Key Limes vs Persian Limes: Does it Matter?

standard October 29, 2014 Leave a response

Key Limes vs Persian LimesKey Limes have always been a bit of a mystery to me, but when I was confronted with the need for them in a recipe for Pisco Sours I was forced to perform some research. Needless to say they aren’t widely available in my geography and the first question that came to mind was “How Do Key Limes Compare to Regular Limes?”

To be clear I wasn’t trying to take the lazy man’s route, but I always like to have a backup plan. Typically I always use the critical components required to make an authentic cocktail, but I don’t have unlimited time or money…

Basic Lime Research

I’ve always had a general familiarity with limes, but I’m no “lime expert” so I had to do a little digging. Overall I found that there are many different types and there are generally three varieties commonly available in the United States

Persian Lime

Persian LimeAlso known as the Bearss or Tahiti Lime, the Persian Lime is the most common variety found in the United States. Generally larger and less aromatic, the Persian Lime tends to be both less acidic and bitter than some other varieties.

Key Lime

Key LimeMade famous by its namesake pie, the Key Lime differs from its larger cousin in a number of ways. First, it’s significantly smaller and as a result yields less juice. In addition the Key Lime has more seeds and its flavor is more intense and possesses a bitter component not present in its Persian cousin. Finally, this fruit turns yellow when ripe.

Kaffir Lime

Kaffir LimeCommonly found in the near east, the Kaffir Lime is extensively used in the cuisine of the region. Often referred to as a Makrut Lime because Kaffir is considered offensive in some languages, this lime can be easily identified by its bumpy texture. This fruit has a very sour flavor and as a result is commonly used as a medicine.

My Great Key Lime Crusade

After educating myself on the nuances of Limes, I quickly learned that locating Key Limes in my area would not be easy. After about two days and 10 calls I was able to track down a bag of Key Limes to create an authentic cocktail. While they proved to be surprisingly inexpensive ($1/lb.), after going through all the work in finding them and squeezing them I found myself asking whether it was worth all the effort.

Key Limes vs Persian Limes

After going through all the effort of locating, obtaining and juicing, here are my tasting notes:

Key LimesPersian LimesComment
TasteThe Key Lime TiesThe Persian Lime TiesTaste is subjective, so this is essentially a tie. Key Limes are definitely drier and more bitter. While I may need to do more experimentation, I prefer Persian Limes
JuicingThe Persian Lime WinsHands down, Key Limes are much more difficult to juice. I invested in a worthless hand juicer , but found that simply squeezing them by hand is easier.
YieldThe Persian Lime WinsHave you ever seen a Key Lime? They’re tiny and not very juicy. So…. You need to juice quite a few to get a decent quantity of juice.
AvailabilityThe Persian Lime WinsKey Limes took some effort to locate in my area, while the Persian Lime is much more plentiful. Plain and simple, the Persian Lime is easier to find.

It’s important to note that my “research” was focused solely on the Lime’s use in the Pisco Sour. During my research, my wife Patti and I compared and contrasted both the straight Lime juices as well as cocktails made with both the Key Lime and the Persian Lime. I’m sure that we’ll explore more cocktails in the future that require Key Limes and I’ll provide any updates as they occur.

Are Key Limes Worth the Extra Work?

In my opinion, No. As a cocktail novice I don’t think that the work involved in tracking down and juicing Key Limes produced enough of a difference to make it worth the effort. I’m sure that many may decry my opinion, but there it is.

That said, Key Limes clearly have a different flavor and if you’re keen on creating authentic cocktails that require Key Limes, a strongly suggest that you give them a shot.


Suburban adventurer, beer lover and Cocktail Novice, Bill has a variety of interests including cooking, blogging and "bad" surfing. If you're keen to connect, give him a shout on Twitter.