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Limes

Information about Limes plus lime recipe collection

 

 

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April 

2004

 

 

 

Limes  are a smallish fruit  which belong to the plant family Rutaceae (citrus family).  They are similar to lemons but generally smaller and have a fresher taste and a more aromatic smell. The whole of the plant is used for culinary purposes i.e. the juice, skin (pericarp),  pulp in some cases the leaves and the fruits are usually picked and used when unripe (green). When fully ripe the fruit are yellow.

 

 

 

Origin and History of Limes

 

The Lime is a native of the East Indies and has spread all over the world in tropical and near tropical regions. Here we are going to concentrate on the three best known varieties used in cooking.

 

Mexican lime

Arabian traders introduced it to North Africa and the Near East towards the end of the 10th Century AD and it was in turn introduced  the Mediterranean by the Crusaders during the 12th and 13th Centuries AD. Good old Columbus is credited with having introduced  it to the New World and Spanish immigrants took it on to Florida where the success in its cultivation in the Florida Keys led to it being referred to as the Key Lime.  Key limes are much smaller  than Persian limes.

 

 

Persian Lime

also known as Tahiti Lime (Citrus latifolia) is from uncertain origins. It is thought to be a hybrid of the Mexican Lime (see above)  and Citron (Citrus medica) developed in the early 20th century.  They are larger than the Mexican lime,  usually seedless and less less acidic.

 

 

Kaffir lime

(Citrus hystrix.) is native to South East Asia. Popular in Thai, Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines (amongst others), it is the leaves which are mostly used. As this plant grows wild in many places, one can only assume that it has been used for culinary purposes for thousands of years.

 

A couple of interesting historical facts relating to names derived from this fruit.

 

1. The English became known as "limeys" because our sailors used to consume limes during long sea voyages to combat the disease Scurvy which was basically a deficiency of Vitamin C,  which up until the late 18th Century killed many a seaman. Also "Limehouse", in London's docks, gets its name from the warehouses where the fruit used to be  stored upon arrival from the West Indies.

 

2.  Although today the name "Kaffir"  is widely associated with a derogatory name given to black people , the word actually derives from an Arabic word which means "unbeliever".  Why they should have given this fruit that particular name.....

 

 

Cultivation of Limes

 

Lime plants range from shrubs which reach a height of up to 6 feet to trees which grow up to 6 m. They need a tropical or near  tropical climate to thrive well in the open although compact dwarf varieties are not available which are suitable for growing in large pots which can be grown in a sunny spot on the patio in summer although they must be moved to a frost-free place in winter.

 

As mentioned above, the fruit are usually harvested when unripe although they can be left on the tree to ripen when they turn yellow. Depending on the variety, main crop harvesting usually takes place from early summer through to the Autumn although many varieties produce fruit of much of the year once established.

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A seedling tree takes up to 6 or 7 years to produce fruit although a grafted tree will produce fruit within 3 to 4 years.

 

 

Buying and Storing Limes


Go for brightly coloured firm fruits which feel heavy for their size. Avoid any which look shrivelled or have with blemishes or decayed spots and those that feel soft.

 

Whole limes will keep for up  to ten days in a plastic bag in the fridge although they may well last much longer. You can usually tell when a lime is reaching the end of its storage life as the skin becomes more pitted.

 

You can freeze lime juice and the zest but if you freeze the whole fruit once it has thawed it will probably only be suitable for dishes where it is chopped or pureed. Bear in mind that you will probably only use smaller quantities of lime juice in most recipes, so it's a good idea to freeze the juice is usable amounts. Ice trays are very useful for this purpose.

 

 

Limes in Cooking 

 

 

As mentioned above, limes are used in many many cuisines worldwide. In South America the juice is used in salsas and in the preparation of Cebiche, in parts Asia the leaves are used as a seasoning in fragrant curries and the flesh and juice in accompaniments such as sambals, in Africa (particularly North Africa)  the whole fruit is pickled and sometimes dried and added to savoury dishes, in Oceania it is used in a variety of  recipes including Kokoda which is similar to Cebiche and in North America and Europe the juice is often added to marinades,  salad dressing, fish dishes and many other  savoury and sweet dishes as well as many a cocktail.

 

 

CLICK HERE FOR LOTS OF RECIPES USING LIMES

 

 

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