Finger Limes Are the Most Interesting and Beautiful Type of Citrus—Here's Why You Should Try Them
When opened, the stubby fruits reveal pink, pearl or green citrus "caviar" inside.
The world of citrus is suddenly very interesting: Finger limes have arrived, cascading in pearly waves across social media. Also known as caviar limes, these unusual fruits resemble stubby fingers, or diminutive green bananas (yes, they are also called banana limes!). Cut open a ripe finger lime and it spills perfectly round juice vesicles that look just like opalescent caviar. Lime caviar.
Where are finger limes from, and how did they get here?
Citrus australasica is the botanical binomial for finger lime, and the species name tells a story: Australia. These intriguing and photogenic fruits are native to the sub-tropical eastern states of Australia. In the wild the thorny, small-leafed trees grow in what is known as the understory of the rain forest, the dappled-shade realm beneath taller trees. A traditional food of Aboriginal Australians, finger limes were popularized as bush tucker, native foraged food exotic to paying urban palates. Demand for the mesmerizing citrus rose and commercial cultivation began to supply a growing international market. Californian farmers began selling finger limes in the late oughts, and the eccentric citrus took off here in the U.S.
What do finger limes taste like?
Dozens of different cultivars mean that finger limes vary in size and color, revealing beads of deep rose, pale pink, pearl, or vivid green. The texture of their round vesicles is firmer than actual caviar, with a pleasing pop as you bite down on them. Finger lime flavor is sour, citrus-y, and slightly bitter; they taste like crushed lemon leaves smell. Cut a finger lime in half and squeeze, working all those tiny beads out. Drop a spoonful atop salmon caviar on a bagel (or blini), layer finger lime in sushi rolls, scatter them across just-cooked fish fillets, stir them into mayonnaise, balance them on sweet lemon tarts or crunchy meringue, and shake them into drinks.
Can you grow finger limes at home?
Yes! Their heritage means that finger limes make very good houseplants, requiring less direct sun than the six-plus hours that many citrus trees demand. While trees in full sun will produce the most fruit, you can easily grow a potted finger lime on a bright windowsill or terrace, or in dappled sun. Because commercially-grown trees are often grafted onto dwarf rootstock, they are well-suited to pots; even a petite tree will make a finger lime crop once it's mature enough. These low-maintenance citrus are also relatively disease-resistant—just another reason to grow your own. Finger limes are frost-tender so outdoor trees should come inside once overnight temperatures dip regularly beneath 45 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And if you are planting outdoors and in-ground spiny finger limes make an excellent, and edible, security hedge.
Finger lime flowers occur in waves throughout the year, and the tiny fruit that follows will take about seven months to reach maturity. When they are perfectly ripe they simply drop off. For that spectacular spilling-effect, where slicing the finger lime propels the lime caviar spookily from the skin of its own accord (as though alive!), the limes need to be just-picked. But they keep well in the refrigerator for up to six weeks. If you can't wait to grow your own, you can order the ripe finger limes from Good Land Organics and other California growers in season, generally late summer and fall into winter.