The Mexican lime tree is exceedingly vigorous; may be shrubby or range from 6 1/2 to 13 ft (2-4 m) high, with many slender, spreading branches, and usually has numerous, very sharp, axillary spines to 3/8 in (1 cm) long. The evergreen, alternate leaves are pleasantly aromatic, densely set; elliptic- or oblong-ovate, rounded at the base, 2 to 3 in (5-7.5 cm) long, leathery; light purplish when young, dull dark-green above, paler beneath, when mature; with minute, rounded teeth and narrowly-winged petioles. Faintly fragrant or scentless, the axillary flowers, to 2 in (5 cm) across are solitary or 2 to 7 in a raceme, and have 4 to 6 oblong, spreading petals, white but purple-tinged when fresh, and 20-25 bundled white stamens with yellow anthers. The fruit, borne singly or in 2's or 3's (or sometimes large clusters), at the twig tips, is round, obovate, or slightly elliptical, sometimes with a slight nipple at the apex; the base rounded or faintly necked; 1 to 2 in (2.5-5 cm) in diameter; peel is green and glossy when immature, pale-yellow when ripe; somewhat rough to very smooth, 1/16 to 1/8 in (1.5-3 mm) thick; the pulp is greenish-yellow in 6 to 15 segments which do not readily separate; aromatic, juicy, very acid and flavorful, with few or many small seeds, green inside.
Origin and Distribution
The Mexican lime is native to the Indo-Malayan region. It was unknown in Europe before the Crusades and it is assumed to have been carried to North Africa and the Near East by Arabs and taken by Crusaders from Palestine to Mediterranean Europe. In the mid-13th Century, it was cultivated and well-known in Italy and probably also in France. It was undoubtedly introduced into the Caribbean islands and Mexico by the Spaniards, for it was reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520. It readily became naturalized in the West Indies and Mexico, There is no known record of its arrival in Florida. Dr. Henry Perrine planted limes from Yucatan on Indian Key and possibly elsewhere. In 1839, cultivation of limes in southern Florida was reported to be "increasing". The lime became a common dooryard fruit and by 1883 was being grown commercially on a small scale in Orange and Lake Counties. When pineapple culture was abandoned on the Florida Keys, because of soil depletion and the 1906 hurricane, people began planting limes as a substitute crop for the Keys and the islands off Ft. Myers on the west coast. The fruits were pickled in saltwater and shipped to Boston where they were a popular snack for school children. The little industry flourished especially between 1913 and 1923, but was demolished by the infamous hurricane of 1926. Thereafter, the lime was once again mainly a casual dooryard resource on the Keys and the southern part of the Florida mainland.
In 1953, George D. Fleming, Jr., proprietor of Key Lime Associates, at Rock Harbor, on Key Largo, was the chief producer of limes. Though he had sold several of his groves, he was developing a new one as part of a "vacation cottage colony".
Fearing that this little lime might disappear with lack of demand and the burgeoning development of the Keys, the Upper Florida Keys Chamber of Commerce launched in 1954, and again in 1959 with the help of the Upper Keys Kiwanis Club, an educational campaign to arouse interest and encourage residents to plant the lime and nurseries to propagate the tree for sale.
The Mexican lime continues to be cultivated more or less on a commercial scale in India, Egypt, Mexico, the West Indies, tropical America, and throughout the tropics of the Old World. There are 2,000,000 seedling trees near Colima, Mexico. Mexico raises this lime primarily for sale as fresh fruit but also exports juice and lime oil. New plantings are being made to elevate oil production. In 1975, Rodolfo Guillen Paiz, Chief of the Citrus and Tropical Fruit Subproject of ANACAFE in Guatemala, reported the initiation of a program to establish the Mexican lime as an all-year commercial crop for the fresh fruit market, the production of juice and lime peel oil, and, as a first step, the creation of a collection of selections as a genetic base for development of an industry, possibly in association with cattle-raising since it had been observed that cattle do little damage to the trees.
Production of Mexican limes for juice has been the major industry on the small Caribbean island of Dominica for generations. There are at least 8 factories expressing the juice which is exported largely to the United Kingdom in wooden casks after "settling" in wooden vats and clarifying. In England, it is bottled as the world-famous "Rose's Lime Juice" put out by L. Rose & Co., Ltd., or as the somewhat different product of the chief competitor, A. C. Shellingford & Co. Surplus juice, over their requirements, is sold to soft-drink manufacturers. Since 1960, Rose has produced lime juice concentrate in Dominica for export. There is also considerable export of lime oil distilled from lime juice and oil expressed from the whole fruit. Jamaica, Grenada, Trinidad and Tobago, Guyana, and the Dominican Republic export lesser amounts of juice and oil. But the Dominican Republic has recently enlarged its plantings in order to increase its oil output. Montserrat ships only juice. Ghana is now the leading producer of lime juice and oil for L. Rose & Co., Ltd. Gambia began serious lime processing in 1967.
The Mexican lime grows wild in the warm valleys of the Himalayas and is cultivated not only in the lowlands but up to an elevation of 4,000 ft (1,200 m). It was first planted on the South Pacific island of Niue in 1930. A small commercial industry has been expanding since 1966. Some of the fruit is sold fresh but most of the crop is processed for juice and oil by the Niue Development Board Factory. These products are shipped to New Zealand, as are a good part of the peels for the manufacture of marmalade and jam. Production was crippled by a hurricane in 1979. This storm inspired a search for rootstocks that could be expected to withstand strong winds.
The Mexican lime, because of its special bouquet and unique flavor, is ideal for serving in half as a garnish and flavoring for fish and meats, for adding zest to cold drinks, and for making limeade. In the Bahamas, fishermen and others who spend days in their sailboats, always have with them their bottles of homemade "old sour"–lime juice and salt. Throughout Malaysia, this lime is grown mainly to flavor prepared foods and beverages. Commercially bottled lime juice is prized the world over for use in mixed alcoholic drinks. If whole limes are crushed by the screw-press process, the juice should be treated to remove some of the peel oil. It is calculated that 2,200 lbs (1 metric ton) of fruit should yield 1,058 lbs (480 kg) of juice.
Lime juice is made into sirup and sauce and pies similar to lemon pie. "Key Lime Pie" is a famous dish of the Florida Keys and southern Florida, but today is largely made from the frozen concentrate of the 'Tahiti' lime.
Mexican limes are often made into jam, jelly and marmalade. In Malaya, they are preserved in sirup. They are also pickled by first making 4 incisions in the apex, covering the fruits with salt, and later preserving them in vinegar. Before serving, the pickled fruits may be fried in coconut oil and sugar and then they are eaten as appetizers.
Pickling is done in India by quartering the fruits, layering the pieces with salt in glass or glazed clay jars, and placing in the sun for 3 to 4 days. The contents are stirred once a day. Green chili peppers, turmeric, ginger or other spices may be included at the outset. Coconut or other edible oil may be added last to enhance the keeping quality. Another method of pickling involves scraping the fruits, steeping them in lime juice, then salting and exposing to the sun.
Hard, dried limes are exported from India to Iraq for making a special beverage.
The oil derived from the Mexican lime is obtained by three different methods in the West Indies:
1) by hand-pressing in a copper bowl studded with spikes (which is called an écuelle). This method yields oil of the highest quality but it is produced in limited amounts. It is an important flavoring for hard candy.
2) by machine pressing, cold expression, of the oil from the spent half-shells after juice extraction, or simultaneously but with no contact with the juice.
3) by distillation from the oily pulp that rises to the top of tanks in which the washed, crushed fruits have been left to settle for 2 weeks to a month. This yields the highest percentage of oil. With terpenes and sesquiterpenes removed, it is extensively used in flavoring soft drinks, confectionery, ice cream, sherbet, and other food products. The settled juice is marketed for beverage manufacturing. The residue can be processed to recover citric acid.
The minced leaves are consumed in certain Javanese dishes. In the Philippines, the chopped peel is made into a sweetmeat with milk and coconut.
Juice: In the West Indies, the juice has been used in the process of dyeing leather. On the island of St. Johns, a cosmetic manufacturer produces a bottled Lime Moisture Lotion.
Peel: The dehydrated peel is fed to cattle. In India, the powdered dried peel and the sludge remaining after clarifying lime juice are employed for cleaning metal.
Peel oil: The hand-pressed peel oil is mainly utilized in the perfume industry.
Twigs: In tropical Africa, lime twigs are popular chewsticks.
Lime - Citrus aurantifolia. The smallest of the citrus family, the lime gained fame after the Naval Surgeon, James Lind, produced his Treatise on Scurvy in 1754, advocating the use of the fruit, together with its cousins, in naval rations to prevent the disease, which is caused by a vitamin C deficiency. However, it was not until 1795, a year after his death, that Lord Hood added it to sea rations, earning the sailors and, eventually all Britons, the ‘Limey’ tag in America. However, the Dutch had already discovered the same benefits some 200 years earlier, when they introduced a mixture of lime and lemon juice for use on their longer sea voyages, the lemon being richer in vitamin C than the lime.
The outermost skin of the lime, the zest, is a valuable culinary resource for a number of dishes, and is most often used grated. Freeze limes first to make grating easier. The zest can also be cut into strips and used to flavor poaching liquid for fruit. It can also be cut into julienne strips (matchstick size) or minced.
Use a vegetable peeler or a grater to remove the zest for any of these purposes, and try to avoid getting too much of the bitter, white pith (the inner skin.) If you use a lot of julienne strips of citrus zest, there is a hand zester tool available at good cooking specialty stores. Because limes and other citrus products are usually sprayed with chemicals, it's important to wash and dry them well before using the peel.
There are numerous ways to juice limes without using an electrical appliance. The most effective and least expensive way is to use a citrus juice reamer. These are usually ridged cones set atop dishes that catch juice or allow juice to filter into a container below. In a pinch, squeezing the juice through an upturned hand, with fingers split just enough to let juice through, but still catching the pits, will do.
If you don't need all the juice from a lime, you can purchase an extractor that looks something like a duck caller or you can use a toothpick. When using a toothpick, pierce the fruit, squeeze out the juice needed, and then reinsert the toothpick. To get maximum juice, up to 30 percent more, make sure the lime is at room temperature, and then roll it around on a countertop with the heel of your hand until it softens before juicing. If you don't have time to wait for the lime to come to room temperature, microwave it for about 30 seconds.
Lime pericarp contains an essential oil (7%), whose main components are citral, limonene, β-pinene and fenchone (up to 15%). Further aroma compounds are terpineol, bisabolene and other terpenoids.