Have you ever found a red bell pepper to smell faintly like diesel when rinsed with warm water, or peeled an orange that smelled like mosquito spray? These are the moments when we think that we’ve identified a piece of fruit that is contaminated with pesticides. The truth is that without the opportunity of elaborate chemical testing, the consumer has no chance to know what chemicals enter his kitchen hidden in the folds of the groceries. A few days ago the Swedish public was informed about a new study about the steadily increasing diversity of undesired chemicals in our food. Of course, for those who cared to read up on the matter, it has been known for decades that pesticides are creeping unobserved into our food; the news is that the cocktail of chemicals gets ever more varied.
If we, then, need to read about pesticides in order to know about their unwelcome existence, because we can’t smell them, people actually have to write about them. One of the most puzzling things lacking in the majority of baking books around the world concerns lemons. Lemon zest is a lovely and beloved ingredient for most things sweet and tempting. How many baking recipes alert the happily anticipating baker to the fact that lemon peel can be completely saturated with pesticides? Almost none. A Google search on lemon zest pesticides at least turns up the idea to scrub the peel thoroughly to get rid of most of the wax and pesticides. But what does that help? As above, we cannot possibly judge whether the scrubbing ritual truly exorcised all the bad spirits of the peel.
In Lori Longbotham’s book Lemon Zest – More Than 175 Recipes with a Twist, (when I wrote this post, I provided a link to the relevant passage, but it has gone dead since then. Poisoned, no doubt) we finally can read what thousands of baking books have omitted: If you want to be sure to avoid pesticides, buy organic lemons – but you’ll have to scrub them nevertheless, because even they have been waxed.