Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Dec 15, 2008 11:14 AM

Key Lime Pie: Sweet or Tart

is it suppose to be sweet or tart?
how do you guys prefer it?

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Both sweet (sweetened condensed milk) and tart (lime juice). ATK has a killer recipe that I've made many times.

    23 Replies
      1. re: casualcat

        Here is an excerpt from that might answer your question: (by the way, it does NOT have to be made with actual key limes - which are small and require a lot of work to extract enough juice - you can use persian limes).

        "It was not until the 1930s that the first recipes were written down. Until then everyone just knew how to make the pie. No fresh milk, no refrigeration, and no ice was available in the Keys until the arrival of tank trucks with the opening of the Overseas Highway in 1930. Because of this lack of milk, local cooks had to rely on canned sweetened condensed milk, which was invented in 1856 by Gail Borden. Key lime may be the star ingredient of the key lime pie, but it is the sweetened condensed milk that makes it so smooth and delicious"

        1. re: bnemes3343

          Sorry - I disagree with your statement of not using key limes for Key Lime Pie. Persian limes do NOT taste the same, and you're just making a "lime pie" if you use them.

          If you don't want to extract the juice from actual key limes (I know it's a PITA), then use bottled key lime juice. Not optimal, but WAY better than using Persian limes. It just doesn't taste the same.

          As to the OP's query, I agree with bnemes in that it is both sweet (first taste) and then tart (the key lime juice).

          1. re: LindaWhit

            I knew this would cause a controversy. But America's Test Kitchen did a pretty scientific evaluation of the two. There were some minor differences in chemical make up, but a tasting panel concluded that there was no significant difference in the quality of the pie with either. This was a blind tasting of course. But, I would have no objection to key limes; I have one of those really handy lime squeezers that makes pretty quick work of them.

            1. re: bnemes3343

              Then I guess I have a special sensitivity and preference to key lime juice - as I'm able to taste the difference and *really* dislike "lime pies". If I'm going to have key lime pie, I want to know it's been made using key limes. Plus, the color of the custard is different when you use Persian limes. Key lime juice and flesh is more golden.

              The juice from both limes may make the quality of the pie virtually the same, but the taste is definitely different. And while ATK might have done a scientific evaluation, taste *is* subjective. :-) Which is why I don't go with what Chris Kimball and ATK says is right.

              1. re: LindaWhit

                If it were just Chris Kimball doing the tasting, I would totally agree. Taste is subjective and it would be meaningless to have one person decide what tastes best. But, they use a panel and that was the panel's conclusion. Anyway, either way, as RosemaryHoney says below, making it with bottled key lime juice, just so it was key limes is an abomination that I would hope no one would every do (except I know they do). Yuch! Like getting one of those plastic lemons with a pour spout. If I'm ever up your way I will bring a key lime and a persian lime pie and you can shut me up forever. Have a nice holiday season.

                1. re: bnemes3343

                  No need to bring me one - I make them (key lime pies) often, and I know I've had Persian lime pies in restaurants. Just my personal preference to want key limes over Persians, just as ATK's panel says their preference is you can use either.

            2. re: LindaWhit

              I agree that making key lime pie with key limes is obviously traditional, but I've used bottled key lime juice 2x (2 different brands!) and the resulting pies were terrible! They were far too bitter tasting - not tart, but bitter. Yuck. I'd rather have plain old "lime pie" anyday (I actually can't REALLY tell the difference anyway :)

              1. re: RosemaryHoney

                Yes, I taste the bitterness in bottled key lime, lime, and lemon juice too. Haven't figured out if its the preservative(s) used, or if the oxidation of essential oils creates the bitterness.

                1. re: vtnewbie

                  Or it could be the processing method that allows the pith into the juice (later strained out). Maybe all of the above.

              2. re: LindaWhit

                Yep. I agree with Linda. Having actually had several key lime trees in my yard and having made 12 pies a week for 12 years so that's roughly 7480 pies (I rounded down because we closed for Hurricane Andrew) I can say with some authority that they are neither hard to squeeze juice from (in fact they are big, round, fat and juicy beyond belief) nor interchangeable with a persian. There is no controversy as far as I am concerned.

                As far as sweet or tart. IMO it should be both with maybe a tad to the tart side so that the graham cracker crust can come in and do its magic.

          2. re: bnemes3343

            Okay I give up. I'm sure it's something I'll feel like a complete idiot afterward when it's revealed but I'm a little slow this morning.
            What is ATK please?

            1. re: latindancer

              No, you are not an idiot. Sorry for the abbreviation. ATK is America's Test Kitchen. A PBS cooking show that is in it's 8th season and publishes a companion magazine. Same folks also do Cook's Country. IMHO the two best cooking shows on TV. You can get their recipes on line, but all require you give them an email address (no big deal to me) and others require a subscription.

              1. re: bnemes3343

                Thank you for your very gracious reply.
                Wow... I've watched a few segments of Cook's Country, and enjoyed them thoroughly, but now it looks like I should be paying much more attention to what PBS has to offer.
                I appreciate your response and your post gives me information I'm sure I'll value in the future!

                1. re: latindancer

                  If you really want to watch a show that teaches you something and offers up nearly foolproof recipes, Cooks Country and America's Test Kitcen are the way to go. There are many who find Chris Kimball to be a pompous boor; not me. I have about 10 of their cookbooks, subscribe to both magazines and TIVO all of their shows. the FN can be fun at times, but seems to be more about personalities than actual cooking that you can do in many cases. Not always the case

                2. re: bnemes3343

                  In this case, they want to be paid for the Key Lime Pie recipe.

                  Yeah, right.

                  1. re: dolores

                    Yup, you have to join for this one. Not sure how much they charge, but worth it IMO. I stop buying their cookbooks (which take up too much room in our place) and just bring them up on-line. I don't think there's anything particulary unusual about this recipe though that would differ much from others.

                    1. re: bnemes3343

                      That would be my take, bnemes. Epicurious is my go-to place for a recipe I don't have, and the key lime pie there is pretty straightforward.


                      There's always the beautiful food porn of tastespotting:


                      1. re: dolores

                        Yes, I like Epicurious as well. I wouldn't pay ATK if all I wanted was a key lime pie recipe. But, they have so many other killer recipes, so as long as I manage to have a job (I work on Wall Street), I'll pay the few bucks. I've actually won several hundred $ in prize money from cooking contests using modified versions of their recipes, so I'm probably ahead anyway.

                        1. re: dolores

                          I am surprised they do not have Tastespotting rehab.

                          A while back they were prohibited from operating. Those were some of my darker food days. I started looking at the photos in my cookbook again. Sigh. A close call. Glad they are back up again.

                          1. re: Sal Vanilla

                            Yes, Sal Vanilla, isn't tastespotting amazing? Thanks to them, I made a simple adjustment to a mexican wedding cookie and I ate every single one, I didn't share with anyone. Amazing.

                            Yes, ATK and now CC charges for some recipes, after supposedly hooking you with the free ones. No, they are NOT all that, and not worth paying for. Silly Mr. Kimball.

                      2. re: dolores

                        Someone on the web charges for recipes? With all the perfectly lovely free ones floating about out there?? Pish posh!

                        Their recipes must be mindblowing. They had better be.

                3. I've always made my key lime pies with Nellie & Joe's key lime juice. I prefer my pie to more tart than sweet. Like others, I can tell a difference between persian and key lime juice. It is a personal preference though.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: jcattles

                    I like Nellie and Joes. Very key limey. It picks up a weird grey color if you leave it in the cabinet too long. have you noticed that? It still tastes good tho. I used it when it was frightfully gray. Looked AOK in the pie and tasted perfecto!

                    1. re: Sal Vanilla

                      Sal Vanilla, do you prefer the baked or the refrigerator key lime pie?

                      Are you allowed to share your recipe?

                      I prefer the refrigerator one. Eagle Brand has a Lemon Breeze pie that I have been making and eating since Hector was a pup. Yum.

                  2. Tart, more than sweet. I make mine with any smaller limes I can find. I don't use condensed milk. Mine is more akin to cheesecake....