Kaffir Lime – Useful Leaves and Fruit with Offensive Name

Kaffir lime and kaffir lime leaves are popular ingredients in Asian food and other cuisine. However, there is some notable concern surrounding the kaffir lime’s name. It’s offensive in South Africa. For this reason, some refer to kaffir lime as k-lime instead. People also call it kefir lime and kieffer lime.

Kaffir lime fruit originates in Southeast Asia. There, it’s called Makrut. With unique health benefits and an excellent flavor profile, the fruit and leaves have many culinary uses.

Makrut limes have bumpy green to yellow rinds. Their leaves are fragrant. They do not produce a lot of juice. Most people grow them for kaffir lime leaves.

Below we discuss what to know about the kaffir lime tree, ways you can use kaffir lime leaves, and how to grow makrut trees indoors and outdoors, depending on where you live.

Kaffir lime

With the scientific name Citrus hystrix, kaffir limes are a part of the citrus family and have a very distinctive and highly fragrant lime-lemon flavor and aroma. Their bumpy rinds make they easy to distinguish. 

Kaffir lime trees are evergreens. They are small and thorny and can look like shrubs. They are dwarf citrus trees. It is a tropical plant that thrives in full sun. 

While you can use the rind, there is little juice from these limes. Kaffir leaves are what people most use, and the reason to grow these trees. Chefs around the world prize kaffir leaves.

Other names for kaffir lime

Due to the derogatory nature of the name, other names for this lime include:

  • Makrut
  • Kieffer lime
  • Keiffer
  • Keifer limes
  • Kaffir lime
  • Mauritius papeda
  • Kefir lime
  • Keffir lime
  • Citrus hystrix

You can buy kaffir lime trees at nurseries in planting zones in which they grow. This will include areas in growing zones 9 – 11. These are areas in which other citrus fruits, such as lemons, oranges, etc., can grow.

Otherwise you can find them online through some hardware stores and individual nurseries, and plan to grow them indoors. Kaffir lime trees are container-friendly dwarf fruit trees, making them ideal to grow indoors year round. 

In addition, you can propagate from semi-hardwood cuttings or grow from seed.

Germination

These trees grow from seeds. Therefore, grafting isn’t necessary. Whether or not you plan to grow a makrut lime tree outdoors or indoors, you should plant the seed in a container to start. Choose a five gallon container and fill it with a potting soil that is formulated for citrus trees. Be sure there are drainage holes on the bottom.

When planting kaffir seeds, plant them 1.5 inches deep. Depending on when you plant them, you may need to keep the containers indoors. In soil temperature that’s 55 degrees F and higher, the seed will germinate in approximately 14 days. 

Kaffir lime tree growing zone

Kaffir lime trees grow in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 – 11. Citrus hystrix grow best in a subtropical climate. Cold sensitive, they thrive in warm weather with 10 – 12+ hours of full sun each day. However, they will grow in six hours of direct sunlight. 

When growing indoors, keep them near a sunny window. Consider supplementing with fluorescent plant lights.

If growing indoors, you can move outdoors in the summer. Beginning after the last frost, gradually transition the plant outdoors for a few hours at a time. Each week, expose the tree to additional sunlight. During cold spells, bring the container indoors. They will not survive frost. 

If you live in planting zones outside of 9 – 11, remember, the kaffir lime is a tropical evergreen fruit tree that thrives indoors in pots. Growing them indoors can be ideal with enough sunlight. 

Kaffir lime tree care

Whether you plant from seed or buy a young tree from a nursery, a kaffir lime tree is an easy-to-care for houseplant. Outdoors, it grows best in a subtropical climate. In drier areas, they will thrive as well but will need additional water until established.

Soil

Makrut limes need deep, quick-draining soil. It also needs to be able to retain moisture. They do best in loamy soil in full sun. Plan to grow them in commercial soil for citrus trees. 

Kaffir trees prefer acidic soil with a pH in the 5 – 6 range.

Watering

When growing from seed, while the seeds are germinating, keep the soil moist, but not damp and soggy. When established, be mindful of watering deeply when the soil is dry at a depth of one inch. Water thoroughly once a week.

Watch the surface of the soil. When it’s dry, water it. However, it’s important to let it dry out some during waterings. Eventually, watering once per week is the goal for them to become hardy. You’ll also need to water less in the winter.

Keep in mind, kieffir lime trees are prone to root rot. When growing them in a pot, ensure there is proper drainage. Drain out standing water so the plant isn’t standing in water.

While they thrive in subtropical climates, they grow well in dry climates as well. To increase humidity, mist the leaves during the dry seasons. When growing outdoors in extreme heat, water more frequently. No watering is necessary during monsoons.

They’ll also benefit from regular waterings during the flowering phase. When growing outdoors, you can set them up on irrigation. 

Signs of overwatering include leaf drop. If the surface soil remains consistently wet, fungus gnats can appear.

Signs of underwatering include flower drop.

Sunlight

Like other citrus trees, kaffir lime trees thrive in direct sunlight. Give them a minimum of six hours of full sun per day. They can also grow in some partial shade. When growing indoors in the winter, place near south facing window for the strongest light.

Fertilizer

Use a citrus fertilizer every three months the first year. Choose a fertilizer that’s 3-1-1 because they are heavy nitrogen feeders. A fertilizer that is 2-1-1 can also be an appropriate NPK ratio.

Phosphorus will help plants to bloom and develop.

Fertilize in the spring and summer months. To help the plant harden off, stop fertilizing by late summer or early fall. Do not fertilize in the winter.

Pollination

Kaffir lime trees produce fragrant white flowers. Like other citrus trees, kaffir lime trees self-pollinate. When growing outdoors, there is nothing to do.

When growing indoors, you’ll need to help it along in order to initiate fruit development. Use a cotton swab or small paintbrush and lightly dab it to collect pollen from one flower. Brush it from flower to flower. Pollinating by hand will ensure the tree will grow more limes.

Flowering

You will see white flowers blooming in the springtime. This tree’s foliage is very fragrant. Once established, flowers will bloom year round with the most being in early-to-mid spring.

When growing the tree in the first year, it’s best to lightly prune it by removing the flowers. In the second year, if the tree is well-established, leave the flowers to bloom. A citrus fertilizer with phosphorous will help them bloom. 

Pruning

In the first year of growth, it’s best to gently pinch off the flowers. This is essential to foster root and branch development and growth and to make it stronger overall.

Prune young trees lightly. You can do this by cutting at a 45 degree angle above the leaf node. Pruning helps develop into the desired shape and size. It also helps to improve the tree’s strength and to  maintain its small size. It’s best to remove damaged branches as well.

Transplant

After their first year of growth, transplant the tree into the ground during the spring or two weeks after the last frost. If you are growing indoors, transplant the kaffir tree into a 10 gallon container. No matter where it grows, be sure to stake the tree for support. 

Fruiting

Continue to water regularly as the limes develop. The fruits will be formed. During the fruiting phase, kaffirs require 1″ – 2″ of water each week.

The limes will develop for six months and be ready to pick in late winter. The limes will change over time from dark green to yellowish. They are small with bumpy rinds and peels. The fruit falls from the tree when ripe.

As the citrus develops, it’s a good time to test the soil to ensure the levels of potassium and phosphorus are sufficient. If not, add citrus fertilizer. This will help ensure the best fruiting. 

Juice from kaffir limes is bitter. In addition, they don’t produce as much juice as other limes. So while you can use the juice, most people grow these trees to use the rind and kaffir leaves in cooking.

Mature height

It’s natural to wonder: How tall do kaffir lime trees get? It’s important to note, a lot will depend on pruning and whether they grow in the ground or in a pot. 

When growing them in containers, inside or outside, dwarf varieties grow 5 to 8 feet. Standard kaffir trees, planted in the ground, grow from 10 – 15 feet.

Size

Because they grow so well in containers and pots, they are idea for sunny balconies, patios, and in gardens. They are semi-dwarf and dwarf trees. You can prune them into bushes.

Kaffir lime tree problems

These trees can become susceptible to mites or scales. However, this  rarely happens when growing indoors.

When watering, it’s important to inspect for insects and remove affected parts as necessary. If you irrigate and don’t water by hand, it’s important to remember to inspect them periodically. You may need to use a DIY organic insect spray to control them. Be sure to remove damaged branches. 

Kaffir lime tree thorns

These trees have small thorns. 

Kaffir lime juice

These limes do not produce a lot of juice like other limes do. While there is some, it’s bitter. You can use it in drinks and cooking, however, the juice isn’t the primary reason to grow kaffir lime trees.

Kaffir lime leaves

A kaffir lime leaf is glossy and green. The leaves have two separate sections. The top is pointed, while the bottom is much broader, although both sizes can vary.

The trees produce edible leaves. Makrut leaves have highly fragrant aroma. Most people who grow these trees do so because of the leaves.

There are many kaffir lime leaf recipes. The leaves are a sought-out ingredient in Indonesian, Thai and other Asian dishes. Kaffir lime leaves are an incredibly popular, as you can use them similar to other seasonings, like bay leaf. There are many ways to use kaffir leaves.

Kaffir lime leaves uses

Cooking

Think of using these lime leaves like you use bay leaves. The most popular use of this ingredient is in fragrant dishes, such as curries and soups. You can add the leaves to sauces, noodle dishes, and stir-fry meals.

Adding keffir leaves add unique flavor. You can use the leaves as toppers for stews and curries for flavor and visual appeal. 

Many people seek out kaffir lime leaves substitutes because the flavor is so desirable. Bay leaves lack the citrus notes. Therefore, a substitute should include a combination of bay leaves, lime zest, and lemon thyme.

Household uses

Interestingly, makrut is a fantastic ingredient for health and beauty products, as well as cleaning agents. They have an exceptionally fragrant nature, which makes them an excellent addition to household cleaners.

It is also known to be a suitable conditioner for your hair, leaving a zesty aroma after you apply it.

Another use for kaffir leaves is potpourri. Dry the leaves and use them around the home for their scent.

Drinks

There are many kaffir leaf drink recipes. Or you can DIY your own. If you want to get even more creative, consider infusing it into a simple syrup for a gin cocktail.

Uses for kaffir limes 

The kaffir lime itself is useful in Asian cuisines. Grate the rind and use it as a flavoring agent in the same way you would use the kaffir leaves. 

K-limes are round with dark green coloring. They also have a distinctive nipple and a knobby rind that can look very wrinkled. This makes makruts easy to distinguish from other limes.

One of its most common names is “porcupine orange,” especially as the rind lightens to a yellow-green tone as it ages.

Although it has a lemon-lime flavoring, the fruit juice isn’t the most-used part. Instead, most dishes take advantage of kaffir lime leaves and the rind’s zest, especially in curries.

It has a perfume-like flavor profile that has a unique identity compared to other citruses. It also has a low rating on the hotness scale, as it’s more acidic than spicy.

Kaffir lime name

The controversy surrounding kaffir isn’t new, as its name is derived from an offensive term used in Arabic. Known as a racial slur in South Africa, it stands for “infidel” or “non-believer,” which is highly offensive in many circles.

The initial concerns were brought to light by Veronica Vinje, a student at Royal Roads University in British Columbia. 

Roger Mooking, a celebrity chef, also expressed his displeasure towards the term “kaffir.” He stated that there are many other names, including makrut, that are more than suitable for this highly acidic fruit. Mooking first learned about the term’s offensiveness after working in South Africa and was apprised of its derogatory meaning.

kaffir lime leaves
kaffir lime leaves

Where to buy kaffir lime leaves

When you begin shopping for lime leaves, you’ll want to make sure you’re choosing the most fragrant ones. When touched, you’ll be able to feel the overwhelming natural oils, so you’ll want to use them fresh. The leaves should have a deep green color and a smooth texture. 

You can typically find fresh leaves from specialty shops, as they are processed using unique techniques. These stores ensure the leaves are preserved correctly to be used fresh.

Alternatively, you can purchase powdered lime leaves or dried leaves, depending availability and budget. You can find them online as well.

How to pair makrut limes

The best way to figure out how to use makrut in your dishes is to think of bay leaf. It’s an ingredient that is most often paired with curries, stocks, and stir-fries.

The best part is that if you find dried leaves, the wetness releases their flavor once added to a moist dish. Chefs also love adding lime leaves to sugar syrups and pickling juice because of its unique acidity.

At first, it might seem like an unusual ingredient, but it’s an essential component to many Asian dishes. A few of our favorite pairings with these limes include:

  • Thai-style haddock
  • Galangal broth
  • Pickled cucumber
  • Mussel broth

You might also find that it can be combined with sweeter ingredients, such as papaya, coconut, and cardamom.

Kaffir lime benefits 

Makrut limes have plenty of flavorful benefits, but they’re also great for your health. A few of the most notable health benefits include:

Oral hygiene

Instead of toothpaste, many residents in Southeast Asia use makrut leaves for oral hygiene. By chewing on the leaves, you can quickly eliminate any garlic odors and bad breath.

As the leaves have natural antibacterial properties, it helps to keep your teeth and tongue disinfected.

Antibacterial uses

Aside from ensuring your mouth smells and feels fresh, these leaves are essential for antibacterial uses. There are plenty of individuals who use extracts from these fruits as topical antiseptics.

With proper application, the juice can help to promote healing and protect against Staphylococcus aureus.

Another use for this ingredient is in regards to skincare and acne. As most acne is derived from bacterial on and in the skin, you can gently apply makrut extract as a cleanser.

By killing Propionibacterium, signs of acne are likely to reduce significantly.

Antioxidants

Consuming antioxidants is essential to boost your immune system and to fight free radicals. As with most citrus fruits, makrut is also known for having a ton of antioxidants. You could begin to see lessened signs of aging, healthier skin texture, and acne reduction.

Natural bug repellant

If you’ve ever used lemongrass as a bug repellant, you’ll also love adding makrut lime to the mixture. These ingredients produce citronella, an oil proven to ward off mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs.

This is even more important when traveling abroad, as it can help protect you against dengue and malaria.

You’ll also love having a natural bug repellant for your gardens. Using an organic material is safe for your homegrown vegetables and fruits to keep pests and animals away.

What is kaffir lime used for?

Having makrut leaves in your kitchen can help you to transform your Southeast Asian cooking.

As the perfect partner to curries and stews, it’s a unique ingredient with an innovative flavor profile. Also, it has plenty of health benefits derived from an entirely natural source.

Kaffir lime

An exotic citrus fruit, kaffir limes grow on evergreen dwarf citrus trees. They are easy-to-grow as houseplants, outdoors on a patio, or in the ground alone or as part of a backyard orchard

The leaves are useful ingredients in many recipes. Kaffir lime leaves enrich cooked dishes as a spice or garnish. The limes themselves are bitter and not especially palatable on their own. However, cooks use the rinds as zest in cooking, especially in Thai cuisine. 

People who grow kaffir lime trees do so for the leaves, unique-looking fruit, and the beautiful fragrance. 

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