(Citrus aurantifolia or Citrus latifolia— Family Rutaceae)
Limes, Mexican limes, green lemons
citron vert (French), Limone (German), lima (Italian/Spanish/Portuguese), laim (Russian), misket limonou (Turkish), limonit (Hebrew), laimun malih (Arabic), limoo (Persian), nimbu (Hindi), lebu (Bengali), elumichai (Tamil), suan cheng (Chinese), ma naao (Thai), limau nipis (Malay), jeruk nipis (Indonesian), dayap (Philippines)
Limes are the smallest members of the true citrus family and native to Southeast Asia or India.
It is difficult to determine when the lime was first taken into cultivation as surviving documents do not distinguish it from other citrus fruits.
An Indian medical work c. 100 CE refers to both the lemon and the lime as ‘jambira’, and later Arabic works seem to have used two words when referring to both. For the western world, the lime was first mentioned by Sir Thomas Herbert in 1677 when he referenced a site near the coast of Mozambique.
While lemons are the major acid citrus fruits in the subtropics, limes are the most prominent in the tropical regions.
The lime, in its very acidic form, will have one and one-half times as much acid as a lemon of the same weight; but there are various kinds of limes, including sweet ones.
There are three basic types of lime: Tahitian, Mexican, and Key limes.
Tahitian limes are large, with a pale, finely-grained pulp and a very acidic flavour.
Mexican limes are smaller, with bright green skins and a very aromatic flavour.
Key limes are closely related to the Mexican and are a pale yellowish-green fruit, very juicy with a strong, sharp flavour. They are the main ingredient of Florida’s Key Lime Pie. Prior to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, 90% of US limes were grown in Florida.
Attempts to grow limes in Mediterranean countries were not successful because they were not hardy enough; but they do very well in Egypt, where they are more plentiful than lemons.
Although limes will ripen to an orange colour if left on the tree, they are always picked “green”, possibly to distinguish them from the lemon.
Limes are also widely grown in the West Indies, where the British Navy came to gather supplies to supplement their sailors’ rations to help prevent scurvy. “Limehouse”, in London’s docks, takes its name from the warehouses where the fruit was stored after arriving from the West Indies.
India has also been known to produce a small sweet lime with a greenish-yellow rind and a non-acidic juice. It has a thin, fairly smooth green skin and a highly aromatic acidy flesh.
Unlike lemons, limes will grow in tropical regions and are an essential ingredient in South-East Asian, Mexican, Latin American, and Caribbean cooking.
Indian sweet, Palestine sweet, mitha nimboo (Hindi), limun helou/limun succari (Egypt) (Citrus limettioides) is extensively grown in its native India, as well as throughout the Mediterranean. It may be a hybrid of four separate species, including the lemon and Key lime and/or citron. It has somewhat of a lower sugar content than the acid limes, but qualifies as sweet because it is almost completely devoid of acidity. It is used principally as a rootstock. It has a yellow rind with a distinctive and aromatic oil, pale yellow flesh, and a few, if any, seeds. Although it is succulent and juicy, its low acid count makes it an acquired taste. A Tahiti lime may have 6% citric acid count, and oranges 1%, but the Indian sweet lime often has less than 0.1%. This flat taste is popular in the Middle East and India, but is not in the West.
Kaffir limes are not true limes (see under citrus fruits).
Key lime, West Indian lime, Mexican lime, kaghzi nimbu (India), Gallego lime (Brazil), limun baladi (Egypt), doc (Morocco), shirazi (Iran) (C. aurantifolia) is a variety that is referred to as the true lime. It was brought to the Americas from Asia by the Portuguese and Spanish explorers in the early 16th century and cultivated as early as 1889 in the Florida Keys. It grows well in all of the citrus-growing regions: hot semitropical, subtropical, and tropical regions, and particularly flourishes in the Caribbean and Florida. It is round to oval, very small, and harvested year round. They are so small that often as many as sixteen will make a pound (500 grams). Key emits an extremely distinctive aroma from its thin green rind, and it is quite juicy with some seeds and an acidy taste. Like the lemon, the lime became abundant in the New World soon after its introduction, particularly in the West Indies and Central America.
Limetta, sweet lime (C. limetta) is a fruit that resembles lemons in every respect, except it does not have the mouth-puckering taste. Its mild, sweet juice tastes like home-made lemonade without the hard work or sugar. There are three varieties of limettas, all having the characteristic “nipple” on one end with a furrow round it. Millsweet, grown mainly in Italy and California, is the best known limetta variety. Limettas are not usually available commercially, but occasionally fruit importers will included them in a fruit consignment. It is also grown on a small scale in India and around the Mediterranean.
Mandarin limes are a group of three or more similar fruits:
Rangpur (Citrus x limonia) is a lemon and mandarin hybrid, originating in India. The fruit resembles a mandarin, and the juice is added to mandarin juice in India to improve the flavour. However, the rangpur is best known for the fine marmalade produced from it, which is reputedly even better than that from Seville oranges. The fruit is grown in India, California, Australia, and Hawaii. It is also grown as an ornamental in Europe, US, and India.
Kusaie is probably a form of rangpur, but is more limelike in aroma. The tree fruits almost continually, and is common in Hawaii and Trinidad, but little known elsewhere.
Otaheite/Otaheite Rangpur is the non-acid form of rangpur. Its origin is unknown; but it was introduced to Tahiti from France via England and, from there, to San Francisco. The fruit is round and almost two inches wide. The plant has fragrant purple flowers and is sold as a potted plant near the end of the year in the US when it flowers and fruits at the same time.
Philippine lime (Calamondin)
Spanish lime (Melicocca bijuga), as it is known in Florida, is not a lime at all, but has a similar flavour.
Tahiti, Bearss lime, Persian lime (C. latifolia) cannot tolerate frost or cold and is mainly an ornamental variety, with fragrant blossoms and dense green foliage. The fruit is larger and oval, with a thin green rind that encases a pale green, seedless flesh. There is plenty of very acidy juice that has a tang to it of black pepper. It has been cultivated continuously in California since 1875, and is the most valuable lime for West Coast growers. It probably originated as a hybrid between the common lime and the citron. It is called Persian lime, even though it is not known in Iran, but probably came by way of there at one time, and Tahiti lime because it reached the US via that country. The Tahiti lime comes in two varieties, both grown in California: Persian, which is oval and the size of an egg, and the Bearss, which is seedless and larger than the Persian, and the only lime now cultivated in the US. Both turn greenish-yellow when mature, but have the best flavour when they are green.
Lime flowers (Tilia sp. – Family Tiliaceae) come from any number of trees belonging to the European lime or linden tree (T. platyphyllos) of the Basswood or Linden family. They are dried to make lime tea, popular in France, Spain, and elsewhere for its relaxing properties. They are also used in ice creams and similar confections. A French chemist discovered that a paste made from the fruits and flowers of the linden was a perfect substitute in taste and texture for chocolate, except it would not keep. Lime flowers are also liked by bees, who in turn, make an excellent honey well-liked by humans.