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What are Key Limes

Key limes are sweeter than Persian limes

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Sliced key limes
Slivinski Photo/Photodisc/Getty Images

What is a Key lime?

Key limes are also known as Mexican lime and West Indies lime. Cultivated for thousands of years in the Indo-Malayan region, this variety has long been treasured for its fruit and decorative foliage.

The Key lime made its way to North Africa and the Near East via Arabian traders, and then carried on to Palestine and Mediterranean Europe by the Crusaders. Columbus is credited with bringing the Key lime to Hispaniola (now known as Haiti), where it was carried on by Spanish settlers to Florida.

It flourished in South Florida, particularly the Florida Keys, hence the current common name of Key lime. Due to hurricane-depleted soils, locals switched from pineapple commercial crops to limes in 1906, and business boomed until a hurricane once again reared and wiped out the lime groves, never to be restored. Today, most Key limes come from Mexico.

Key limes are much smaller (ping-pong to golfball-sized) than Persian limes, nearly spherical, thin-skinned, and often contain a few seeds. Green key limes are actually immature fruits, prized for their acidity. As they ripen to a yellow color, the acid content diminishes greatly, resulting in a sweeter fruit.

Fresh Key lime is preferred for flavoring of fish and meats, marinades, making limeade, and garnishing drinks and plates due to its tantalizing bouquet and unique flavor.

The juice is used for syrups, sauces, preserves, and of course, Key Lime Pie. Alas, most commercially available Key lime pies these days are made from the frozen concentrate of the Persian lime, not the Key lime.

The Key lime is more difficult to find outside of Florida and California markets, and may be available only seasonally and/or in gourmet markets. However, many large grocery chains now carry bottled Key lime juice in the canned fruit aisle near bottled lemon juice.

More about Limes and Lime Recipes:

Lime Selection and Storage
Lime Substitutions, Measures, and Equivalents
What are Key limes?
What are Persian limes?
Key Lime Pie History and Heirloom Recipe
Lime History
Lime Recipes
Persian Limes and Key Limes Photo © 2014 Peggy Trowbridge Filippone, licensed to About.com, Inc.

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Key Lime Desserts
The Key Lime Pie Cookbook
The Great Citrus Book
Citrus Cookbook
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