What’s the Difference Between Lime and Lemon?

Both lemons and limes are very popular citrus fruits enjoyed in many ways around the world, whether in garnishes, savory dishes, desserts, or drinks. They’re very closely related and have a lot of overlap in nutritional values.

Here’s what to know about the differences between lemons and limes, how to include them in your diet, the pros and cons of each, and how to enjoy them.

What Are Limes?

There are several species and hybrids of trees and shrubs in the lime family (Rutaceace), and they are mostly grown in tropical and subtropical climates. One of the most common in stores is the Persian lime, a firm light green fruit that is slightly smaller than a typical lemon. Key lime (also called Mexican lime) and Kafir lime are also popular. It is a key ingredient in chutneys and pickles from certain areas, and the juice is often used to flavor drinks, food, and sweets.

Wild limes probably originated in Indonesia or mainland Asia, brought by traders (along with lemons) from India into the Mediterranean and Africa around 1000 CE. They likely spread into other parts of the Mediterranean and Europe by returning Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries. They have been used since then as a source of vitamin C, especially on long sea voyages to prevent scurvy.

Limes are green, firm, tart in flavor, and smaller than lemons and oranges.

What Are Lemons?

Like limes, there are several species of lemon that grow on small trees or bushes. The flavor is typically sour or astringent. They tend to have more yellow-toned skin than limes. Lemon is often used to enhance the flavor of meat, fish, or vegetables, or you can use it to flavor beverages (like lemonade) or pastries and desserts.

Lemons were introduced into Spain and North Africa around 1100 CE. Along with limes, they were brought into the rest of Europe by Crusaders. Lemon trees are evergreen and thrive in more moderate temperatures than limes, and they’re found in cooler climates.

Lemons are oval-shaped, and their skin can be noticeably dotted with oil glands. They are usually larger than limes but smaller than sweet oranges.

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What Are the Nutritional Benefits of Limes and Lemons?

Both limes and lemons are high in vitamin C. This essential nutrient is important in supporting your immune system by boosting the production of white blood cells and acting as an antioxidant, defending cells against damage caused by free radicals. Vitamin C has also been shown to reduce the visibility of wrinkles and skin aging.

Other benefits of vitamin C include:

  • Protection against heart disease
  • Prevention of prenatal health problems
  • Prevention of eye disease
  • Cancer and stroke prevention

Citric acid is a weak acid found in limes and lemons. It may make them useful for preventing or treating kidney stones. Early research indicates that citric acid can help your body absorb minerals, fight inflammation, and mitigate liver damage.

Lemons have a higher concentration of vitamin C than limes, but limes have a higher concentration of citric acid.

Possible Dangers of Lemon and Lime

Some people can have acid reflux, nausea, or gastrointestinal discomfort if they eat or drink a large amount of raw citrus fruits or juice, especially astringent ones like limes or lemons.

Consuming large amounts of foods high in citric acid — like limes and lemons — can cause damage to the enamel on your teeth.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Dental Association: "Top 9 Foods That Damage Your Teeth."

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary nutrient intakes and skin-aging appearance among middle-aged American women."

American Optometric Association: "Diet and Nutrition."

Annals of Botany: "Phylogenetic origin of limes and lemons revealed by cytoplasmic and nuclear markers."

Annals of Internal Medicine: "The effect of fruit and vegetable intake on risk for coronary heart disease."

Antioxidants: "Influence of Vitamin C on Lymphocytes: An Overview"

Britannica: "Lemon: fruit," "Lime: tree and fruit, Citrus species."

John Hopkins Medicine: “GERD Diet: Foods That Help with Acid Reflux (Heartburn).”

Journal of Endourology: "Quantitative Assessment of Citric Acid in Lemon Juice, Lime Juice, and Commercially-Available Fruit Juice Products."

Journal of Medicinal Food: "Citric Acid Effects on Brain and Liver Oxidative Stress in Lipopolysaccharide-Treated Mice."

National Cancer Institute: "Intravenous High-Dose Vitamin C in Cancer Therapy."

USDA: "FoodData Central - Citrus."

World Health Organization: "Vitamin C supplementation in pregnancy."

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