I had a ton of fun exploring all the ways I could use butternut squash last month and I’m looking forward to learning and using February’s Ingredient of the Month: Limes. The format should be familiar to those of you who followed along last month. We’ll start by giving you a complete overview of the lime, including its health benefits, history, varieties and usage around the world. Next, we’ll look at a few different recipes you can use the next time you find yourself with a bag of limes. As my favorite boxing referee would say, “Let’s Get It On”!
A (Not So) Brief History of Limes
Limes are thought to have originated in Southeast Asia way back before you were born. Arab traders helped spread the fruit to Asia and Northern Africa sometime in the 10th Century (see, I told you it was before you were born!). From there, the Moors (Medieval Muslims in N. Africa) took them to Spain around the 13th Century. The lime was further spread across Europe during the crusades, much like many of the fruits that we still enjoy to this day. What does this have to do with limes that you buy in your local supermarket? Short answer: everything. Long answer: keep reading.
You may recall learning about a devilish man named Christopher Columbus back in your elementary and middle school days. Well, after he found the “Indies” during his initial voyage in 1492, he thought it was wise to make a few return trips to find treasure, do some mapping and generally rape and pillage the surrounding areas. It was during his second voyage, this time in 1493, that he brought the first lime trees to the New World. As luck would have it, the Caribbean climate is remarkably well suited to growing citrus due to it’s hot and humid climate. From that point, limes (and other fruits) spread across the Caribbean rapidly. Although, it wasn’t until the 16th Century that limes made their way north to what is now called Florida by Spanish Explorers. If you’ve ever heard of a key lime, you will no doubt at this point realize that they’re called Key Limes because the variety started in the Florida Keys. When the Gold Rush in California hit in mid-1800s, many travelers attempted to bring the key lime to California with them, but it would not grow in such a different climate. The lime tree began to flourish in California after varieties were imported from Mexico and Tahiti; don’t take my word for it, just go to any house in California and you are guaranteed to see a lemon and/or lime tree.
Tidbit Time! Do you know why British people are called “Limeys”? Allow me to tell a tale. As explorers and conquerors were going across the high seas in search of new lands, the crew of the ship would be forced to stay on their boat, in open water, for months at a time. Sure, they had tons of salted meats, bread, cheese and rum, but a lot of sailors were coming down with what we now know is Scurvy, or Vitamin C deficiency, which if left untreated is fatal. In fact, Scurvy is estimated to have killed around 2 million sailors from 1500 – 1800; in fact during the 18th Century, the British Navy lost more sailors to scurvy than to enemy fire. Sometime in the early-1800s, the British Navy decided to start including lemon or lime juice in the sailor’s ration of watered down rum AKA grog. Thus, the name limey was born. Initially, it was a derogatory phrase, but now it’s used colloquially to denote someone of British descent. So, go ahead, call up your closest British friend and call them a Limey, they won’t mind (too much).
Varieties and Production
There are two main varieties you will find in the US: key limes and Persian limes. Key limes are smaller, sourer and their skin has a yellowish tint to them. In contrast, the Persian lime is the one you see in your local grocery store 99% of the time; they were developed in the early-1900s as a seedless hybrid that is resistant to pests and diseases. Surprisingly, to me at least, India leads the world in production of limes at 16% of the global crop. India is followed by Mexico, Argentina and Brazil. In case you are wondering, the US is 7th – producing about 5.5% of the world’s annual crop.
Limes, as noted above, are rich in Vitamin C; however, if you want maximize your Vitamin C, look no further than lime’s close friend: the lemon, which contains about 60% more Vitamin C than limes. If you didn’t already know, Vitamin C is important for all sorts of bodily functions, including a healthy immune system. Limes also provide a whole host of cancer fighting chemicals and compounds. In addition, due to the anti-oxidants found in limes, they are great for arthritis and heart disease. In short, eat limes; they’re good for you!
How to Buy, Where to Store and Growing Season
Thanks to our good friends over at Globalization, limes can be found in your local supermarket year-round. If you are looking for US varieties then you’ll want to shop from May to August. When buying you are looking for a fruit that has a brightly and uniformly colored surface. If you see any brown spots, don’t worry as that won’t affect flavor, but do be on the lookout for hard or shriveled limes as those will more than likely be terrible. You can easily keep limes for 10 days wrapped up in a plastic bag in your refrigerator. Once cut though, you’ll only have a few days to use it before it becomes hard, dry and unusable.
Uses: Food & Cocktails
From the classic margarita to the gin and tonic, limes have a long and storied tradition in the cocktail scene. But let’s keep our focus on the food, okay? Limes are featured predominantly in Vietnamese, Mexican, Thai, Persian, Iraqi and Indian cuisines. You’ll find them in Mexico for your ceviche. Southeast Asian cooking uses the lime to flavor marinades when grilling and to give a soup an acidic pop. One of the great aspects of limes is their versatility in the kitchen and their prevalence across a wide-range of cuisines. Man, all this talking is making me hungry, let’s take a look at the recipes we’ll be creating using February’s Ingredient of the Month.
Like always, I like to provide folks with a bibliography of sorts in case they want to learn more about our featured ingredient. Without further ado: