Lemon, Lime and Bitters please


Turn back the clock to colonial days. The order of the day was a gin and tonic (with a slice of lime of course). Nowadays, a ladies mocktail is lemon, lime and bitters. Either way, limes are an important ingredient. Limes are different from lemons and within the lime family there are many different sizes, shapes, and flavors.

Vanuatu has the wild bush lime – a small, round, green to yellow fruit, which self-seeds in retro plantations. It is a thorny bush which grows to 3 metres high and fruits for eleven months of the year. It would be considered a good lime for the corona beer trade if it were not for the center being full of seeds. It still will produce a reasonable amount of juice with a light tangy lime flavor. The skin is thin with very little pith.

The Mexican and Tahitian lime was introduced for farmers wanting to become commercial growers. These varieties were grafted onto wild bush lime rootstock and imported rootstock. The idea was to give the preferred varieties which had no or little seed, the disease resistance and growth characteristics the commercial farmers wanted. Little did they realize that the vigor from the rootstock gave the trees an even bigger boost that requires lots of pruning and shaping to keep the fruit within easy picking range. The export market wanted small green fruit to sell to bars for cocktails and beers but unfortunately, the fruit does not have the weight in this juvenile stage and will yield 30% juice. Mexican and Tahitian limes will grow fruit to maturity weighing 120gm to 180gm each and when fully ripe will yield 60% juice.

The demand for Kaffir lime is starting to grow due to their important role in eastern cuisine. Kaffir lime has a more fragrant note of lime oils than the Tahitian lime. The fruit is small and has a knobbly skin which is used for zesting, while the fruit itself does not yield much juice. The leaves are double lobed and also used in cooking. Kaffir limes do have large thorns – some newer introductions have smaller thorns and can be grown in a pot close to the kitchen.

In Vanuatu, there is a lime tree that is often mistaken for a bitter orange. It looks like a small mandarin, peels like a mandarin and has segments like a mandarin. Some chefs will use the bright orange fruit in slices on fish, and it is only then that one realizes it is a relative of the Rangpur lime. Originally from Bangladesh, it reportedly came in as a rootstock to give resistance in wet conditions. In actual fact, it is suited to cold and helps keep a bush dwarf. In Vanuatu’s climate, it has turned into a vigorous monster and often overtakes the grafted material.

All limes are distinguishable from lemons by the scent and the level of acidity. Lemons are much ‘sweeter’ and have a higher brix level. The pith on lemons is also much thicker and the size of lemons in Vanuatu can reach 300gm. Making juice from either lemon or lime requires a certain amount of rag (flesh) and a little bit of the oil from the skin to give a full flavour profile; too much pith and the juice will become bitter.

Having a freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice in the fridge is a tropical hostess’s secret to a quick refreshing drink with or without sugar. The organic fruit is plentiful in the market;or take a Fine Foods pouch home – ready to mix.

Cornelia Wyllie is the  founder of Vanuatu Direct / Fine Foods processing. She is  passionate about the nutraceutical values of  foods and believes that food is our medicine. Flowers and food are found at discerning stores in Port Vila with distributors overseas. Buying direct is possible and full support and certification for Biosecurity is available on selected lines if these items are sent or taken overseas. Contact [email protected]