ReaLemon versus a real lemon

Juice a fresh fruit, or open a bottle? Can we tell the difference?

Initial observation:

Many drinks call for lemon juice, but there are a variety of options, from several types of actual fruits to several bottled varieties. While we have alternately used many of the available options, we have never done a side-by-side test.


Can tasters tell the difference between a real lemon and ReaLemon in a cocktail?


While I do not expect tasters to be able to necessarily identify which product is which, I do expect a preference for one over the other.

Equipment & Materials:

  • 1 lemon (produces ~ 1 oz of juice)
  • 1 oz ReaLemon
  • 2 oz Brandy (divided, 1 oz per drink)
  • 2 oz Cointreau (divided, 1 oz per drink) <– winner of the orange liquor vs sidecar battle
  • 2 shakers
  • 6 ice cubes (3 for each shaker)
  • 2 glasses (for the double blind procedure, it helps to have 2 distinctly decorated glasses)
  • guinea pigs… er… taste testers
A real lemon (C. × limon) and a bottle of ReaLemon.

A real lemon (C. × limon) and a bottle of ReaLemon.


  1. select a lemon at the grocery store: I try to pick ones that smell lemony (surprisingly, many don’t), though, common advice is to look for fruits that are heavy for their size, firm, bright yellow, and preferable smooth & thin skinned.
  2. roll the lemon firmly against a flat surface with your hand, this helps pre-break some the juice vesicles, making juicing easier
  3. cut lemon in half, and squeeze firmly over a strainer set over a collection container
  4. become painfully aware of the tiny cuts and abrasions on your hands (optional)
  5. measure 1 oz lemon, 1 oz brandy & 1 oz Cointreau into each shaker (using a different type of juice in each)
  6. add ice
  7. shake simultaneously (one shaker in each hand, which is possible if not using boston shakers) for 30 seconds
  8. strain into glasses
  9. assess & enjoy
The lemon juicing rig. The strainer is to catch and seeds or errant clumps of pulp.

The lemon juicing rig. The strainer is to catch and seeds or errant clumps of pulp.

Double Blind Procedure:

  1. have one person measure the ingredients, and note which lemon juice was in what shaker
  2. write down the juice to shaker mapping on a piece of paper, fold that up and set aside
  3. after shaking, person #1 calls in their capable co-blogger
  4. person #1 leaves the room, and capable co-blogger chooses which glass to pour the contents of each shaker into
  5. the shaker to glass mapping is written on a different piece of paper, which is folded up and set aside
  6. everyone comes back in to taste test & make notes
  7. open up the pieces of paper and determine which glass mapped to which juice


Glass #1: Smells of Cointeau, citrusy with a bit of alcohol. Sweet on nose, slightly sour & tangier. Bright. Preferable to glass #2.
Glass #2: Smells of lemon, but more alcohol-y. Round and smooth mouth feel and flavor. Smells different than glass #1 in a funky way, but nice drink & flavors seem balanced.

Surprise Results:

The ReaLemon has a distinct odor, which was detectable in the final drink.
Also, learned that lemons are botanically berries (technically hesperidiums).


Glass #1 = a real lemon
Glass #2 = ReaLemon

Both were nice drinks in that they seemed well balanced. In comparison however, the real lemon was definitely a clear winner, and everyone correctly identified which glass was which.

Living in a northern clime, lemons are of hit-or-miss quality, and are somewhat expensive. In the case of this experiment, the purchased lemon was $0.79, and produced enough juice for 1 drink. The 15 oz bottle of ReaLemon was $2.25, which comes out to $0.15 per drink. While the resulting beverage using the fresh lemon was a clear winner, if on a budget or cocktailing for a crowd, a bottled variety might be justified.

Future Questions:

How does a real lemon compare against a Meyer Lemon (technically a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange) or against other bottled brands? If stuck needing to use bottled lemon juice, which brand is better? If we can find different lemon varietals, is there a difference between them (do you even get a choice of lemons outside the lemon belts)?

3 thoughts on “ReaLemon versus a real lemon

  1. Pingback: Orange Liqueur versus the Margarita | Doing Science To Stuff

  2. Pingback: Lemon vs. Aged Lemon | Doing Science To Stuff

  3. Pingback: Sidecars vs Lemons | Doing Science To Stuff

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