& COOKING ARTICLE
Also known as: Mexican lime, West Indian lime
(Citrus aurantifolia) are the fruit of tropical citrus
tree closely related to lemons. This evergreen tree
is in the Rue family, Rutaceae, which also includes
citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons and kumquats.
Limes are native to Southeast Asia, and probably originated
or Malaysia. They made their way to the eastern Mediterranean
with the Arabs, and to the western Mediterranean, with
returning Crusaders, and eventually to the West Indies,
when Columbus introduced citrus fruits there on his
second voyage. These limes, used in most of the world,
are what we call Key Limes.
large, green, seedless limes found in your supermarket
is the Persian or Tahiti Lime (Citrus latifolia) a hybrid
developed in the early 20th century. The fruit is larger
than the Key Lime, more resistant to disease and pests,
and has a thicker rind. They are picked slightly immature,
while they are still green in color (they turn yellow
when fully ripe, and might be confused with lemons).
limes which predominate in the rest of the world, are
smaller, yellower in color, seedy, sourer, and grow
on thorny trees which are sensitive to cold weather.
As we have done with tomatoes, we have sacrificed flavor
for convenience and appearance. Key limes were grown
commercially in the southern Florida and the Florida
keys, until the 1926 hurricane wiped out the citrus
groves. The growers replaced the Key Lime trees with
Persian Lime trees because they are easier to grow,
easier to pick because they have no thorns, and due
to the much thicker skin, are easier and more economical
to ship. There are still many Key Lime trees throughout
the Florida Keys in backyards, however commercial production
is only on a very small scale. Though they do seem to
be making a slight comeback as a Florida crop in recent
Key limes are small, somewhat larger than a walnut,
oval in shape with a thin yellowish rind which are prone
to splotchy brown spots. They are aromatic and very
juicy, with a stronger and more complex acidic flavor
than Persian limes. The evergreen trees are 7 to 8 feet
tall, shrubby, crooked and thorny, with shiny green
leaves. Both Persian and Key Limes have a higher sugar
and citric acid content than lemons, and Key limes are
more acidic than Persian.
Key limes (like Persian limes) are more susceptible
to frost than other citrus fruits. The peak season is
during the summer, June through August, but they are
available year-round from Mexico and Central America.
Unless you live in the Florida Keys or are otherwise
a Key Lime pie aficionado, in which case only limes
grown in the Keys are acceptable as 'Key Limes'. Most
(more than 90%) of the Key Limes increasingly found
in supermarkets are grown in Mexico and Central America;
they are also grown in Texas and California, where they
are known as Mexican limes. Juice content is high, well
Handling & Storage
Skin should be light yellow and fine grained, like leather.
Avoid any signs of decay, mold or blotchy, brown spots.
Don't buy if skin is turning hard or shriveled.
at 40º - 45º F. for two weeks maximum.
juice keeps for two to three months. Bottled juice is
available, but very inferior (especially for Key Lime
As a Key West resident, I must say first and foremost,
Key Lime Pie. They are also delicious in beverages,
sorbets, and jams. They are excellent in marinades for
fish (seviche) or meats and chicken, and used in fish
and meat stews.
Limes, including the Key Lime, actually contain less
vitamin C than lemons.
to confuse you
There is also a 'kaffir' or Indonesian lime tree (Citrus
hystrix), whose leaves are used in Thai, Malaysian and
Indonesian cuisine, and are sometimes available in this
country. There are also very sweet limes, called appropriately
'sweet limes', which are apparently used mostly in North
African and South American cuisines. The unrelated Genip
(related to litchis) is also called Spanish lime. Oh,
one more. The linden tree (a basswood) is also called
lime tree, especially in England.
James T. Ehler, 2001
All rights reserved
article is from Chef James Ehler of Key West, Florida.
is a webmaster, cook, chef, writer and (like me) a self-confessed
computer nerd. He is the former executive chef of Martha's
Steak & Seafood Restaurant and the former Reach Hotel
(both in Key West), the Hilton Hotel in Fayetteville,
Arkansas, and the New Bern Golf and Country Club, North
is now webmaster and cook at the Blue Heaven Restaurant
in Key West while he works on his Food Encyclopedia
(five years so far). It is well worth paying a visit
to James' food reference website which is a useful resource
well worth Bookmarking - to visit either website just
click on their title:
Food Reference Website
Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West, Florida
James T. Ehler, 2001
All rights reserved
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