What Are Limes?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes


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Lime is a small, green citrus fruit that is very easy to recognize. While you might be more familiar with bottled lime juice, using fresh limes can really make a difference in the flavor of your food and drinks. The goods news is that limes are available in nearly any market and year-round. There are some tricks to selecting the best and juiciest limes. Plus, you'll want to know the various ways limes are used in recipes.

What Are Limes?

Persian limes, which are also known as Bearss limes or Tahitian limes, are what most people think of simply as "limes." The limes sold in markets are commonly harvested and sold when they're a dark green color. They turn a light yellow hue as they ripen. When allowed to ripen on the tree (Citrus latifolia), the fruits are even juicier. Persian limes typically grow to 2 inches in diameter and have a rounded, slightly oval shape. It's a seedless variety and the flesh is a pale greenish-yellow.

How to Use Limes

Limes can be broken down into two main flavor parts: the zest and the juice. To get the zest, rinse the fruit with water and pat dry. Run a microplane or grater over the outer surface, scraping off just the green part of the skin while avoiding the bitter white pith underneath.

To get fresh-squeezed lime juice, cut the lime in half and squeeze out the juice. This can be done by hand or with any variety of citrus juicers, either manual or electric. Maximize the juice yield by using room temperature fruit. Before cutting it, roll it under your palm on the counter, applying firm pressure for about 10 seconds. The average lime yields 1 tablespoon or between 1/2 ounce and 1 ounce of juice.

Whole limes can also be cut into slices and wedges. Lime garnishes are popular for beverages and some food dishes, including seafood and salads. It brings an extra zest of flavor when squeezed on top of either.

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Grilled salmon steak with lime slices
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Still life with fruit cocktails in jars with drinking straws
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Chicken Tacos
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A slice of key lime pie with whipped cream on top sitting on a plate
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What Does It Taste Like?

The lime has a tart, acidic taste with just a slight hint of sweetness. It is bright and vibrant, with a distinct zesty sour flavor. The mouth-puckering bitterness of lime is why it's not eaten whole like an orange.

Lime Recipes

Lime zest is commonly added to salad dressings and marinades. It can also be mashed into butter to make compound butter. The juice is used in beverages as well as sauces and dips (including guacamole), sometimes even just squeezed over top of a finished dish. The juice and zest are often both used in lime-flavored desserts. You can also use lime in many recipes where you might normally use lemons, for example, to turn lemonade into limeade.

Where to Buy Limes

Any decent grocery store should have limes available year-round. They are generally sold by the pound and the price and size vary with the season, though they're generally inexpensive. Only when there is a shortage of limes—often due to weather or tree disease—will lime prices rise significantly.

Look for limes that aren't deep, dark green, if at all possible. You want that lighter yellow hue if you can find it. No matter the color, select limes that feel a bit softer and have smoother skin as they are closer to being ripe and will yield more juice. Dark green and rock-hard limes are not close to ripe. They can be ripened at home by setting them on the counter, but you'll have to wait a few days, if not longer.


If you're going to use them within the week, store limes at room temperature. Extra limes can be stored in a sealable plastic bag in the refrigerator for weeks. Set them out to warm up before using.

Lime juice can also be frozen for a very long time in air-tight containers. For smaller serving sizes, freeze the juice in ice cube trays and bag those once completely solid. The frozen lime juice will last six months in a refrigerator's freezer and up to a year in a deep freezer.

Nutrition and Benefits

Like most citrus fruits, limes are an excellent source of vitamin C. They have no cholesterol, sodium, or fat and very few calories. Limes also include antioxidants and healthful phytonutrients. It's good to keep in mind that these benefits tend to be minimal because lime juice is generally not consumed in large quantities. However, fresh lime is healthier than most bottled lime juices, which often include sweeteners and additives.

Limes vs. Lemons

At first glance, anyone can tell the difference between a lime and a lemon. Where limes are small, round, and green, lemons are large, oval, and yellow. It's important, however, to understand the flavor difference so you know when substituting one for the other is a good idea.

Both citrus fruits are sour and acidic. Lemons definitely have a sweeter profile and limes are noticeably more bitter. For this reason, lemons are more universal, pairing wonderfully with fish, shellfish, chicken, lamb, berries, and garlic. Lemons are often found in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines. You need to be a bit more selective with limes. They're used often in Mexican foods and pair best with coconut, chile peppers, strawberry, and mint. Limes are good with fish, shellfish, and chicken, or grilled meats.


Key limes (also called Mexican limes) are the other popular variety of lime used in the kitchen. It's a smaller fruit than Persian limes, about the size of a golfball. Key limes also have thinner skin, are almost a perfect sphere, and have a very tart flavor when green, turning sweeter as they ripen. While key limes are juicier than Persian's the size difference means one key lime yields less juice than one Persian lime.