Sour note: In Ancient Rome, lemons were only for the rich

Lemons were the acai bowls of the ancient Romans — prized by the privileged because they were rare, and treasured for their healing powers. In fact, this coveted fruit, as well as the citron, were the only citrus fruits known in the ancient Mediterranean — it took centuries for other fruits, such as oranges, limes and pomelos to spread westward from their native Southeast Asia, a new study finds.

However, the citrus fruits that followed in later years weren’t as exclusive as lemons and citrons, said the study’s lead researcher, Dafna Langgut, an archaeobotanist at Tel Aviv University in Israel.

“All other citrus fruits most probably spread more than a millennium later, and for economic reasons,” Langgut, told Live Science in an email. [10 Biggest Historical Mysteries That Will Probably Never Be Solved]

Studying the ancient citrus trade took a lot of work. Langgut examined ancient texts, art and artifacts, such as murals and coins. She also dug into previous studies to learn about the identities and locations of fossil pollen grains, charcoals, seeds and other fruit remains.

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Gathering this information “enabled me to reveal the spread of citrus from Southeast Asia into the Mediterranean,” Langgut said.

Citrus trade

The citron (Citrus medica)was the first citrus fruit to reach the…

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