With this website I have learned something about food nearly every single day for the past six months. I never thought much about limes until a recent market jaunt where I saw two substantially different green citrus fruits labeled as â€œdayap.â€ I always thought â€œdayapâ€ described what typically looked like green lemons until I noticed these smaller versions that were not as dark green. A little bit of research unearthed the following: there are two principal types of limes (photographed here) â€“ â€œMexicanâ€ (Citrus aurantifolia) and â€œPersian or Tahitianâ€ (Citrus latifolia) which are both members of the Rutaceae Family. Now I have finally uncovered something that the Spaniards brought to Mexico and elsewhere in their vast land holdings that originated in this part of the worldâ€¦ Limes are believed to have originated in the Malaysian peninsula and spread around the world very early on (say a few hundred years BC) by land to the Middle East then Southern Europe then to the West Indies and onto Mexico, California and Florida (hence the Mexican name) and another strain that went onto possibly Brazil then Australia and Tahiti (hence the Persian/Tahiti nomenclature). The English name â€œlimeâ€ is probably from the Arabic root laimun or Persian limoo.
Limes thrive in the tropics and are 50% more acidic than lemons, their sub-tropical cousins. They have a distinctive citrus flavor that is used in various food preparations including cooked dishes, marinades, drinks, etc. Their oils and fragrance are also used in many different applications. The smell and flavor are bracing, acidic, clean and crisp. Here is something truly native to the region and yet its two most common names â€œMexicanâ€ and â€œPersianâ€ are so removed from Malayan peninsula that most people on the planet if asked would probably not know where limes came fromâ€¦hrmpphh. Like who cares, right? I do. Even more bizarre is the fact that these smaller limes in the photo look nearly identical from the outside to the more famous â€œKey Limesâ€ that are the basis for the Key Lime Pie in Florida. Can you see this being successfully marketed as a Malayan Lime Pie??? The key lime is a close relative of the Mexican lime, so close in fact it has exactly the same scientific name. It is interesting that a cross-section of the two fruit shows a marked difference in the color of the pulp – the smaller ones have a lime-green color while the larger ones are rather white. Smell and taste are similar, however. I have to make a note to myself to try making a â€œDayap Pie a la Marketmanâ€ to see if it tastes any good.
Sources: Harold McGee’s “On Food & cooking” and Alan Davidson’s “the Oxford companion to Food” and Elizabeth Schneider’s Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables.