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Limes

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

While rarely consumed on their own, limes make a major contribution to the flavors of many of the foods we eat. These flavor-packed fruits are also loaded with vitamin C, which among its other health-promoting virtues also prevents a disease called scurvy. In the 18th century, the British navy ordered ships going on long journeys to carry limes for their crew (hence the nickname "limeys" for British sailors), although, at the time, it was not understood exactly how the fruit prevented scurvy. It wasn't until vitamin C was discovered in 1932 that scientists understood that it was the vitamin, not the fresh fruit itself, that protected against the disease.

Aside from supplying substantial amounts of vitamin C, the main benefits of limes relate to their seasoning potential. Slightly sweet, tangy lime juice and lime zest can help you cut down on the amount of salt you add to dishes you prepare. They also enhance the flavor of foods such as rice, potatoes, salads, and cooked vegetables while adding no fat and only negligible calories.

Limes probably originated on the Indian subcontinent. It seems likely that limes (and lemons) were popularized in Europe at the time of the Crusades, and Columbus may have brought the seeds of both fruits to the New World on one of his voyages. Citrus fruits, including lemons and limes, were established in what is now Florida in the 16th century.

Limes are tropical plants, and, not surprisingly, their growing region in the United States is restricted; only southern Florida and the Southwest have climates hospitable to these fruits. The commercial lime industry in Florida began around 1880, then declined after a damaging freeze in the 1890s. Lime growing revived there after World War I and increased in the decades that followed. Today, south Florida is the source of more than 85% of North American limes. Southern California also produces a small lime crop.

Frozen and bottled lime juice, though not as flavorful (or nutritious) as the fresh-squeezed equivalent, can be a useful pantry staple; however, the fresh fruit keeps well, so you should always have some on hand.

Varieties

Tahitian limes: Most limes are a Tahitian strain (they are believed to have originated on that island) that comes in two similar varieties: Persian limes, which are egg-sized, oval fruits cultivated in Florida; and a Bearss (two s's is correct) variety, which is a smaller, seedless California-grown lime. Both are greenish yellow when fully mature, but are sold at the green stage for better flavor.

Key limes: Key limes are smaller and rounder, with a higher acid content than Tahitian limes. Grown only in southern Florida, they are best known as an ingredient in Key Lime Pie. A small number of Key limes are sold commercially, and their bottled juice may be found in some gourmet shops.

Availability

Limes are also available throughout the year, with supplies most plentiful from May through October.

Shopping

Limes should be firm, glossy, and bright--beautiful enough to be treated as ornaments in your kitchen. They should be dark green: Limes turn from green to yellow as they ripen, but it's the immature fruits that have the desirably tart juice; yellowish limes have an insipid flavor.

A very coarse exterior may indicate an excessively thick skin, which in turn may mean less flesh and juice; heavy fruits with fine-grained skin are juiciest. Avoid both hard, shriveled limes as well as spongy, soft ones.

Storage

While lemons will keep for about two weeks without refrigeration, limes are more perishable and should be refrigerated immediately. Limes stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper will keep for up to six weeks.

If you have extra limes on hand and want to save them before they spoil, squeeze the juice into an ice-cube tray, then transfer the frozen juice cubes to a plastic bag.

Preparation

To get the most juice from a lime, the fruit should be at room temperature or warmer; if need be, place it in hot water to warm it, or microwave it for 15 to 30 seconds. Then roll the fruit under your palm on the countertop until it feels softened.

There are lots of gadgets for juicing citrus fruits--juicers onto which you press the fruit, reamers you twist into the fruit--but it's simplest to halve the fruit and squeeze it in your hand. If you don't need all the juice at once, you can pierce the fruit with a toothpick and squeeze the juice from the opening; "reseal" the fruit by reinserting the toothpick.

Recipes often call for lime zest--the flavorful colored part of the peel. Wash and dry the fruit, then use the fine side of a hand grater, a special zesting tool, a sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest. When grating or paring the zest from a lime, do not include any of the bitter white pith along with it.

A large lime will provide 2 to 3 tablespoons of juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons of zest.

Nutrition Chart

Limes/1 medium

24
Total fat (g)
0.2
Saturated fat (g)
0
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0
Dietary fiber (g)
2.2
1
Carbohydrate (g)
8
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
2
Vitamin C (mg)
23


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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