Liking Limes

Limes belong to the genus Citrus, which also includes lemonsgrapefruits, oranges, tangerines (mandarin oranges), and pomelos. The fruit is a modified berry with tough, leathery rind called a hesperidium. Like other citrus fruits, their peels contain many volatile oil glands in pits. Their inner flesh is composed of eight to ten segments, called carpels, made up of juice-filled vesicles that are actually specialized hair cells. Along with other citrus fruits, they are members of the Rutaceae family, which is one of only two plant families that produce a class of phytochemicals called limonoids. Limonoids mainly function an herbivore deterrent. They are responsible for the bitter taste of citrus peels, and, when consumed, act as a growth inhibitor, and even as a natural insecticide. Limonoids also have an array of potential health benefits to humans. Certain limonoid compounds appear to have anti-cancer properties.

Limes are native to Southeast Asia, and probably originated in Indonesia or Malaysia. They made their way to Persia (modern Iran), then to the eastern Mediterranean with the Arabs, and to Europe with Crusaders returning from Palestine. They were likely carried to North Africa and the Near East by Arabs, and across North Africa into Spain and Portugal.

In the mid-13th century, limes were cultivated in Italy and probably also in France. They were taken to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the early part of the 16th century, where they became naturalized in southern Florida, parts of the West Indies, Mexico and other Caribbean countries. They were reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520. These limes, used in most of the world, are what we call key limes or Mexican limes (Citrus aurantifolia).

After the year 1755, Henry Laurens, who lived in Charleston, South Carolina and served as a President of the Continental Congress, introduced olives, limes, ginger, everbearing strawberry, red raspberry, and blue grapes into the United States.

In the eighteenth century, Scottish naval surgeon Sir James Lind learned by his observation of long-haul sailors that citrus fruits conquered the dreaded scurvy (lack of vitamin C) which had devasted the ranks of the British navy more than any enemy. Between 1795 and 1815, some 1.6 million gallons of lime juice drastically reduced the mortality rate of seamen. Along with their daily ration of rum, British sailors were required to consume a daily ration of lime juice; hence British seamen became known as limeys. Since Britain was often at war with Mediterranean countries who exported lemons, limes imported cheaply from the English colony of Jamaica were substituted as the citrus of choice.

Portuguese traders probably carried limes to Brazil, and they arrived in Australia from Brazil about 1824. While there is no documentation of the date of entry to Florida, the key lime tree was popular in yards of private homes. In 1839, cultivation of key limes in southern Florida was reported to be “increasing.” Meanwhile, a different kind of lime reached California by way of Tahiti between 1850 and 1880. The Tahitian lime (also known as the Persian or Bearrs lime, Citrus latifolia) is presumed to be a hybrid of the Mexican lime and citron, an unusual citrus fruit whose main value lies in the fragrance and essential oil of its outer peel (the pulp is extremely dry and the thick white rind cannot be peeled). The basic lemon, Citrus × limon, might also have been the co-parent. However, it was being grown in Tahiti.  By 1883, key limes were being grown commercially on a small scale in Orange and Lake Counties. That same year, some Persian/Tahitian limes had reached Florida. When pineapple cultivation was abandoned in the Florida Keys because of soil depletion and the 1906 hurricane, farmers began to plant key limes as a substitute crop there, as well as on the islands off Fort Myers on the west coast. The limes were pickled in saltwater and shipped to Boston, where they were a popular children’s snack.

Following World War I, the Tahitian lime became a well-established commercial crop. Though it’s hard to believe today since the fruit is so universal, there was market resistance at first, with buyers viewing it as a “green lemon.” For some time, Canadians would not accept it because they were accustomed to the more flavorful Key lime.

Key limes were grown commercially in southern Florida and the Florida keys, until the 1926 hurricane wiped out the citrus groves. The growers replaced the key lime trees with Persian or Tahitian lime trees because they are easier to grow, easier to pick because they have no thorns, and due to the much thicker skin, are easier and more economical to ship. The Tahitian limes are also less tart.

Limes may:

  1. Prevent cancer. Geraniol in limes is being studied for its abilities to suppress tumor growth. Limonoids in lime peels may be specific chemopreventive agents. Tannic acid in limes is a powerful antimutagenic, antioxidant, and antitoxic that may prevent cancer.
  2. Improve your skin. Limes are beneficial for your skin when you eat them or apply them externally. They rejuvenate your skin, keep it shining, protect it from infections, and reduce body odor due to the presence of a large amount of vitamin C and flavonoids, which are both antioxidants with antibiotic and disinfectant properties. When you apply lime juice to your skin, the acids scrub out the dead cells, and alleviate dandruff, rashes, and bruises. You can also add limes to your bath water to create a refreshing bathing experience.
  3. Improve digestive health. The scent of limes causes your mouth to water and this actually aids primary digestion by stimulating saliva. The natural acidity in limes does the rest. While limes break down the molecules of the food, the flavonoids, the phytochemicals in the fragrant oils in lime, stimulate your digestive system and increase the secretion of digestive juices, bile, and acids. This flood of flavonoids also stimulates peristaltic motion. The ample amount of acids in limes helps clean your digestive tract. The fiber in limes is also helpful in easing constipation. Because limes help heal ulcers and wounds in your digestive system while providing relief from constipation, they eradicate the root causes of hemorrhoids.
  4. Prevent blood sugar spikes. The high levels of soluble fiber in limes help regulate your body’s absorption of sugar into your bloodstream, reducing blood sugar spikes. Also, limes have a low glycemic index, which means that they will not cause unexpected spikes in glucose levels.
  5. Prevent cardiovascular disease. That same soluble fiber that can help you maintain your blood sugar levels can also lower your blood pressure and eliminate low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol. Soluble fiber can also reduce inflammation of your blood vessels, which helps prevent heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes. Calcium in limes supports vascular contraction and dilation, helping to regulate blood pressure. Potassium in limes regulates muscle contraction, including heart rythym, and lowers blood pressure by counteracting the detrimental effects of sodium and regulating fluid balance.
  6. Heal ulcers. In addition to vitamin C, limes contain special phytochemicals called flavonoids (including limonoids such as limonin glucoside), which have antioxidant, anti-carcinogenic, antibiotic, and detoxifying properties that stimulate healing of peptic and oral ulcers.
  7. Relive congestion and nausea. Flavonoid-rich lime oil is extensively used in anti-congestive medicines such as balms, vaporizers, and inhalers due to the presence of kaempferol. Just scratching the peel of a lime and inhaling it may provide immediate relief for congestion and nausea. Limonoids in lime peels also protect lung tissue.
  8. Promote eye health. The antioxidant properties of vitamin C protect your eyes from aging and macular degeneration. On top of that, flavonoids help protect your eyes from infections.
  9. Promote joint health. Uric acid is one of the waste products that normal urination will clear out of your body, but unfortunately, when too much builds up, it can make the pain and inflammation from arthritis even worse. The citric acid in limes is a solvent in which uric acid can dissolve, increasing the amounts that are eliminated in your urine. Limes have anti-inflammatory properties, and can be used for a number of inflammation issues. Gout can be caused by the accumulation of free radicals in your body, and by the accumulation of toxins in your body, primarily uric acid. Limes can help prevent both of these causes. They a wonderful source of antioxidants and detoxifiers (vitamin C and flavonoids), which reduce the number of free radicals as well as detoxifying your body.
  10. Reduce fever. The vitamin C in lime juice naturally lowers the temperature of your body.
  11. Promote healthy gums. Gum problems can be caused by a deficiency of vitamin C (scurvy, which produces bleeding and spongy gums) and by microbial growth. Sometimes, gum ulcers come from physical trauma. In all of these situations, limes can help. Their vitamin C cures scurvy, flavonoids inhibit microbial growth, and potassium and flavonoids help heal ulcers and wounds.
  12. Kill pathogens. Lime juice, when added to water, is a very effective disinfectant. Tannic acid in limes is a powerful antibacterial.
  13. Promote urinary tract health. The potassium and citrate in limes can help prevent the formation of calcium crystals that cause kidney stones. The disinfectant properties of limes also help prevent infections in your urinary system.

Nutrients in 100 Grams of Fresh Raw Lime

Nutrient

Amount

Daily Value

vitamin C

29.1 mg

48%

fiber

2.80 g

11%

carbohydrates

10.5 g

4%

calcium

33 mg

3%

potassium

102 mg

3%

iron

0.6 mg

3%

copper

0.1 mg

3%

folate

8 µg

2%

pantothenic acid

0.2 mg

2%

vitamin B6

0.043 mg

2%

thiamine

0.03 mg

2%

Calories

30

1.5%

riboflavin

0.02 mg

1.2%

magnesium

6 mg

1%

vitamin A

50 IU

1%

protein

0.7 g

1%

vitamin K

0.6 µg

1%

vitamin E

0.2 mg

1%

niacin

0.2 mg

1%

zinc

0.1 mg

1%

manganese

0.008 mg

0.4%

fat

0.2 g

0.3%

sodium

2 mg

0.08%

cholesterol

0 mg

0%

carotene-ß

30 µg

Limes are available year round, but their peak season is May through September. Look for limes that have unbroken skin and no blemishes. The skin should be glossy, and the lime should be firm and heavy for its size. If the skin has yellowed, this can mean that the flavor has diminished.

Limes will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks and at room temperature for up to one week.  Lime wedges or slices can be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Lime juice can be frozen for up to 4 months.

Here are some ideas for using limes:

  • Substitute fresh limes or fresh-squeezed lime juice in any recipe calling for lemons.
  • Squeeze a bit of fresh lime into any non-creamy soup for a lively, bright flavor note.
  • Use fresh-squeezed lime juice, sweetened to taste, for margaritas.
  • Add lime slices, wedges, and twists to water and iced tea.
  • Add lime zest to grilled vegetables.
  • Brighten the flavor of your guacamole with a squeeze of lime juice.
  • Limes are the secret ingredients in the best homemade salsas.
  • Add freshly-squeezed lime juice to your next stir-fry.
  • Use the rind of juiced limes to clean your copper-bottomed pans.

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