General Description: The lime (Citrus aurantifolia) is a small green-skinned citrus fruit that is used for its acidic green juice. Closely related to lemons, limes are native to Southeast Asia. They made their way to the eastern Mediterranean with the Arabs, and then on to the western Mediterranean with returning Crusaders. Columbus introduced citrus fruits to the West Indies on his second voyage, and limes quickly spread.

In the 18th century, citrus juice was discovered to prevent scurvy, a disease that had devastated the British navy. Britain imported limes cheaply from its colony of Jamaica, and they were the citrus of choice for sailors, who became known as “limeys.”

The dominant lime in the world, called a Key lime by Americans, grows on thorny trees that are sensitive to cold weather. They are approximately 2 inches in diameter with a thin yellow-green rind prone to splotchy brown spots. They are aromatic and very juicy, with a strong and complex acidic flavor. Their flesh is greenish yellow and full of seeds; their juice content is high (well over 40 percent).

The most common lime in the U.S., the “lime green” Persian lime, is probably a hybrid of the Key lime and the citron. Botanists believe this variety was introduced to the Mediterranean area via Persia (now Iran). It was carried to Brazil by Portuguese traders and eventually made it to California in the latter half of the 1800s via Australia and Tahiti. The Persian lime, almost always seedless, is shaped like a lemon, and is larger than a Key lime, with thicker rind and juicy, pale green pulp. Persian limes are deliberately picked slightly immature so they will be green. Both Persian and Key limes have a higher sugar and citric acid content than lemons, and Key limes are more acidic than Persian.

The sweet lime is thought to be another hybrid. It has somewhat lower sugar content than the other limes but almost no acidity. A juicy fruit, it is popular in the Middle East and India.

Season: Persian limes are available year-round. Peak season for Key limes is June through August.

Purchase: Look for brightly colored, smooth-skinned Persian limes that are heavy for their size. Small brown areas on the skin won’t affect the flavor. Choose Key limes with light yellow, fine-grained skin.

Avoid: Persian limes that feel hard when squeezed will be full of dry pulp with little juice. Avoid Persian or Key limes with hard or shriveled skin. Avoid Key limes with signs of mold or blotchy, brown spots.
Storage: Refrigerate uncut Persian limes in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to 10 days. Refrigerate Key limes in a plastic bag for up to 5 days.


  1. Scrub with soap and water if using zest.
  2. Cut with a knife into wedges or slices. If juicing, cut in half crosswise.

Note: Never put squeezed lime shells in the garbage disposal, because they are too fibrous to grind.

Serving Suggestions: Sprinkle lime juice on cut-up tropical fruits for a flavor accent and to prevent discoloration. Make a frozen Key lime pie in a ground cashew and coconut crust. Make classic margaritas with equal parts fresh-squeezed lime juice, triple sec, and tequila.

Flavor Affinities: Banana, basil, cashews, chicken, chiles, cilantro, coconut, fish, jicama, lychee, mint, passion fruit, pineapple, pork, seafood, tequila, tomato.

from Quirk Books: