Lemons and limes: can you tell me which is better and why?
- Evelyn Peryman
A lemon or a lime ... to me it's in the same vein as choosing between cinnamon or cloves. They're both spices (as lemons and limes are both citrus fruit), they are used in similar dishes and they're both aromatic. However, they have very little similarity except in their exotic origins. Often, when writing a recipe, I find myself having to say "use lime juice, although lemon will work if you can't source any". This is because lemons are fairly commonplace around the country but limes can be scarce outside the larger cities and even harder to locate in the South Island. It's frustrating to have to write that because in reality the end result will be quite different. However being less precious, the similar characteristics of each (acidity, citrus aroma and sharpness) will cure fish or make a dressing a little sour in similar fashion.
Lemons - what I love about New Zealand lemons is that they are sweet, fruity, sour, boldly aromatic and almost rich tasting. In the UK our lemons tend to be sour yellow things unless it's that time year when we get lovely un-waxed Sicilian lemons or ones from Sorrento on the Amalfi Coast - absolutely gorgeous. Then they have immense flavour and characteristics not too far from those in NZ. Lemon meringue pie: though the folks in Florida make a decent pie called Key Lime, our local delicacy is a much better product. Lemon curd, made with lots of finely grated lemon zest added, or homemade salted lemons, a la North Africa, added to a lamb stew or even finely chopped and added to a fish salad, are gorgeous. Replace the lemons with limes and it's just not the same thing.
Meanwhile, where would a Thai-style dressing be without limes? And where would we be without their finely grated zest and juice mixed into a little coconut milk and sea salt used to marinate cm thick slices of the freshest hapuka or snapper for a delicious ika mata. Lime zest mixed with ground cloves in shortbread is one of my favourite biscuit combinations (I still have no idea how I came about creating that combo). Fresh lime juice, some zest, mint leaves, golden rum, a dash of real vanilla extract and unrefined sugar all whizzed up with lots of ice is a perfect summer cocktail.
In Tonga two years ago I fell in love with their local limes - which, bizarrely, are almost identical to the Bodrum limes of coastal South West Turkey: they're definitely more akin to a lime than a lemon, but also similar to a mandarin, with more acidity and sourness balanced with a floral sweetness.
Of all citrus fruit, this would have to be my favourite and I've used the Bodrum fruit in baking, jellies, cocktails, marinades and salad dressings. They're so good in fact that the owners of Changa restaurant in Istanbul, which I consult to, buy them by the box and freeze them so they have a year-round supply for their cocktail list.
Though lemon juice and zest could replace that of lime, and vice versa, you would definitely notice the difference. It would still be a lovely dish to some degree and so, although I hate having to write that they're interchangeable, I will continue to do so in the hope one day you'll make a dish as intended and see if you prefer one over the other.
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