Black Lime | Loomi
Black Lime | Loomi
What are Black Limes?
Black limes are actually whole sun-dried limes which range in size from 1 – 1.5 in. (2.5-4 cm) diameter. They vary in color from pale tan to very dark brown, almost black with up to 10 darker tan longitudinal stripes running from ‘pole to pole’. When broken open, remnants of black, sticky pith are revealed on the inside, and a pungent, fermented citrus aroma is released.
The limes are boiled in salt water and dried in the sun until the inside flesh turns jet black and all but dissolves. The outer skin caves in on itself slightly and turns a mottled brown.
Citrus trees are indigenous to South-East Asia and the introduction of limes, which withstand hot conditions better than lemons, to the Middle East was probably by Moorish and Turkish invaders. Citron, the citrus that was familiar before oranges, was known to the Chinese in the fourth millennium and mentioned by the ancient Egyptians.
Citron was cultivated in Southern Italy, Sicily and Corsica in the fourth century BC, and most citron for crystallized peel and perfumes still comes from Corsica. The lemon was widely used from the Middle Ages on, however limes are often confused with lemons, and the history of lime trees is somewhat obscure.
There are several types of limes, all of which are borne by trees somewhat smaller and bushier than lemons with a varying profusion of prickly spikes. The common lime of India and Asia is thin-skinned, sour and mouthwateringly juicy, while the lime trees grown in Europe and America have a different flavor and are believed to be a hybrid that is referred to as Tahitian lime.
Persian limes taste different again, and it is these which were originally dried while still on the tree, possibly another accidental discovery made when a neglected crop that had dried in the parched summer sun were found to have such a beautiful taste.
Buying and Storage
Black limes can be bought from Middle Eastern food stores and specialty spice retailers. Dark tan to light-brown ones are generally best, however some of the very dark black limes have a greater pungency and depth of flavor, something which is desirable as long as they do not have signs of mold on them. They are tough to grind but you can sometimes find it in a course grind. Always store in an airtight container and avoid humidity.
Cooking with Black Limes
The taste is surprisingly sweeter than expected and reminds me of those sweettart candies from my Halloween trick-or-treating days. They’re strong enough to be the only tart component in many recipes, and Arabs take advantage of them liberally, in part because of their extended shelf life. The highly aromatic, somewhat fermented flavor notes in black limes complement chicken and fish particularly well. Surprisingly, one or two pierced black limes in an oxtail stew give it a welcome degree of piquancy.
When adding whole black limes to a dish or putting one in the cavity of poultry before cooking, make a few holes with a skewer or the tines of a fork to allow the cooking juices to infuse with the tasty inside.
Black limes may also be pulverized and mixed with pepper to sprinkle on chicken and fish before grilling, as a substitute for lemon and pepper spice blends. In Iran powdered loomi is also used to flavour basmati rice. Dried limes can be used in powdered form or whole (usually pierced or crushed).
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Family: Rutaceae (citrus family).