Limes 101 – The Basics
Limes are a small, green citrus fruit, Citrus aurantifolia. The skin and flesh are often green, but some varieties will have a yellowish or even orange color. The fruit is oval to round in shape with a diameter usually between one and two inches. Limes can either be sour or sweet. Sweet limes are not easily found in the United States. The sweet variety lacks citric acid, so the juice is sweeter in flavor. Sour limes, which are commonly found in the United States are acidic with a tart flavor. They have a higher sugar and citric acid content than lemons.
There are two main types of limes: the Mexican lime and the Persian lime. Mexican limes may also be called Key or West Indian limes. Persian limes may also be called Tahitian or Bearss limes. The Persian limes are the most common variety found in grocery stores in the United States. They are known for their mild, acidic flavor.
Limes grow on trees in tropical and subtropical climates. They are believed to be native to Southeast Asia. Arabian traders brought lime trees from Asia to Egypt and Northern Africa around the 10th century. Arabian Moors carried them to Spain in the 13th century. From there, they were carried throughout southern Europe during the Crusades.
Limes were brought to the New World by Christopher Columbus on his second trip in 1493 where they were then planted in many Caribbean countries. Centuries later, explorers learned that the Vitamin C-rich limes could be used to prevent the deadly disease scurvy. When they started eating limes on their long voyages, they were given the nickname “limeys,” a term that we are still familiar with today. Limes were introduced to the United States in the 16th century when Spanish explorers carried West Indies limes to the Florida Keys, which introduced North America to “Key limes.” Spanish missionaries attempted to plant lime trees in California, but learned the climate was not right for the trees. At that time, limes were in demand by the miners and explorers during the California Gold Rush. Since they could not be grown locally, limes began to be imported from Tahiti and Mexico during the mid-19th century. Today, Brazil, Mexico, and the United States (mostly in Arizona and Florida) are among the leading commercial producers of limes.
Both the zest and juice of limes are most often used in fresh applications. The juice is a natural tenderizer for meats and is often used in marinades, and is sometimes drizzled over a dish as a finishing flavor. The juice is often used in salsa and guacamole, not only as a flavoring agent, but also as an anti-browning agent for avocado. Lime is also used in dressings, sauces, baked goods, desserts, beverages, jams, jellies, marmalades, syrups, pickles, garnishes for cocktails, and paired with meats, beans, and vegetables.
Nutrition and Health Benefits
Limes are an excellent source of Vitamin C and a good source of folate. They also provide a little Vitamin B6, pantothenic acid, and calcium. Also, like many fruits and vegetables, limes contain important flavonoid compounds with strong antioxidant properties.
Antioxidant Properties. Both lemons and limes are high in Vitamin C, one of the most important antioxidants found in nature. It is one of the main antioxidants found in food and it is the main water-soluble antioxidant in the human body. Vitamin C neutralizes free radicals that it comes into contact with, both inside and outside cells. Free radicals damage healthy cells and cause inflammation in the body. Adequate Vitamin C has been shown to be helpful in reducing some of the symptoms of osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Free radicals can also damage blood vessels, making cholesterol more likely to build up in artery walls. With that, Vitamin C can be helpful in preventing the development and progression of atherosclerosis and diabetic heart disease. Research has clearly shown that eating vegetables and fruits high in Vitamin C is associated with a lower risk of death from all causes including heart disease, stroke, and cancer.
Vitamin C is also critical for a strong immune system and has been shown to be very useful in fighting infections like colds, flus, and recurrent ear infections.
Anti-Cancer Effects. Limes are high in the flavonoid antioxidants called flavonol glycosides, including many kaempferol-related molecules. These factors have been shown to stop cell division in many types of cancer.
Citrus fruits, including limes also contain citrus limonoids. These compounds have been shown to help fight cancers of the mouth, skin, lung, breast, stomach, and colon. Also, limonoids have been found to remain in blood plasma longer than other natural anti-carcinogenic compounds. That’s all the more reason to include citrus fruits of all types in the diet on a regular basis!
Antibacterial Effects. The same flavonoids that have anti-cancer effects also have been found to have antibiotic effects. In several villages in West Africa where cholera epidemics have occurred, inclusion of lime juice during the main meal of the day was found to be protective against cholera, a disease triggered by the bacteria Vibrio cholera. Researchers have found that the addition of lime juice to a sauce eaten with rice was found to have strong protective effect against cholera.
Helps Protect Against Kidney Stones. Eating citrus fruits on a regular basis has been shown to help keep kidney stones at bay. The citric acid in lemons, limes, and other citrus fruits deters the formation of kidney stones.
How to Select Limes
Select limes that are firm and heavy for their size, and that are free of decay and mold. The skin should be glossy and a deep green color. Limes turn more yellow as they ripen, but their flavor is best when they are green. They are usually available year-round, but are most plentiful from mid-Spring through mid-Fall.
How to Store Limes
Limes may be kept at room temperature, away from sunlight for 1 to 2 weeks. They may also be stored in a plastic bag in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator for several weeks. If you have limes that need to be used up and it’s not convenient for you to use them at the moment, zest them and squeeze the juice and preserve them for later. See “How to Preserve Limes” for instructions on how to save the juice and zest for later.
To store cut limes, place the pieces in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use within 2 days.
How to Prepare Fresh Limes
Always wash your lime well before using it. The surface may have dirt, bacteria, or chemical residues on it, which should be washed off first. If you want to use lime zest, zest the lime first before cutting it. When zesting, be sure to use only the outermost area of the peel. Avoid zesting the white pith underneath the surface, since that can be bitter. Once the lime is zested, feel free to cut the lime any way it will be needed for your recipe…halved, sliced crosswise, or sliced into wedges. Most limes do not have seeds, so they should be easily ready to enjoy with simple cutting.
How to Preserve Limes
Lime juice and lime zest can be stored for later use. Place freshly squeezed lime juice in ice cube trays, freeze, then transfer the frozen cubes to an airtight container or freezer bag, stored in the freezer. For best flavor, use within 3 to 4 months. It will be edible beyond that, but the flavor may dwindle.
Fresh lime zest may be dried and stored in an airtight glass container in a cool, dry place. When dried, use about 1/3 dried zest vs the amount of fresh zest called for in a recipe. For best flavor, use within 1 year.
Fresh lime zest may also be frozen for later use. Simply wash, then zest the lime. Spread the zest out on a parchment paper-lined tray and place that in the freezer. When the zest is frozen, transfer it to an airtight freezer container and return it to the freezer. Use frozen zest within 6 months. Frozen zest may be used while frozen; it is not necessary to thaw it first. However, to compensate for the frozen bits of zest, over measure just a bit when using a recipe that calls for fresh zest. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of fresh lime zest, measure up to 1-1/2 teaspoons of frozen zest.
Quick Ideas and Tips for Using Limes
* The typical lime found in most grocery stores is actually a Persian lime. Key limes are smaller and have a more concentrated lime flavor.
* Try drying lime zest to make a powder that can be sprinkled on dishes like a spice.
* For an interesting dessert or breakfast accompaniment, try cutting some fresh fruit of choice, like a banana. Top it with yogurt then sprinkle with a little lime zest.
* Instead of lemon, add a slice of lime to water, for refreshing lime water.
* When zesting, use a sharp microplane zester and scrape the lime over the sharp edges of the zester. Remove only the top layer of the fruit. Stop and rotate the lime when you reach the white pith underneath because it is bitter.
* If you want to use both the juice and zest of any fruit, zest first and juice second. It’s much easier that way!
* Try squeezing a wedge of lime over your favorite taco.
* Combine some lime juice with sugar, seltzer water, and ice to make a refreshing limeade.
* Add a little lime juice to Mexican rice and serve with extra lime wedges.
* Squeeze a little lime juice into a floral tea, like hibiscus tea.
* Make a marinade for baked salmon with lime juice, soy sauce, garlic, and ginger.
* To get the most juice from a lime, juice it when it is at room temperature. Also, roll it under the palm of your hand on a hard surface, such as the kitchen counter before juicing. If your lime has been in the refrigerator, it can be quickly warmed up by placing it in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes before using it.
* Be sure to rinse off your lime before cutting it to remove any dirt or bacteria that may be lingering on the surface. If it is cut without being washed first, the knife will carry anything undesirable inside the fruit, which could contaminate the lime.
* If a recipe calls for lime and you don’t have any, you could substitute any of the following (even though the flavors may be somewhat different): Key lime, lemon, Meyer lemon, orange, grapefruit, pummelo.
* 1 pound of Persian limes = 6 to 8 medium limes = 1/2 to 2/3 cup (125 to 150 mL) juice
* One medium Persian lime will yield 1 to 3 tablespoons of juice, and 1 to 2 teaspoons of zest.
* Try an easy side dish for supper by combining cooked rice with green peas, scallions, pumpkin seeds, lime juice and a little lime zest.
* To help keep avocado from turning dark, squeeze a little lime juice onto your cut avocado, then enjoy!
* When cooking deep leafy greens, such as collards, kale, turnip greens, or mustard greens, drizzle them with a little lime juice at the end to help counter any bitterness left in the greens.
Herbs and Spices That Go Well with Limes
Basil, chili powder, cilantro, coriander, cumin, garlic, ginger, lemongrass, mint, mustard powder, oregano, rosemary, tarragon, thyme
Foods That Go Well with Limes
Proteins, Legumes, Nuts, Seeds: Almonds, beef, chicken, macadamia nuts, nuts (in general), peanuts, pork, seafood, sesame seeds, tofu
Vegetables: Arugula, bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, chiles, cucumbers, jicama, lettuce (all types), mushrooms, onions, scallions, shallots, squash (winter), tomatillos, tomatoes
Fruits: Apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, berries (in general), blackberries, coconut (and other tropical fruits), grapes, guavas, lemons, lychees, mangoes, melons (all types), oranges, papayas, pears, pomegranates, raspberries, strawberries, watermelon
Grains and Grain Products: Corn, graham crackers, noodles (i.e., Asian, rice), quinoa, rice
Dairy and Non-Dairy: Cheese, coconut milk, yogurt
Other Foods: Caramel, hoisin, honey, mayonnaise, oil (esp. grapeseed, olive, sesame, sunflower seed), rum, soy sauce, sugar, tapioca, tequila, vinegar (i.e., champagne, rice, sherry)
Limes have been used in the following cuisines and dishes…
Baked goods (i.e., pies, tarts), beverages (i.e., limeade, margaritas, mojitos), guacamole, Indian cuisine, marinades, Mexican cuisine, Pacific Rim cuisines, pies, puddings (i.e., rice pudding), rice dishes, salad dressings, salads (i.e., fruit salads), salsas, sauces, soups, Southeast Asian cuisines, tarts, Thai cuisine, Vietnamese cuisine
Suggested Food and Flavor Combos Using Limes
Add limes to any of the following combinations…
Avocado + Romaine Lettuce
Chipotle Chiles + Corn
Cilantro + Cumin
Cilantro + Garlic + Oil
Coconut + Graham Crackers
Ginger + Honey
Ginger + Mint
Mint + Scallions
Mushrooms + Sesame
20 Lime Recipes That Make the Most of This Humble Citrus https://www.marthastewart.com/274397/lime-recipes
20 Tangy Lime Recipes to Make Your Mouth Pucker https://www.thespruceeats.com/best-lime-recipes-4687533
Avocado Lime Salad Dressing https://www.thespruceeats.com/avocado-lime-salad-dressing-3947533
Delicious French Lime Sorbet https://www.thespruceeats.com/lime-sorbet-recipe-1375784
Copycat Chipotle Cilantro Lime Rice https://www.thespruceeats.com/copycat-chipotle-cilantro-lime-rice-recipe-5097502
Cilantro Lime Grilled Tofu https://www.thespruceeats.com/cilantro-lime-grilled-tofu-3378393
Lime Coconut Bars https://www.thespruceeats.com/lime-coconut-bars-4129207
Easy Lime Agave Salad Dressing https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-lime-agave-salad-dressing-3377598
Cilantro Lime Salmon https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/cilantro-lime-salmon-3355689
Shrimp Ceviche https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/shrimp-ceviche-recipe-2125172
Grilled Fish Tacos with Lime Slaw https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/food-network-kitchen/grilled-fish-tacos-with-lime-slaw-8658545
Pico de Gallo https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ree-drummond/pico-de-gallo-recipe-2122359
Lime Crema https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/guy-fieri/lime-crema-3562831
Watermelon and Mint “Agua Fresca” (Fresh Fruit-Blended Water) https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/marcela-valladolid/watermelon-and-mint-agua-fresca-fresh-fruit-blended-water-recipe-1949524
Chipotle’s Cilantro Lime Rice https://www.skinnytaste.com/chipotle-cilantro-lime-rice-4-pts/#recipe
21 Lime Recipes That Are Full of Flavor https://insanelygoodrecipes.com/lime-recipes/
Cilantro Lime Quinoa https://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/cilantro-lime-quinoa/#wprm-recipe-container-40278
Cilantro Lime Dressing https://www.loveandlemons.com/cilantro-lime-dressing/#wprm-recipe-container-43188
Classic Pico de Gallo https://cookieandkate.com/classic-pico-de-gallo-recipe/#tasty-recipes-30827-jump-target
Vegan Key Lime Pie https://lovingitvegan.com/vegan-key-lime-pie/
Creamy Lime Pie Bars https://minimalistbaker.com/creamy-lime-pie-bars/
28 Insanely Flavorful Ways to Cook with Lime https://www.delish.com/cooking/g3997/lime-recipes/
Flash-Cooked Greens with Garlic and Lime https://www.vegetariantimes.com/recipes/flash-cooked-greens-with-garlic-and-lime/
Chili Lime Collard Greens http://www.builicious.com/2016/04/01/chili-lime-collard-greens/#recipe
Joachim, David. (2010) The Food Substitutions Bible. 2nd Edition. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Robert Rose, Inc.
Page, Karen. (2014) The Vegetarian Flavor Bible. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company.
Julia W. Klee (Judi) began her journey enjoying “all things food” in elementary school when she started preparing meals for her family. That love of food blossomed into a quest to learn more and more about health and wellness as related to nutrition. She went on to earn a BS Degree in Food and Nutrition, then an MS Degree in Nutrition. She has taught nutrition and related courses at the college level to pre-nursing and exercise science students. Her hunger to learn didn’t stop upon graduation from college. She continues to research on a regular basis about nutrition as it relates to health. Her hope is to help as many people as possible to enjoy foods that promote health and wellness.