Flavor Investigator: Limes

Limes play second fiddle when compared to their citrus cousin the lemon. This is disappointing when you consider how beautiful the flavour of lime is. The term “lime” usually refers to two main cultivars – ‘key’ (C. latifolia Tanaka) and ‘Tahiti’ (Citrus X tahitibut). However, other varieties such as ‘Rangpur’ limes (C. limonia) and sweet limes (C. limettioides) are typically included. Characteristic lime flavour nevertheless is characterized as being overall harsh and containing pine, lilac, spicy and eucalyptus notes.

It is believed that limes originated in Southeast Asia and were transported to Mediterranean regions by Arab traders in the 10th century.  Moving forward, during the 19th century British sailors used limes to prevent scurvy, a condition which causes bowed legs, flaccid muscles and tooth loss. This prevention was caused by limes high content of vitamin C, a crucial vitamin in the formation of collagen with in muscles.

Cultivars of Limes

One of the most popular types of lime in North America is the key lime. Key limes have a medium-green to yellow-orange coloured skin which is thick as well. Their flavour is quite tart compared to other limes and have notes of bitterness and spiciness. Tahiti limes also known as Persian limes have a flavour more comparable to lemon-lime. The flavour is much milder than smaller lime counter parts.

Rangpur limes are actually not considered to be true limes as they are a sour-acid mandarin. It is orange in colour but don’t let this confuse you as they quite tart like limes. The flavour is a unique combination between lime, mandarin and citron. Finally, sweet limes are commonly mistaken for lemons due their rich yellow colour. As evident from the name, sweet limes are sweet as they have less than 0.1% acidity. This can be compared to standard limes which have a 6% acidity.

Lemon vs Limes

When you’re in a pinch and find yourself without lemons it is common to use limes as a replacement. Of course, the flavour is going to change but have you considered to what extent? Firstly, limes are more acidic compared to their lemon counterpart. From a pH standpoint the pH of lemons is between 2.2 and 2.5. In contrast, limes have a pH of 1.8 to 2.0 making them taste more acidic. Additionally, because lemons have a higher sugar content this supresses their sourness allowing a lesser perception of sourness in lemons.  So be sure your recipe is not pH dependent.

Main Compounds Found in Lime Oil

There are multiple compounds which are found in lime oil. These compounds include α-thujene, neral and α-terpineol. However, the chemical found in the highest abundance is limonene.   Limonene is a cyclic terpene which is also found as in lemon and orange oil.  Limonene is described as having a citrus, orange, fresh and sweet notes.  Another major constitute in lime oil is geranial more commonly known as E-citral.  Geranial is naturally found in limes and is used as a lemon and citrus flavour in confectionary, soft drinks and cosmetics. It is sharp, fresh, lemony, woody, herbal and tangy.

Possible Unique Flavour Combinations for Lime

  • Lime and Butternut Squash- Butternut squash has a heavy sweet and creamy flavour. The addition of lime creates develops of bitterness and tartness allowing for the offset of squash’s heaviness. Try combining the two in a soup paired with coconut.
  • Lime and Maple- Despite its sweetness maple syrup has a rich round flavour. Lime sharpness creates another dimension of flavour which is reminiscent of tart green apples paired with maple syrup.
  • Lime and Cardamom- Cardamom is a spice blend of several different plants in the ginger family. It has notes of camphor, eucalyptus, floral and citrus. If you recall limes contain many of these flavour notes allowing the two to mend together.

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