The lime (Citrus latifolia) was introduced to the world sometime before the sixteenth century, although its origins are very different depending on type.
Arabs brought Key limes through North Africa and into Europe. Later, explorers from Spain and Portugal brought the fruit to America in the early 1500s where it became a commercial commodity by the late 1800s.
Although Persian limes originated in Southeast Asia, this variety of lime was dubbed the “Tahiti” lime in the mid-1800s when it was imported to the United States from Tahiti and began to be grown in Florida and California.
Prized for its taste and usefulness in seasoning and cooking, limes are also used medicinally to soothe mosquito bites, coral stings, and some oral irritations. With high Vitamin C content, limes were used in the nineteenth century to prevent scurvy.
The commercial lime industry ended in the United States by the beginning of the twenty-first century due to problems with pests and disease such as citrus canker. While many countries grow limes for domestic consumption, Mexico and Brazil are the world’s major exporters.
Types & Varieties
There are two major types of lime: Mexican or Key limes (Citrus aurantifolia) and Persian or Tahiti limes (Citrus x Tahiti). Another lime, the Makrut, is less common, while slender finger limes are gaining popularity.
Key limes are small and round, measuring around one to two inches in diameter. Immature Key limes are green, but gain a yellow tinge as they mature. The rind is leathery, smooth, and thin. More acidic than Tahiti limes, Key limes are seedy with juicy, greenish-yellow flesh. Varieties of Key limes include Everglade, Kagzi, Palmetto, and Yung.
Tahiti limes are larger and more oval-shaped. Dark green at maturity, the fruit yellows as it becomes overripe. With only a slightly acidic taste, Tahiti limes are usually seedless with light green, juicy flesh. Varieties include Bearss, Idemor, and Pond.
Makrut limes are small, dark green, with bumpy skin. Up and coming Australian finger limes are narrow and thinner, full of bubble-like capsules of juice.