salted, or rind and all—was an unexpectedly wholesome experience. But since I didn’t learn to appreciate raw lemons as a kid, I’ll probably just stick to using them as garnish.

Follow Koh Ewe on Instagram.

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