The Kaffir Lime is a citrus fruit commonly grown in Malesian and Indochinese ecoregions. The fruit is especially known for its distinct aroma as well as its medicinal and culinary uses.
Kaffir Lime Scientific Name
The scientific name for this species is “Citrus hystrix”.
Kaffir Lime Description
The different parts of the Kaffir lime plant are described below:
Tree: The Kaffir lime trees are small, reaching up to a height between 2.5 meters and 3 meters. These sprawling, spreading trees occur in small bushes. The trunk and branches of the tree are covered with strong, sharp spines having a length of around 4 cm.
Leaves: The leaves are blunt, pointed and slightly emarginated. The leaflets are attached end to end. The leaves are medium-sized; the leaf measurement ranging between 3 to 5 by 8 to 12 cm. The tips of the leaves are somewhat irregular and the petiole is winged. The leaf margins are crenate and broadly rounded,
with the base of the leaf being blunted. The tips of the leaves are subtruncate with frequent crenate margins. The leaves are of a dark green color and have a glossy sheen.
Flowers: The flowers are small, free and have short stamens. They are pinkish-white in color.
Fruits: The fruits start to appear during the winter months. Fruits are round, almost 4 cm in width and dark green in color. It has an oval-shaped bottom and a conical, pointed tip on the stem end. The outer surface of the skin is rough and tuberculate. This outer surface is comprised of essential oils which
are responsible for the lime’s distinct citrus aroma. The inner portion of the fruit is divided into 10 to 12 segments of pulp-vesicles. The dark green color of the fruit gradually fades to a yellowish green shade on maturity. The fruit has got a strong acidic flavor.
How to grow Kaffir Lime
The Kaffir Lime is an evergreen perennial plant and so if it gets adequate light, warmth and moisture, it will keep on bearing fruits throughout the year. The essential growing conditions for this plant are described below.
Light: The plants should be bathed daily by direct sunlight for at least 8 hours a day. Every week the plants should be turned a quarter so that all the different sides get equal light for optimum growth. This exposure to strong sunlight is essential to the plant’s growth and production of fruits.
The plants grown indoors should be kept near a window from where they can get enough sunlight on a daily basis. They also respond well to artificial lighting conditions. During the summer months, the plants should be moved outdoors and slowly adjusted to the sun’s rays. They should again be brought indoors before frost starts to appear.
Water: The plants should be watered thoroughly on a daily basis. The soil should always be kept moist. Care should be taken to avoid water logging.
Humidity: The plants should be kept under moderately humid conditions. The containers holding the plants should be placed on a tray holding wet pebbles and the foliage should be kept mildly wet.
Temperature: While growing indoors, the room temperature should be kept between 16°C and 29°C. Kaffir limes can easily tolerate warmer conditions; however, they cannot handle frost.
Soil: Kaffir limes prefer peat moss-based soil mixture.
Fertilizer: During the spring and summer months, a balanced half-diluted liquid fertilizer should be applied to the soil every two weeks.
Pollination: Pollination of the Kaffir lime flowers is essential for fruit production. In outdoors, this is carried out by the bees and other insects. The plants kept indoors should be hand-pollinated by a brush.
Height: The height of the plant should be maintained so that it does not exceed more than 5 feet. The branches of the plant should be pruned in spring as new growth starts. Pruning encourages the growth of new branches. It is best to cut at an angle of 45° just above the leaf nodes.
Propagation: It is possible to grow Kaffir lime from seeds but the best way to grow them is from stem cuttings. The stem cuttings should be collected in early summer. A 4-inch stem cutting should have 2 or 3 leaf nodes without any fruits or flowers. The stem cuttings should be dipped on hormone rooting powder
and inserted in peat moss-based soil mixture and enveloped within a plastic bag for retaining moisture. After about 6 to 8 weeks, the stem cuttings will start developing roots.
Kaffir Lime Uses
The leaves and rind of Kaffir Lime are used in many Thai and Lao cuisines. The leaves are used in many soups, salads, curries and stir-fried dishes. The leaves can be added to soups either whole or torn. The fresh leaves are used in salads and garnishes. The young and tender leaves are nicely shredded and sprinkled over salads and curries which highly enhance the flavor. Finely chopped leaves
can be added to stir-fried dishes and especially curries having coconut cream as an ingredient. The flavor of the leaves combines well with that of basil, cumin, lemon grass, mint, ginger and tamarind.
The rinds of the fruits are used in making curry pastes. The zest adds a great piquant flavor to spicy stews and fried fish cakes. Since the strong flavor of the rind can easily overcome the more subtle tastes of a dish, it is best to use the rind sparingly as well as mix it with other ingredients in a manner that its intensity is reduced.
The juice is often used in the preparation of beverages and to add flavor to rum in the islands of Martinique and Madagascar.
Medicinal Uses and Health Benefits
The essential oils present in the rind are used to make various ointments and medical tonics which are beneficial for the blood and the circulatory system. These oils help in digestion and protect the digestive system from ailments. The juice of this lime is also used to brush the teeth and gums.
The citrus juice of the fruits is used to make shampoos and insecticides. It is also used as a bleaching agent.
Kaffir Lime Interesting Facts
Here are some interesting facts about these limes:
In folk culture, Kaffir lime juice is believed to avert evil spirits and refresh an individual’s mental outlook.
The Indonesians refer to Kaffir lime as “asjeruk obat”, which means “medicine citrus”.
Even though they belong to the Rutaceae family, these limes are not considered to be true limes.
The leaflets are said to have an “hourglass” shape as they are attached to each other end to end.
These limes are so prevalently used in Thailand that a simple reference of citrus leaves indicates to the Kaffir lime leaves.
Kaffir Lime Recipes
Some of the well known recipes of Kaffir lime include the Kaffir Lime and Coconut Shrimp with Red Curry Sauce, the Tom Yum Koong Soup, the Green Curry Chicken and the Thai Green Curry Paste.
Kaffir Lime Side Effects
There are no known side effects resulting from consumption of Kaffir limes. However, people allergic to citrus fruits should avoid them since these limes can cause some adverse effects.