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Lemons vs. limes

Similarities, differences, and culinary uses

Lemons and limes are two popular citrus fruits. This article reviews the similarities and differences between lemons and limes — so you’ll know exactly what to do when life hands you one of them.

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Lemons vs. limes: Differences, similarities, and more
Last updated on September 21, 2023, and last reviewed by an expert on February 26, 2023.

Lemons and limes are some of the most popular citrus fruits in the world.

Lemons vs. limes: Differences, similarities, and more

Though they have a lot in common, they’re also distinctly different.

This article reviews the main similarities and differences between lemons and limes — so you’ll know exactly what to do when life hands you one of them.

In this article

What are lemons and limes?

Lemons and limes are two kinds of fruit that — though genetically different — are closely related.

Some experts believe that lemons were created as a hybrid of lime and citron — a large, thick-rinded citrus fruit. However, this is merely one of many origin theories.

Both lemons and limes — as well as oranges, tangerines, citron, and grapefruit — belong to the broader category of citrus fruit.

Lemons and limes are now grown all over the world. Yet, lemons — formally known as Citrus limon — are typically grown in moderate climates, while limes — or Citrus aurantifolia — grow better in tropical and subtropical regions.

Both fresh and processed forms of lemons and limes are utilized in several different industries.

These two fruits are well known for their acidic, sour flavor and are featured in a variety of culinary applications around the world. They may be used in cooking, food preservation, or to impart flavor.

The essential oils of lemons and limes are often used for cosmetic and medicinal purposes. They’re also included in many household cleaning products for their fragrance and antibacterial properties.

Summary: Lemons and limes are two types of citrus fruits utilized in various culinary, medicinal, and household applications.

Similarities of lemons and limes

Though lemons and limes are distinctly different fruits, they share many of the same characteristics — especially regarding their nutritional value and potential health benefits.

Lemons and limes are nutritionally similar

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of either fruit provides the following nutrients:

Lemons

Limes

Regarding their macronutrient content — carbs, protein, and fat — lemons and limes are essentially identical, with limes taking an insignificant lead in carb and calorie content.

Lemons: Nutrition facts and health benefits
Suggested read: Lemons: Nutrition facts and health benefits

Lemons provide more vitamin C than limes — but both make a significant dietary contribution to this vitamin.

Overall, lemons offer more vitamins and minerals, including potassium, folate, and vitamin B6.

Lemons and limes share certain health benefits

Traditional herbal medicine practices have been known to utilize citrus fruits — like lemons and limes — for their medicinal benefits.

Vitamin C — one of the main nutrients in these citrus fruits — is well known for its antioxidant properties and plays a major role in sustaining a healthy immune system.

Citrus fruits also contain many other plant compounds with known antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial properties.

Multiple studies suggest that these compounds may play a role in preventing heart disease and certain types of cancer, including breast and colon cancer.

One study in mice observed that citric acid — a specific compound found in citrus fruits — protects against inflammation in the brain and liver.

However, research on lemons and limes’ potential medicinal and pharmacological benefits is limited to animal and test-tube studies.

Ultimately, more research is needed to determine whether these fruits can effectively treat conditions in humans.

Summary: Lemons and limes have similar nutritional makeup. They also contain many of the same plant compounds that may play a role in reducing inflammation and preventing certain diseases.

Different taste and appearance

While lemons and limes have many similarities, they also have some distinct differences.

Suggested read: Plantain vs. banana: What's the difference?

Physical differences

Perhaps one of the most obvious differences between lemons and limes is their appearance.

Lemons are usually bright yellow, while limes are typically a bright shade of green. However, certain types of limes will turn yellow as they ripen, making the distinction a little more difficult.

Limes are also smaller and rounder than lemons. They can vary in size but are usually 1–2 inches (3–6 centimeters) in diameter.

In comparison, lemons tend to be 2–4 inches (7–12 centimeters) in diameter and have a more oval or oblong shape.

Flavor differences

In terms of flavor, these two citrus fruits are similar. They’re both tart, and eating either fruit by itself will likely result in the same puckered facial expression.

However, lemons tend to err on the slightly sweet side, whereas limes are usually more bitter.

Limes are sometimes described as sourer than lemons, but this may have more to do with their bitterness. This perception also varies depending on your taste.

Summary: Lemons are typically sweeter and larger than limes, whereas limes are small and slightly more bitter.

Slightly different culinary uses

Both citrus fruits are used in similar ways when it comes to cooking.

Both make excellent additions to salad dressings, sauces, marinades, beverages, and cocktails. You will likely choose based on the dish’s flavor profile.

Since limes are more bitter, they’re often reserved for savory dishes, whereas the sweetness of lemons lends itself to broader applications in both savory and sweet dishes.

Remember that this is not a hard and fast rule — there are always exceptions. For instance, lime is the featured ingredient in certain sweet beverages like margaritas or limeade. It can also be found in desserts like key lime pie.

Still, generally speaking, you’re more likely to see lemons in sweet dishes rather than limes.

These two types of citrus fruit can safely be used interchangeably in various cooking scenarios without ruining the dish — but it’s important to keep the bitter-sweet flavor balance in mind.

Suggested read: Limes: Nutrition, benefits, uses, and side effects

While neither choice is wrong, one of them may be better than the other, depending on your particular dish.

Summary: In the kitchen, lemons and limes are often used similarly. However, limes are not as frequently used in sweet dishes due to their bitterness.

Summary

Lemons and limes are two popular citrus fruits with various options for culinary, medicinal, and practical applications.

Limes are small, round, and green, while lemons are usually larger, oval-shaped, and bright yellow.

Nutritionally, they’re almost identical and share many of the same potential health benefits.

Both fruits are acidic and sour, but lemons tend to be sweeter, while limes have a more bitter flavor. These flavor differences typically drive their different culinary uses.

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