• English: Key Lime, Mexican Lime
  • Latin: Citrus aurantiifolia

I was on a trip to the Florida Keys recently, and got to know this curious American lime. Coming from Southeast Asia, I was extremely interested in how lime, which is an indigenous Southeast Asian plant, spread to the Americas and how it became a different species in the remote Florida Keys.

Key limes, Citrus aurantiifolia, is actually a hybrid of Citrus micrantha and Citrus medica.

Found throughout Florida, key limes are reputed to be the best specimen in the region, being the most aromatic and juiciest. Apparently, the words ’key lime’ were coined only in 1905 when it was mentioned in the ’Country Gentleman’.

Florida and especially the Keys are a great place to plant limes. Very similar to the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, the climate is hot and humid. Key lime shrubs are very sensitive to frost, like its distant Asian cousin the calamansi.

Unless your key limes are grown in the Keys (which is rare nowadays), you are not supposed to call them ’key limes’. They have to be called ’Mexican limes’ – and they are nowadays grown mostly there and exported to the US.

How is key lime different from normal limes?

The ‘normal limes’ you see in the supermarkets – or ’Persian limes’ –  are a product of human engineering: they are seedless, bigger, juicier and more resistant to diseases.  But key limes are definitely more aromatic and acidic than Persian limes.

Which is why key limes are used to make the famous key lime pies! That is indeed a great delicacy of the Florida keys! Another great use of key limes is to make ceviche. With this bottle of key lime juice in my freezer, I am ready to try tons of recipes with it!

My trip to the Keys was a real treat! I never knew these islands produced not only a different sort of lime, but also…

  • a different kind of deer called key deer (they are very small compared to normal North American deers),
  • There’s this ugly fish called ‘hog fish’
  • but best of all, they have these delicious crabs called stone crabs. These are my favourite!!!