What is a lime?
Lime is central to many South American dishes and it’s hard to go past a big squeeze of lime juice over tacos brimming with barbequed beef or chicken, black beans, chopped tomato and coriander leaves. A ceviche of fish marinated in tangy lime juice and served in lettuce cups with avocado is another way to appreciate the flavour of this delicious citrus fruit.
The Persian (or Tahitian) lime was believed to have originated in Asia and eventually reached Europe from Persia. Portuguese traders introduced limes to Brazil and then Australia. Eventually in the 1800s limes reached California from Tahiti.
The West Indian lime (also known as the Mexican or Key lime) was a native fruit in Malaysia. The Crusaders introduced this variety to Europe and by the mid-thirteenth century it was cultivated in Italy and France. The Spanish took limes to the Caribbean islands and Mexico. From there it reached Florida in the USA in the 1900s where it became a very popular fruit.
The First Fleet carried lime trees from Brazil to Australia in 1778 and the early Australian settlers planted these trees in Sydney Cove.
In Australia, three varieties of lime are commonly available, the West Indian lime (also known as the Mexican or Key lime), the Tahitian lime (or Persian lime) and Kaffir lime (also known as the wild lime or Mauritius papeda).
The West Indian lime is round and has smooth, glossy green skin when unripe. The skin becomes yellow when the fruit ripens and the flesh is green, aromatic, juicy and tart in flavour.
Tahitian limes are larger than the West Indian variety. The skin is smooth and bright green and the flesh is yellowy-green. These limes are seedless and oval shaped.
Kaffir limes have bumpy, rough skin and are a popular ingredient in Thai dishes. The leaves of the Kaffir lime tree are also used extensively in many Asian recipes and they add a distinctive flavour to curry dishes.
The finger lime is a native lime found in the sub-tropical rainforests of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland. When the fruit is split open it has rows of translucent, juicy ‘pearls’ that resemble caviar. This lime is not commonly available in markets in Australia.
Why limes are good to eat
- Limes are a good source of vitamin C (needed for the growth and repair of tissues in the body) and contain vitamins A (important for growth and development and the maintenance of your immune system) and K (important for helping your blood to clot).
- They also contain minerals such as calcium (important for the health of your bones), iron (which is involved in the formation of red blood cells) and copper (which is involved in stimulating the immune system to fight infection and to repair damaged tissues).
- Limes contain dietary fibre, which is important for a healthy bowel.
- Energy – 100 g of limes supplies 120 kJ.
How are they grown and harvested?
Lime trees are similar to lemon trees. Both are small, bushy trees that grow between 2 and 5 m and have irregular spreading branches. Lime trees are evergreen (they do not lose their leaves in winter) and have glossy pale green to dark green leaves. Lime trees need protection from frost and they are sensitive to excessive temperatures. Flowers on lime trees are fragrant, white and develop throughout the year.
Lime trees should be pruned every year to maintain the production of high-quality fruit and to encourage the growth of lots of fruit.
To harvest limes, twist the fruit off the stem to avoid damaging the tree.
Choose limes that are evenly coloured and have glossy, smooth and shiny skin. Limes should feel heavy for their size. Avoid limes that have soft or brown spots or other blemishes on their skin.
How to store and keep limes
Store limes at room temperature and use within seven days. The skins will eventually become yellow but you can still use the fruit. You can also store limes in the crisper section of your fridge. They will keep for several weeks if refrigerated.
The juice content of the lime increases after picking and storage.
How to use
- Try spicy chicken – marinate chicken breasts in a mixture of lime juice and zest, olive oil, freshly chopped red chilli, crushed garlic, fresh oregano and pepper, then grill or barbeque and serve with a green salad.
- Serve a ceviche – marinate firm, white-fleshed fish or prawns overnight and then mix with a salsa (crushed garlic, olive oil, chopped red onion, tomato, coriander leaves, oregano, fresh chilli and Tabasco sauce) before spooning into lettuce cups and serving.
- Make a lime dressing – simmer white rice vinegar with palm sugar, chopped red chilli and kaffir lime leaves, then cool and add lime juice and zest and fish sauce and drizzle over seafood or use as a dipping sauce.
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Better Health Channel
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