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Conchs, speak up on key limes, please.

In the Florida Keys, a key lime is a little yellow thing with a distinctly piney scent. You can't just walk into a supermarket down there and buy a bag of them either; not the real ones, at least.

Even in the Keys, fakery is rampant in bars and supermarkets alike.

So what is the likelihood of encountering the real thing in any form outside south Florida?

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  1. there hasn't been a commercial key lime industry in Florida in many, many years. Even the ones in Key West probably came in from Mexico.

    BUT...their size, and the unique combination of green flesh and yellow skin make them pretty hard to counterfeit...and nobody is ever going to sneak Persian lime past someone who's had the chance to taste both.

    2 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      A Persian lime, no. A Creole lime.........well, it depends. Certainly I've seen a few creole limes (to save a little time, Creoles are the limes that usually show up around late winter early spring, the juicy ones with the smooth pale green shiny skins) whose pale green approaced the color a legit key lime rind gets (especially one that isn't quite ripe yet and has yellowed up all the way). I have also seen some limes being sold recently that are sort of "in the middle"; too round and small to be Persians/Creoles too big and green to be keys (key lines are about gumball to walnt size, these are the size of a squash or raquet ball) being sold as keys (maybe they're some sort of key/persian hybrid). I also think at least once I saw a key sized lime (in a bag of "normal" keys that had the dark green bumpy skin of a Persian (but that was probably some sort of odd sport).

      1. re: jumpingmonk

        Interesting post. Here I am in NoCal and now I find out that all these green things that are being sold as Key limes really aren't. I'm always learning things here. Thanks.

    2. In season, Grocers like Publix sell them, usually in net bags by the pound, at least as north as Tampa.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Veggo

        No,Veggo, that's the aforementioned rampant fakery.

        1. re: Veggo

          So, Veg, are they green or yellow?

          1. re: c oliver

            Greenish-yellow, perfectly spherical, ping pong ball size or smaller, lots of seeds.

        2. I was so excited to try key limes in Florida, but when I did, I realized that they are basically the same thing as calamansi limes (my favorite!) that I grew up with! Both have a complex flavor and a subtle numbing effect that I adore. YUM. You can purchase calamansi limes fresh and frozen (frozen 100% calamansi juice is excellent) in lots of Asian stores.

          5 Replies
          1. re: akq

            numbing effect? i've never gotten that from any key lime.

            1. re: alkapal

              if key limes numb your mouth, you probably should ease up on the rum a little.

              1. re: sunshine842

                I can sort of get what he is saying. A key lime probably would numb one's mouth....if one was in the habit of eating the peel along with the fruit or biting it off . The essential oils in citrus peel are astringents and so if you get them in your mouth driectly the sensation could be described as nunmbing. most people experiance it with kumquats (where eating the peel is normal) but depending on what the poster means by Calamansi (depending on where you live, that could be the green skinned, orange fleshed ciutrus fruit of Asia, or it could be the caldomin orange (the one a lot of people keep as a houseplant) those also might be eaten with peel. And since the peel of a real key limes is smooth and thin, and the pith layer minimal (that's important, the bitterness of the pith is the main obstacle to peel consuption on most citrus) , you could eat a key out of hand, and the effect probably would be very much like eating a caldomin or possibly a true calamansi (which I have never seen being sold fresh. I wish I did, I'd love to plant the pits from one to add to my tree collection)

                1. re: jumpingmonk

                  Yup. Maybe not everyone feels the numbing sensation? What a shame! I get the sensation from key lime juice just like from calamansi.
                  I meant Asian calamansi, popular in the Philippines. We had a tree in our backyard in Hawaii. Tasty little things! I read that key limes are decended from calamansi brought from southeast Asia.

                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                    whooo -- i cannot imagine eating a key lime out of hand! LOL, my mouth is puckering up even as i think of it.

                    my uncle had kumquats, and those were tart enough. lovely taste sensation, those kumquats.

            2. If you're looking just for juice, Nellie and Joe's key west lime juice is authentic key lime juice.

              1. got them last year at trader joe's in northern virginia.

                1. I got them at a Harris Teeter in northern VA a few years ago. Looked, smelled, and tasted like key limes. And yes, I've had key limes in the Keys. Anything can be shipped...

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Hobbert

                    Around here, the dominant brand is Susie which as far as I can tell is the real deal, its golf ball sized and has yellow skin (at least it has yellow skin if you let them sit and ripen a little, they tend to pick them a little early). At least it is certainly adequate for my key needs i.e. the 2 of them I need to squeeze in my iced tea each morning On the other hand, I can't abide susie's regular (creole) limes, the things are so acid you can etch steel with the juice. Oddly one of them is also the only time I've ever seen a pit in a non-key lime (that's another tell, if you cut a few in half, if you see a pit or two in one or more of them, it HAS to be a key. I think Sunshine may the "key" point; there really isn't any other commonly grown citrus that SIZE that could pass for a key lime. It would be like trying to pass off Valencia's as Moro typle blood oranges, the difference would be obvious to anyone (I say moros becuase since the tangiers have a mostly orange peel with just a touch of blush, you could in theory fake the appearance with a juice orange and some red dye. But the moros chocolate brown peel is a telltale, like the pink pith of a mango orange.). That being said, I have seen the odd bag of keys from another producer buy by and large susie has the market sewn up around here. There not really seasonal (though they do vanish from stores for a few weeks every now and again, to my constant worry) Actually the best way I know how to find them is look for a supermarket that caters to a neighborhood with a large Latin american population. In a lot of S.america, the key lime is the NORMAL day to day lime, so it's the one a lot of latin americans are used to and seek out making a market.

                  2. I saw bags of them in Shop Rite in Bayville, NJ just yesterday.

                    1. Had two key lime trees at the house. Purchased from a highly reputable Homestead area nursery. No difference from the ones sold in the mesh bag here in town.

                      1. Is the small Mexican lime, or 'lima', the same thing or not? When people talk about buying them by the bag, they probably are the Mexican ones. Some say they are the same, others disagree.

                        Can anyone confirm whether there is commercial production of 'key limes' in Florida, or on the Keys themselves?

                        Similar discussion from a couple of years ago

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: paulj

                          Well, species wise they are the same, Citrus aurantifolia (as opposed to the Persian which is Citrus x latifolia) whether the differing climates make a change or indeed if they are different strains (Citrus aurantifolia is a species, so it is entirely possible that mulpile varieties exsits, same as for say, oranges.) I do not know

                          1. re: paulj

                            Wikipedia says they're closely related, but not exactly the same http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Key_lime... (yes, I know Wiki can be flakey on things like politics and religion...but we'll run with it on something as obscure and mundane as a Key lime and a Mexican lime not being exactly the same thing


                            Purdue University classes them ALL as Mexican limes, but then cites a number of different Latin nameshttp://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/morton/me...

                            Keylime.com says that there is no significant commercial production of Key limes in the US -- and from what I can find, it's mostly because the trees are extremely cold-sensitive (although the key lime I had near Tampa still stands and still bears fruit every year)

                            1. re: sunshine842

                              That's funny, sunshine. One of those things that we THINK we're eating but, in all likelihood, we aren't. I always shake my head when someone thinks they're eating Vidalia onions in, say, October. I don't know what they're eating but it ain't a Vidalia :)

                            2. re: paulj

                              Back in the 80's, the Fed's literally eradicated most of the privately owned Key Lime trees here in Florida due to the citrus canker.

                              After the Feds kicked off their canker eradication programs, Key Lime production in the state of Florida has pretty much vanished. Even the Key Lime trees we grew in our back yard were all destroyed.

                              I don't think that there are productive Key Lime groves in the state of Florida anymore, and again that's primarily due to the citrus canker and citrus greening (a bacterial infection) programs.

                              There are still people who own individual Key Lime trees, but they aren't around like they used to be.

                              As for the lime itself, it's pretty much the same as the Mexican lime. In fact my grandfather swore that they had shipped the original Key Limes in from either Mexico or Cuba back around the turn of the 20th century.

                            3. Well I'll be....who knew you could have an entire discussion on key limes and their variants?? LOL
                              I am almost afraid to ask what my local Safeway and other grocery stores are carrying that say "key limes" and taste like the key limes I had when I was in Florida?? They are small (not like regular limes) and have a smooth skin and are greenish-yellow. I would have to look at the bag again to see where they are imported from. I haven't bought any since summer.