What Is Key Lime?
Key lime is also known as West Indian lime, Bartender’s lime, or Mexican lime. Persian lime, the common variety you’ll usually find in supermarkets, is the most popular variety of lime here in the USA, but not worldwide. It is actually a hybrid lime cultivated from key lime and lemon, preferred for commercial selling because of their larger size, lack of seeds, and longer shelf life.
Growing up in Jamaica, I’ve always seen key limes. The tree looks like a large shrub, the leaves are distinctly aromatic, with small aromatic fruits that are about 1 to 2 inches in diameter. Key limes have a greenish-yellow skin with a light green to a yellowish pulp, containing lots of seeds
Due to the distinct acidic flavor of key limes, they are highly favored by chefs and manufacturers. The most popular culinary use is for making key lime pie, which is served widely, especially here in Florida.
Key Lime History
The key lime tree is native to Malaysia, and they are believed to have been brought to Florida, the Caribbean, and Mexico with the Spanish settlers in the 1500’s, where they thrived up until the 20th century (and still do overseas), which is how the fruit acquired its famous name when the key lime pie was first probably invented.
A deadly hurricane hit Florida in 1926, wiping out most of the key lime crop, and the larger Persian variety was planted instead. However, some of the original key lime trees in the Florida Keys survived the hurricane.
Where to Buy Key Limes?
Fresh key limes can be purchased at Mexican, Caribbean and popular supermarkets in the produce aisle. They are smaller than regular limes, usually about the size of a ping pong ball. You can also purchase them online from Amazon.
Here in Florida, they are harvested from June to September, but they are pretty much available year-round. In other parts of the country, if you cannot find fresh key limes, you can purchase bottled key lime juice from local supermarkets and health food stores Online.
What Is the Difference Between Key Lime and Lime?
- Key lime is smaller than the Persian lime, therefore key lime produces less juice than Persian lime.
- Key lime is more aromatic, with a stronger tart taste than common Persian lime.
- Key lime has more seeds than regular Persian lime (also aptly known as seedless limes).
What Are Key Limes Good For?
Key limes are not only great for key lime pie, but they are used in various drinks, teas, and desserts. Like lemons and regular limes, they are great for health and have similar health benefits.
They are a good source of:
- Vitamin C, A, B, and D
- Boost the immune system
- Detoxify the body, cleansing the liver
- Fight infections, since they contain antibacterial properties
- Slow down aging
- Promote digestion and boost metabolism, which is great for weight loss
Can I Substitute Regular Limes For Key Limes?
I will say yes, even though key limes have a stronger and more tart taste, Persian limes can be the substituted in your recipes, especially for key lime pie.