Bartender In-Depth: Lime Juice - History & Fresh VS Old!
Updated: Mar 29
The most popular style of drinks in the world are sours & all sours must contain some sort of 'sour' ingredient. Very often this comes in the case of lemon or lime juice & ordinarily the drink is Margarita or a Mojito. We're so used to the use of lime for example that we never go deeper than the shallow waters of arguing about the ratio of lime to sugar in a Daiquiri. Here in bartender in-depth we'll look at the history of lime as a fruit as well as use smarter people than ourselves to look into the age old argument of what tastes better 'Fresh Lime or Juiced Old Lime'.
History Of The Lime We’ll limit the discussion to the two principal limes used in the U.S., the Persian or Tahitian lime, which is the principal supermarket lime, and the Key lime (Mexican lime). Key Limes Or Mexican Limes. The Key lime originated neither in the Florida keys nor Mexico, but in southern Asia’s Indo-Malayan region. It was unknown in Europe before the Crusades and it is assumed to have been carried to North Africa and the Near East by Arabs, across North Africa into Spain and Portugal. It was brought by European Crusaders from Palestine to the Mediterranean countries. In the mid-13th century, the lime was cultivated and well-known in Italy and probably also in France. It was taken to the Americas by Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the early part of the 16th century where it became naturalized in southern Florida, parts of the West Indies, Mexico and other Caribbean countries (it was reportedly commonly grown in Haiti in 1520). Hence, the name Key lime is from the Florida Keys. While there is no documentation of the date of entry to Florida, the tree was popular in yards of private homes. In 1839, cultivation of limes in southern Florida was reported to be “increasing.” By 1883 it was being grown commercially on a small scale in Orange and Lake Counties.
When pineapple cultivation was abandoned in the Florida Keys because of soil depletion and the 1906 hurricane, farmers began to plant the limes as a substitute crop there, as well as on the islands off Fort Myers on the west coast. The limes were pickled in saltwater and shipped to Boston, where they were a popular children’s snack. (Remember Amy in Little Women pining for some pickled limes?) The Key lime was our first lime, and in fact, was the first lime enjoyed by Europeans. The reason that the Tahitian/Persian lime became our regular lime, and the Key lime receded as a specialty fruit item, is threefold: Tahitian limes are easier to cultivate—Key limes are more sensitive and their branches are very thorny and the limes are harder to pick. Tahitian limes have thicker skins and are easier to transport and store. Tahitian limes are less tart. Tahitian Or Persian Limes The origin of the Tahitian or Persian lime is unknown. It is presumed to be a hybrid of the Mexican lime and citron, an unusual citrus fruit whose main value lies in the fragrance and essential oil of its outer peel (the pulp is extremely dry and the thick white rind cannot be peeled). The basic lemon, Citrus × lemon, might also have been the co-parent. However, it was being grown in Tahiti. It is believed that the Persian/Tahitian lime was introduced into the Mediterranean region by way of Persia (the modern Iran). Portuguese traders probably carried it to Brazil, and apparently arrived in Australia from Brazil about 1824. It reached California by way of Tahiti between 1850 and 1880 and had arrived in Florida by 1883, the same year that Key limes, which had arrived much earlier, were increasing in cultivation. In Florida, the Tahitian quickly took the place of the more sensitive Key lime. Following World War I, the Tahitian lime became a well-established commercial crop. Though it’s hard to believe today since the fruit is so universal, there was market resistance at first, buyers viewing it as a “green lemon.” The Persian lime. Photo by Hannah Kaminsky | THE NIBBLE. For some time, Canadians would not accept it because they were accustomed to the more flavorful Key lime. But the Tahitian/Persian lime has endured, and many Americans today have never even seen, much less purchased, a Key lime.
Fresh Juice VS 'Old' Juice Here at Cocktails For You we've previously argued long & hard about the merits of juicing fresh on the spot, bottling beforehand & juicing with a juicer as well as the ratio's of lime to sugar in various cocktails. Interestingly a few google searches later revealed we're not the only weirdos with the same ideas, questions & problems! Dave Arnold of Liquid Intelligence reports:
Dave Arnold was a guest speaker at the BAR program –the mega bartender class by Dave Wondrich, Dale Degroff, Paul Pacult, Steve Olsen, et al. I was to speak to 55 people who had just gone through a rigorous spirits tasting program. I decided to do the lime juice test:
At 2pm we separated 1.5 cases of limes into 3 equal piles. I juiced 1 pile in the Sunkist juicer and 1 pile with the hand juicer. We were done by 2:15. We weighed the samples – the machine juicer yielded 26 ounces of juice, the hand juicer 21.5. I then put the juice in covered quart containers and left them out of the fridge.
At 6:15pm I juiced the third pile. We then made limeade by mixing the same amount of each lime juice with measured amounts of water and simple syrup. We served it in a blind tasting at 7pm.
The overwhelming favorite was the hand-squeezed lime juice that was 4 hours old. The distant second place was 4 hour old machine pressed juice. Almost no one chose the fresh hand squeezed juice. Before I revealed what the samples were, I asked those who chose the 4-hour hand-pressed juice to choose a second favorite. They all chose the 4-hour machine juice. I was flabbergasted, and so was the audience.
If these results are repeatable, hand-pressing makes better juice than machine-pressing (in a Sunkist), but the effect isn’t as important as using slightly aged lime juice. Your drinks are probably tasting better at the end of your shift than at the beginning.
Age Your Juice? Some Comments:
I don’t know why the 4 hour juice tasted better. Clearly we need to run more tests. What is the optimum aging time? Don’t know yet. Maybe the bartender I met at Tales will step up, reveal his identity, and give us his results.
Some tasters commented that that the aged juices not only tasted better, but had more of an acid bite. If this is true, making a well balanced pre-batched lime drink several hours before service will result in an unbalanced, overly acidic drink at service time.
Aged lime juice –while preferred in limeade, might not be the best for every drink application. Perhaps a margarita is best with aged juice and a non-cordial gimlet is best with fresh –or vice versa. More tests.
Lastly, if indeed the aged juice tastes more acidic (and I don’t mean it actually has more acid –ie has a lower pH; these are just subjective taste impressions), maybe the fresh limeade would have won the taste test if we had added a couple extra ounces of it to the limeade.