The Tropical Fruit Lime: History, Varieties and Nutrition

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The lime is a tropical fruit, yet it is ubiquitous and used for everything from food to cosmetics and cleaning products. There are many varieties of this citrus fruit and they are extremely nutritious.

The lime is the smallest, most versatile and ubiquitous of all the citrus fruits. The name lime is of Arabic origin, although limes originate from Southeast Asia. It is thought that Persian and Arab traders introduced limes to India and the middle East, from there the fruit was brought to France and Italy by returning crusaders in the 13th century. There is also some historical evidence to suggest that Christopher Columbus brought lime seeds to the West Indies, and in particular the island of Hispaniola, on his second voyage of 1493.

Today, the worlds biggest producer of limes is Mexico, which is also the largest consumer. Limes are also cultivated in the West Indies, some of which is used for Rose’s Lime Juice. Other regions of commercial production are California, Florida, Ghana and India.

Limes grow on a thorny, scrubby evergreen tree that thrives in tropical regions. Unlike lemons, limes are sensitive to cold weather and need a warm climate where frost is virtually unknown. The lime tree can grow to around 17 feet high. It bears fruit year round and has fragrant leaves and flowers. Limes are deep green when unripe turning yellow-green as they ripen. There are sweet and sour lime varieties as well as limes with seeds and seedless limes. The lime is packed with antioxidants and has often been used to combat malnutrition in developing countries. Studies have demonstrated that limes are chemo-preventative and anti-cancer.

Persian Lime ( Citrus latifolia): The Persian lime is also known as Tahiti lime or Bearss lime. This lime sometimes referred to as ‘common lime’ because it is most often seen on supermarket shelves in the USA; it is thought to be a hybrid of the Mexican lime and citron. It is slightly larger than a Mexican lime, is usually seedless, and is mostly grown in Florida with some commercial harvesting in California. Persian limes are very acidic and juicy, although they do not have the intense aromatic appeal of Mexican limes.

Mexican Lime ( Citrus aurantifolia): Also known as Key lime and West Indian lime, this tiny lime variety was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers. It was cultivated in the Florida Keys and other tropical regions of which it became naturalized. These days Key limes grow in many peoples backyards in Florida and the West Indies. The Key lime is aromatic, juicy and excellent in drinks such as gin and tonic or margaritas, hence its other common name ‘bartenders lime’.

Kaffir Lime ( Citrus hystrix): In its native Southeast Asia the kaffir lime and indeed the entire plant are indispensable. Kaffir limes are bright green with knobbly skin. They have a stronger astringent, more intense flavor that blends well with the complex flavors found in Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian cuisine. Kaffir lime juice and zest is used in marinades, curries, seafood and also desserts made with coconut. Western cooks are more familiar with kaffir lime leaves which are available fresh or dried in Asian supermarkets. The leaves are not eaten but torn or shredded and used to flavor broths and sauces. The distinctive aromatic, almost perfume flavor of the kaffir lime leaf is used in Thai cuisine as bay leaves are used in western cuisine.

The Nutrition of Limes.

Limes are an excellent source of vitamin C, though not as good as lemons. Its better to Consume freshly squeezed lime juice, as lime juice tends to lose its nutritional benefit over time. The lime also contain potassium, folic acid, iron and calcium. Limes are also low in calories, about 30 calories per 100 grams, fat free, sodium free and cholesterol free. The fruit pulp of limes is high in the soluble fiber pectin. According to an article about research published in the New York Times, pectin isolates bile which requires the body to consume cholesterol in order to make new bile acid. Therefore pectin helps lower LDL cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke. It is also thought that pectin removes heavy metals,such as mercury and lead from the body.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant which helps nuetralize harmful free radicals. Free radical cause inflammation, which can damage blood artery walls and can change the effect of cholestrol which leads to osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetic heart disiease. In this respect pectin and vitamin C combined, are two powerful allies, found in limes and lemons, in the prevention of heart disease.

Lime contains a number of bioactive compounds which are a nutritional bonus to the antioxidant powers of vitamin C. The most abundant of which are a group of antioxidants found in citrus peel known as limonoids. Limonene is a type of phytochemical classified in the group known as terpenes, or in the sub-group monoterpene. Limonene helps trigger detoxification in the liver and small bowl by increasing the number of enzymes and stimulating GST (Glutathione S- transferases) thereby helping to eliminate carcinogens. Animal studies indicate that limonene is chemopreventive and anti-cancer.

Other Uses for Limes.

Limonene is also used in the manufacture of cosmetics, shampoo, soaps and herbal ointments. In the kitchen use limes to clean garlic and chili from cutting boards and knifes. Limes are also good for removing turmeric stains from work surfaces and equipment. Add lime juice to a bowl of water. Use the water to hold starches like potato and cassava to stop them from turning brown.

Common Mexican limes. Image credit. Primary image, kaffir limes; image credit.


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