Finger lime is a rare gourmet fruit from Australia. Also known as caviar lime, this fruit is a unique citrus that grows on a thorny shrub or small tree in the tropical rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales. The endemic fruits are found nowhere else on earth.
Finger lime has been a staple in Indigenous Australian diets for thousands of years, but only recently has made it into the mainstream culinary arts where it has become a prized ingredient. The finger lime is unique and treasured in cooking for its caviar-like inner pearls that burst with a flavour similar to lime. These pearls, also known as fruits or vesicles, are small and spherical with a crunchy skin filled with juice.
What do finger limes look like?
Finger limes are long and slender in shape. They hang in small bunches from the branches of their shrub and are similar in appearance to small cucumbers. The skin is rough to the touch. When sliced, small spherical crystals like delicate bubbles are revealed. These are known as vesicles and are plump, juicy, and filled with citrusy flavour. It is these small juicy pearls that make finger limes such a sought-after fruit, likened to a lime caviar.
The scent of finger limes has been described as a blend of fresh citrus, grapefruit, lime, and a hint of boiled apple. Although the juice is most definitely sour with a taste of citrus, there is also a hint of bitterness in the taste. Each type of finger lime has its own unique colouring of skin, vesicles, and distinct flavour.
Different varieties of finger limes
There are several different types of finger limes that grow in Australia, including:
- Pink crystal: Otherwise known as Pink Pearl or Pink Ice, this fruit has a darker coloured pearl than the other similar varieties. The skin is green and the taste is milder, with a slight bitter flavour and grapefruit taste that makes it excellent in gin-based cocktails.
- Alstonville:This variety has black skin and bright green vesicles that are rather small in size. It has a very mild level of acidity and is almost seedless.
- Byron Sunrise: One of the most sought after varieties, with bright red vesicles and black skin. This type features a mild lemony flavour and low acidity, making it an excellent choice for garnish.
- Collette: Features bright green pearls and black skin. This type fo finger lime offers a great balance between sweetness and acidity. It is often used in seafood dishes and as a garnish for cocktails.
- Crimson Tide: As the name suggests, this fruit features dark brown skin and dark red vesicles. It is a rarer variety of finger lime that is almost seedless and prized for its crimson coloured vesicles.
- Emma: Featuring almost transparent or light pink pearls with a black or maroon skin. This type of finger lime is longer and thinner than other varieties and features a milder citrus taste.
- Green Orb: This is a small, round finger lime that more resembles a traditional lime with a spherical shape. It has green coloured skin and clear vesicles with a subtle lemon flavour.
- Mia Rose: Features dark green skin that is maroon when fully ripe, and pinkish red vesicles. This variety has a slightly bitter taste with hints of grapefruit. It is most commonly used in cocktails, especially gin and other clear spirits.
- Judy’s Everbearing: Grows on a dense, medium-sized tree and features dark green skin that is maroon when fully ripe, and pinkish-red vesicles. It is available almost all year round and has a milder flavour that makes it an excellent garnish.
Health benefits of finger limes
Finger limes are packed with nutritional benefits. The fruits are a potent source of potassium, folate, and vitamins C and E. Each fruit contains three times the amount of vitamin C that is present in a mandarin. The presence of vitamin E makes the fruits a powerful antioxidant and potentially protective of human cells and preventative in disease. Finger limes have also been used as a source fo medicine by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. They were eaten to ward off disease and the pulp and juice of the fruit used as an antiseptic by rubbing onto infected skin sores and boils.
How to cook with finger limes
Finger limes are recognised for their extreme versatility in cooking. They are often used as a garnish or source of acidity, adding a citrus flavour to dishes. Use finger limes in salads, as a garnish for canapés, in cocktail and dessert recipes, for pickles and marmalades, in sauces, and more!