Magical Makrut Limes

Nick Musica
Published Nov 15, 2021. Read time: 4 mins

They’re bitter. They’re bumpy. And they’re barely even used in the dishes they’re added to. But adding one anyway can make all the difference. 

That’s the magic of the Makrut lime: A little of this rare and wonderful ingredient goes a very long way. And while the citrus superstar has long been a pivotal part of South East Asian cuisine, the otherwise unassuming fruit is getting a fresh look today, from all its flavorful possibilities right down to its name.

What Are Makrut Limes? 

That’s because Makruts are no ordinary lime. 

Once called the kaffir lime, these citrus fruits recently underwent a rebranding after many chefs using them noticed that the word—which roughly translates to “non-believer” or “infidel” in Arabic—was used as a derogatory term in South Africa. 

So bad is the offense of using the word there, that calling someone by it is considered a legal hate crime. So the compassionate and culinary-minded set looked elsewhere for inspiration, settling on Makrut, which is what the limes are called in their native Thailand.

Other than the name, a number of striking differences separate the specialty produce from its green, citrusy cousins. But the most distinctive can be spotted by even a casual observer.

The fruits are notably shriveled in shape, looking like a lively lime only through squinted eyes. Makruts still rock the electric green shade that takes its name from the fruit, but their wrinkled, bumpy cover makes them look more like a piece of produce on its way out than one that’s about to flavor your dish.

On the inside, the Markut takes on a more familiar form—at least aesthetically. The lime is segmented into thick cuts of juicy greenish-yellow flesh, held together by a thin white membrane. And cutting it open is a reward onto itself, as the Markut bursts with that classic bright bite of citrus scent.

But things take another turn completely when one dares attempt to taste the fruit. 

What Do Makrut Limes Taste Like? 

You may love them, you may hate them, but you sure will never forget them.

Makrut limes taste like no other, with the fruits particularly noted for their intensity, in both flavor and smell. And, when taken in bigger bites, the overall effect can really overwhelm the taste buds. 

Defectors tend to cite the overpowering sourness present in the lime’s flavor profile as their most offensive factor. Others say the fruit leaves a bitter taste in their mouth – literally – or that the Makrut tastes like soap suds.

Citrus lovers, on the other hand, tend to praise the fruit. And when the lime is used diplomatically, and properly prepared, it can go from a sour note to a pretty sweet ingredient. 

In fact, it’s the Makrut’s distinctive acid that makes many Thai dishes shine so brightly, cutting through any fat left behind by coconut milk, peanut paste, or meat like a machete slicing through the jungle. And many chefs will swear that if a recipe calls for Makrut lime, no other version of the citrus fruit will make as satisfying a substitute.

Makrut limes are so potent, in fact, that even their leaves are left with a powerful palette.

What Are Makrut Lime Leaves? 

Makrut leaves—sometimes simply called lime leaves—are a distinctive ingredient in their own right, and a staple in many kitchens around the world. Indeed, for many chefs, “lime leaves” is actually synonymous with Makrut limes.

The leaves stem from the limes in elegant pairs, and are regularly plucked, dried, roasted, pounded or otherwise turned into spice. In many Thai recipes, the leaves are cut into tiny green strips, sometimes no wider than a hair, and added to the stir-fry fray. 

That’s because, as with the Makrut lime itself, a little bit of these leaves go a long way. Makrut lime leaves are typically compared to bay leaves in western cooking: Potent and punchy – but pretty problematic if attempted to eat whole.

Yet developing that distinctive flavor is far from the only way this talented fruit can be used.

How to Eat Makrut Limes 

Both Makrut limes and their leaves can be sold frozen or fresh, with the leaves also often sold in spice form.

Thanks to its distinctive flavor and high acid content, the lime’s juice or flesh can be deftly employed in a marinade, especially if the food subject being broken down is a particularly tough customer.

Still, by and large, most chefs concentrate on the lime’s leaves or rind to extract the best version of its flavor – a softer, more floral alternative to the astringent juice.

Leaves are used to spice up all types of recipes, from stir-frys and curries to soups and stews. And the rinds can be used for zesting up nearly anything. 

But if you’re making a particular mess in the kitchen – or anywhere else – the rinds double as an all-natural ace cleaning product. Makrut lime rind can be used to wipe away some scuzzy stains, or simply left in a place to perfume a less-than-pleasant smelling area.

Even if the limes aren’t quite to your taste, you have to admit, the Makrut is pretty magical.


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