What is the Difference Between Limes and Key Limes?

What is the Difference Between Limes and Key Limes?

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I’m sure you simply love to have a tasty slice of key lime pie. However, if you are out of key limes, it’s better not to substitute limes for key limes in your pie recipe. It will be a huge mistake. You may think that key limes are only a smaller version of their relatives, but that’s not the case. They are a quite a lot of differences that will impact your recipe and the taste of your pie.

Difference between Limes and Key Limes

What is the Difference Between Limes and Key Limes?


The difference is obvious if you’ve ever seen a key lime (West Indian or Mexican) next to a conventional lime (Tahitian or Persian). Persian limes are only a bit smaller than a tennis ball, while key limes have the size roughly like a ping-pong ball – about 1,5 inches in diameter. Key limes also weigh less than Persian limes, with their weight of 1 oz, while Persian limes usually have a weight of 3 oz.

Aroma and Flavor

While Persian limes and key limes are very similar in flavor, you will notice a lot more acidity in a small package of key limes than in Persian limes. Key limes are very valued for their complex aroma. People all over the world use them to flavor and garnish seafood dishes, increase the quality of sweet desserts, and add a twist to beverages. You can use key limes in Thai-inspired chicken dishes, drinks, salad dressings, Mexican dishes like guacamole, or even for a raw fish cooked by the lime juice’s acid.


Trees of key limes are as squat and small as the limes they produce. They will grow over 12 feet very rarely and they tend to be bushy and small with very thorny branches. Leaves are pale green and small with rounded-off tips. On the other side, Persian lime trees are taller; they can reach up to 15 feet in height. They have no thorns which results in a much easier harvest. Their leaves are serrated and bright green.


You can find lime juice and Persian limes available at your local grocery store all year. However, it can be quite a task to find fresh key limes as they don’t stay fresh for a long time and are shorter in supply. You can find bottled key lime juice in online stores and specialty.

History of limes in the United States

The U.S. has a specific preference for Persian limes, larger variety. The rest of the world prefers to use its smaller relative, key limes, instead. There is a reason for this and it can be traced to a natural disaster in the 20th century. Key limes were grown in Florida widely up until the early 1900s. However, a hurricane in 1926 destroyed most of the key lime crops. After this, farmers decided to start growing Persian limes as they are hardier and more disease-resistant. This is when a new preference was born.

Now you know the difference between these varieties of limes. I hope you won’t make a mistake when you are making your next pie!