Why is it called key lime?

The Key lime, also known as the acid lime, is a citrus hybrid with a fascinating history. But have you ever wondered why it’s specifically called a “Key” lime? What is the significance behind this name? Let’s delve into the origins, etymology, and cultural significance of the key lime to uncover the intriguing story behind its name.

Key Takeaways:

  • The Keylime is a citrus hybrid native to tropical Southeast Asia.
  • The name “Key lime” originates from its association with the Florida Keys.
  • Key lime has other names such as West Indian lime, bartender’s lime, Omani lime, or Mexican lime.
  • The English word “lime” was derived from the Arabic word ليمة līma, which is a derivation of the Persian word limu.
  • Key lime has a significant cultural significance in the Florida Keys and is famous for being the flavoring ingredient in Key lime pie.

Key lime’s characteristics

The Key lime is a citrus fruit known for its unique characteristics that set it apart from other lime varieties. Let’s delve into the key lime’s flavor, appearance, aroma, size, and acidity, and explore what makes it so special.

Key Lime Flavor

The key lime has a distinct flavor that can be described as tart, yet not overpoweringly acidic. Its citrusy taste adds a delightful tang to various culinary creations, making it a popular choice for desserts, beverages, and savory dishes.

Key Lime Appearance

The key lime has a spherical shape and is generally smaller in size, measuring about 2.5–5 centimeters in diameter. Its thin yellowish skin distinguishes it from the thicker rind of the Persian lime, another popular lime variety.

Key Lime Aroma

When it comes to aroma, the key lime stands out with its intense and refreshing fragrance. The citrusy scent of the key lime adds an enticing element to dishes and beverages, enhancing the overall sensory experience.

Key Lime Size

As mentioned earlier, the key lime is relatively smaller compared to other lime varieties. Its compact size makes it perfect for squeezing and using as a flavoring agent in recipes that require a punch of citrusy goodness.

Key Lime Acidity

The key lime is known for its higher acidity compared to other lime varieties. This acidity, while not overwhelming, contributes to its signature tart flavor, making it an exceptional ingredient in refreshing beverages, zesty dressings, and, of course, the iconic Key lime pie.

In summary, culinary enthusiasts around the world treasure the unique character of the key lime, which combines its flavor, appearance, aroma, size, and acidity. Its versatility and distinct attributes make it a prized ingredient in both sweet and savory dishes, making it a must-try for any lime lover.

Key lime’s taxonomy and hybridization

The Key lime, scientifically known as Citrus × aurantiifolia, is a fascinating citrus hybrid that is a result of the crossbreeding of two parent plants, Citrus hystrix and Citrus medica. This unique combination has given rise to the Key lime’s distinct characteristics and flavor.

As a progeny of this crossbreeding, the Key lime has further contributed to the development of various lime cultivars. One popular variety that emerged from the Key lime is the Persian lime, widely known for its larger size and milder flavor compared to the Key lime. The Key lime’s innate ability to hybridize with other citrus fruits has also led to the creation of lime varieties such as the Kirk lime and the New Caledonia lime.

One interesting aspect of the Key lime’s genetics is its inclination to produce diploid gametes. This genetic characteristic opens up possibilities for further hybridization and the potential production of a broader range of lime hybrids in the future.

Key lime’s distribution and cultivation

The Key lime has a fascinating history of distribution and cultivation. Native to tropical Southeast Asia, it found its way to the Florida Keys through various routes, starting from the Middle East and eventually reaching North Africa, Sicily, Andalusia, and then the West Indies. The precise introduction of the Key lime to Florida is credited to Henry Perrine.

Throughout the years, Key lime cultivation expanded to tropical and subtropical regions of North America, including Mexico, Florida, and California. However, due to a devastating hurricane in 1926 that destroyed commercial lime crops in the Florida Keys, commercial cultivation of Key limes declined in the United States.

Today, Key limes are primarily grown in Central America and Mexico. Their cultivation is concentrated in these regions to meet the demand for this unique citrus fruit. Although the commercial cultivation of Key limes diminished in the United States, their historical significance and association with the Florida Keys continue to make them a cherished piece of culinary heritage.

Key lime’s historical significance

Key limes hold a rich historical significance, particularly in the Florida Keys, where they have become an integral part of the region’s cultural heritage. One of the most iconic and beloved creations associated with Key limes is the delicious Key lime pie, which has even been designated as the official state pie of Florida.

While the exact origins of Key lime pie are subject to debate, evidence suggests that it was initially invented as a variation of the Magic Lemon Cream Pie by a milk company in New York City in 1931. However, Key West locals maintain a different story, attributing the pie’s invention to a cook named Aunt Sally in the mid-1800s. According to their account, Aunt Sally created the pie for her employer, Florida millionaire William Curry.

Regardless of its precise origins, Key lime pie has become deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of the Florida Keys. It is celebrated as a timeless symbol of the region’s culinary heritage and is enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

Key lime pie recipe and flavor

Key lime pie is a beloved dessert known for its tangy and refreshing flavor. Made with a few simple ingredients, it is a classic treat that captures the essence of the Key lime.

To make a traditional Key lime pie, you will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups of graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup of unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/4 cup of granulated sugar
  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 can (14 ounces) of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/2 cup of Key lime juice (freshly squeezed if possible)
  • Optional toppings: whipped cream or meringue

To prepare the crust, combine the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and sugar in a bowl. Press the mixture into a pie dish, covering the bottom and sides. Bake the crust in a preheated oven at 350°F (175°C) for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk until well combined. Gradually add the Key lime juice, stirring until the mixture thickens and becomes smooth.

Pour the filling into the prepared crust and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until set. Allow the pie to cool completely before refrigerating it for at least 2 hours to chill and set.

When serving, you can top the pie with whipped cream or meringue for added indulgence.

“Key lime pie is a true delight that combines the zesty flavor of Key limes with the creamy sweetness of the condensed milk. It’s a treat that transports you to the sunny shores of the Florida Keys with every bite.”

When it comes to the flavor of Key lime pie, the tartness of the Key lime juice is what gives it its distinct taste. Key limes have a unique acidity that adds a tangy kick to the pie, balancing out the sweetness of the condensed milk. Some enthusiasts argue that Key limes provide a more nuanced and complex flavor compared to the milder Persian limes, which can be used as an alternative but may yield a slightly different taste.

Variations of Key Lime Pie

While the traditional Key lime pie recipe is a timeless favorite, there are also variations that cater to different tastes:

  • Key Lime Pie Bars: Instead of a pie, these are individual bars that feature a buttery crust, creamy filling, and a dusting of powdered sugar.
  • Frozen Key Lime Pie: This version is perfect for hot summer days. It combines the classic pie ingredients into a refreshing frozen treat.
  • Key Lime Cheesecake: A decadent twist on the classic, this recipe combines the creamy tanginess of Key lime pie with the rich indulgence of cheesecake.

Whether you stick to the traditional recipe or try a variation, Key lime pie is a dessert that never fails to deliver a burst of citrusy delight.

Key lime pie and the market

The production and popularity of Key lime pie have a significant influence on the market, particularly in the United States. However, the cultivation of Key limes for pie production has undergone notable changes over time.

Key lime pie traditionally includes Key limes, which are no longer commercially grown in the United States. Instead, producers import most Key limes for the pie from Central America or Mexico. The decline in domestic cultivation of Key limes can be attributed to the devastating hurricane that struck the Florida Keys in 1926, severely damaging lime crops and leading to a decline in their commercial cultivation.

As a result, Mexican limes, which are hardier than Key limes, gradually replaced the commercial lime crops in Florida. These limes thrive in a wider range of environmental conditions and are better suited for large-scale cultivation.

Despite the shift in lime production, Key lime pie remains a beloved dessert and continues to be in high demand. This demand has fueled the importation of Key limes from regions where they are still cultivated, ensuring a steady supply for the creation of this iconic pie.

Key lime pie festivals and traditions

Key lime pie has become much more than just a dessert; it has become a beloved symbol of the Florida Keys and a reason for celebration. Festivals and traditions dedicated to this tangy and sweet treat have emerged, bringing together locals and visitors to revel in all things Key lime.

One of the most prominent events is the annual Key Lime Festival, held in Key West, Florida, every year since 2002 over the Independence Day weekend. This festival is a vibrant showcase of the Key lime’s influence on the local culture, inviting attendees to indulge in tasty Key lime pie creations, refreshing Key lime cocktails, and other Key lime-inspired culinary delights.

During the Key Lime Festival, Key West is transformed into a Key lime paradise. The streets come alive with music, vibrant decorations, and the tantalizing aroma of freshly baked Key lime pies. Visitors have the opportunity to sample a wide variety of Key lime pie flavors, from the classic recipe to unique twists created by local chefs and bakeries.

“The Key Lime Festival is a delightful experience that truly captures the essence of the Florida Keys. It’s a joyous celebration of our culinary heritage and showcases the incredible versatility of the Key lime pie. Every year, we see new and exciting creations that continue to amaze and delight festival-goers.”
– David Green, Key West resident and festival attendee

The Key Lime Festival is not just about indulging in delicious treats; it’s also a chance to learn about the history and traditions surrounding Key lime pie. From cooking demonstrations to pie-making contests, attendees can gain insights into the craftsmanship of this iconic dessert.

Outside of the festival, Key lime pie traditions are embedded in the fabric of the Florida Keys. Many local eateries and bakeries proudly offer their own versions of Key lime pie, each with its unique twist and flavor profile. It’s not uncommon for residents and visitors alike to engage in spirited debates about which establishment serves the best Key lime pie in town.

Key Lime Pie: A Symbol of Culinary Heritage

Key lime pie’s popularity and cultural significance have also extended beyond the Florida Keys. A growing number of regions across the United States recognize the value of this dessert and have adopted their own festivals and celebrations to pay homage to its deliciousness.

These events provide opportunities for enthusiasts to gather, share recipes, and showcase their Key lime pie-making skills. From bake-offs to pie-eating contests, these celebrations foster a sense of community and appreciation for the culinary traditions associated with Key lime pie.

From Key West’s Key Lime Festival to local pie celebrations, these events remind us of our enduring love for tangy, creamy desserts. They honor Key lime pie’s past and future, securing its spot in culinary culture as a quintessential Florida delight.

“Key lime pie is more than just a dessert; it’s a slice of Florida’s history and a testament to our love for the sweet and tangy flavors of the Key lime. The festivals and traditions surrounding it allow us to come together, share our passion, and create lasting memories around this iconic dessert.”
– Sarah Thompson, Key lime pie enthusiast

  • Key Lime Festival in Key West, Florida, celebrates all things Key lime, with a particular emphasis on Key lime pie.
  • Visitors can sample a wide variety of Key lime pie flavors and indulge in other Key lime-inspired culinary delights.
  • The festival features cooking demonstrations, pie-making contests, and other educational activities to showcase the craftsmanship behind Key lime pie.
  • Key lime pie traditions are deeply rooted in the Florida Keys, with many local eateries serving their unique versions of this beloved dessert.
  • Key lime pie celebrations have spread beyond the Florida Keys, with regions across the United States hosting their own festivals and events dedicated to this tangy treat.
  • These gatherings foster a sense of community and appreciation for the cultural heritage of Key lime pie.


The Key lime is a citrus hybrid with a rich history and cultural significance, especially in the Florida Keys. Its name originates from its association with the region and its fame as the flavoring ingredient in Key lime pie. The unique characteristics of the Key lime, such as its smaller size, seediness, high acidity, and aromatic flavor, make it a cherished ingredient in culinary traditions.

Key lime pie, whether attributed to the original Borden milk company recipe or the myth of Aunt Sally’s invention, has become an iconic dessert. It holds a special place in the hearts and taste buds of many, showcasing the delightful tartness of Key lime juice combined with egg yolks and sweetened condensed milk.

The demand for Key lime pie has not only contributed to its cultural prominence but also to the importation and cultivation of Key limes. Although commercial cultivation of Key limes has declined in the United States, they are still widely imported from Central America and Mexico to meet the demands of this beloved dessert. As a result, Key limes will continue to play an essential role in culinary traditions for years to come, preserving their unique flavor and historical significance.

Discover this Key Lime Cake, The Recipe From Here

Leave a Comment