Flavors That Complement Lemon

By Mark S. Baker

The rise of molecular gastronomy, which is the melding of science and cooking, has created an interesting subcategory known as Foodpairing. This subcategory is not related to food and wine pairing (or the related food and beer pairing), which pairs alcoholic drinks that go well with certain foods. Foodpairing is based on the fact that there are certain properties to food, not just related to taste, that allow them to match well with other flavors. Lemon has a tart, citrus flavor whose molecular makeup pairs it well with certain herbs, seafood and sweets.

Lemon adds a special tartness and brightness to many flavors.

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Herbs and Spices

Herb and spice flavors that match well with lemon include cilantro and ginger. Cilantro is a member of the parsley family and is the leaf part of the same plant that also produces coriander. Cilantro has a slightly spicy note with which the acidity in lemon meshes well. Ginger is a root that is very pungent and commonly used to make beer and ginger ale. Raw ginger has a certain heat, which can be paired with the tartness of lemon and used in sauces.


Good vegetable pairings with lemon include bell pepper and cauliflower. Bell pepper comes in many varieties and colors and has a very high water and sugar content. Bell pepper flavor is very mild and benefits from the tartness supplied by lemon. Cauliflower, like broccoli and Brussels sprouts, are relatives of the cabbage family. Cauliflower is a very mild vegetable that is often eaten raw, steamed and pureed. Lemon pairs well with cauliflower as the brightness from the lemon adds a depth of flavor to cauliflower.


Lemon and cheese is a common pairing, as long as the cheese is mild and allows the tartness of the lemon to stand out without overpowering the cheese. Good examples of cheese to pair with lemon include mozzarella and Gruyere. Mozzarella is a curd cheese made from milk (traditionally made with buffalo milk) that is best used fresh as opposed to aged like many cheeses. Gruyere is a semi-soft cheese that is similar to Swiss cheese but with a lower melting point. Lemon and Gruyere can be matched in a silky cheese sauce to add to chicken dishes.


Lemon is a common ingredient in pastry dishes. Lemon cakes, lemon poppy-seed muffins and lemon meringue pie are common uses. But lemon also matches well with various forms of dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is made with cocoa, sugar and fat without the use of milk solids and has many more health benefits than regular chocolate due to a higher antioxidant level than regular chocolate. Lemon matches well because the citrus blends with the chocolate and brightens the flavor of dark chocolate, which is normally muted.