While rarely consumed on their own, limes
make a major contribution to the flavours of many of the foods
we eat. These flavour packed fruits are also loaded with vitamin
C, which among its other health promoting virtues also prevents
a disease called scurvy. In the 18th century, the Royal Navy
ordered ships going on long journeys to carry limes for their
crew (hence the nickname "limeys" for British sailors),
although, at the time, it was not understood exactly how the
fruit prevented scurvy. It wasn't until vitamin C was discovered
in 1932 that scientists understood that it was the vitamin,
not the fresh fruit itself, that protected against the disease.
Aside from supplying substantial amounts
of vitamin C, the main benefits of limes relate to their seasoning
potential. Slightly sweet, tangy lime juice and lime zest can
help you cut down on the amount of salt you add to dishes you
prepare. They also enhance the flavour of foods such as rice,
potatoes, salads, and cooked vegetables while adding no fat
and only negligible calories.
Limes probably originated on the Indian subcontinent.
It seems likely that limes (and lemons) were popularised in
Europe at the time of the Crusades, and Columbus may have taken
the seeds of both fruits to the New World on one of his voyages.
Citrus fruits, including lemons and limes, were established
in what is now Florida in the 16th century.
Limes should be firm, glossy, and bright. They should be dark
green: Limes turn from green to yellow as they ripen, but it's
the immature fruits that have the desirably tart juice; yellowish
limes have an insipid flavour.
A very coarse exterior may indicate an excessively
thick skin, which in turn may mean less flesh and juice; heavy
fruits with fine-grained skin are juiciest. Avoid both hard,
shriveled limes as well as spongy, soft ones.
While lemons will keep for about two weeks without refrigeration,
limes are more perishable and should be refrigerated immediately.
Limes stored in a plastic bag in the refrigerator will keep
for up to six weeks.
To get the most juice from a lime, the fruit should be at room
temperature or warmer; if need be, place it in hot water to
warm it, or microwave it for 15 to 30 seconds. Then roll the
fruit under your palm on the countertop until it feels softened.
There are lots of gadgets for juicing citrus
fruits—juicers onto which you press the fruit, reamers
you twist into the fruit—but it's simplest to halve the
fruit and squeeze it in your hand. If you don't need all the
juice at once, you can pierce the fruit with a toothpick and
squeeze the juice from the opening; "reseal" the fruit
by reinserting the toothpick.
Recipes often call for lime zest—the
flavorful colored part of the peel. Wash and dry the fruit,
then use the fine side of a hand grater, a special zesting tool,
a sharp paring knife, or a vegetable peeler to remove the zest.
When grating or paring the zest from a lime, do not include
any of the bitter white pith along with it.
A large lime will provide 2 to 3 tablespoons
of juice and 1 to 2 teaspoons of zest.