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Finger Limes Working Their Way to Your Table (Gradually)

Hot & Cool Trends

By Cari Martens

Unless you live in Australia, you have probably not yet tasted a finger lime, considered the caviar of citrus fruit.

After a small harvest from the first commercial plantings in California, the limes have just started to show up at a few local markets and restaurants in the Los Angeles area, as reported by David Karp, writing for the Los Angeles Times.

The finger lime, quite different from other citrus fruit, looks a bit like a pickle, ranging in size from 1 to 3 inches in length. It has thin skin and is typically greenish black in color, but it can also be purple, rusty red or light green. Its little juice sacs ‘pop on the tongue like caviar,’ Karp writes, ‘releasing a flavor that combines lemon and lime with green and herbaceous notes.’

Like many citrus fruits, finger limes are a bit too tart to eat fresh, but Karp suggests you try cutting one in half and sucking out the ‘caviar’ to get the full flavor experience.

Finger limes, which cost about $2 each, are highly sought after by chefs in Southern California, some of whom use a little of it to season fish. No doubt they are just beginning to experiment with it. Creative mixologists are already mixing up finger lime cocktails.

Finger limes are native to Australia, grown on the eastern coastal rain forests there. But fresh finger limes cannot be imported legally to the U.S., so they’re pretty much unknown here. The finger limes now being grown in California are derived from seeds and cuttings imported from Australia during the ’60s, when scientists planted them at the University of California-Riverside.

Finger limes may begin to show up soon at some high-end markets on the West Coast, such as Gelson’s, Bristol Farms, and Whole Foods. Karp reports that Melissa’s World Variety Produce may have some for sale by mail order, depending on availability. Churchill Orchard of Ojai, Calif., which has 15 finger lime trees, will sell any fruit that remains when they start coming to the Ojai farmers market around January 10.

If you’re able to score some, you’ll be among the very few Americans who have had the privilege of tasting ‘the caviar of citrus.’ Savor the moment.

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