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Limes – Manao

by Kasma Loha-unchit

See also: Information on Kaffir Limes.

Limes Manao: Limes, and not lemons, are the main citrus that gives the sharp sour and zesty flavor that Thai people so love. The larger, thick-skinned, yellow lemon is a temperate-climate citrus and does not grow in tropical Thailand. There is, however, confusion in the use of English terminology among Thai people, and limes are erroneously referred to as "lemons" in Thailand. (The Thai word for lime is manao.) Perhaps the reason is: the first westerners to translate local language into English did not know what limes were and called them lemons since they are sour like lemons. As a result, "lemon" has stuck and "lime" does not exist in Thai people's English vocabulary; therefore, in present-day recipe exchanges with English-speaking peoples, the mistaken term "lemon" may be used. Limes do have a much more intensely sour and zesty flavor than lemons, and although they may be substituted with the latter, the results definitely lack the vigor that limes give to Thai dishes. So use fresh limes whenever possible, but avoid the pre-squeezed or bottled varieties, which lack freshness of flavor.

Thai limes are smaller than American limes, but they are packed with flavor and juice. They are also a little sweeter and more similar to key limes. When using the larger American limes, I frequently need to add a little sugar to invigorate their flavor to approximate Thai limes. Because limes can vary in degree of sourness, as well as juiciness, the best thing to do when working with a recipe calling for lime juice is to go by taste. Often it is not the amount you use, as some juicy limes may lack the intensity of flavor that other dryer limes may possess. With cooked dishes, add lime juice toward the end of cooking since the fresh flavor of lime and its sourness can simmer away; exceptions are cooked dishes in which it is a background flavor.

In addition to the flavor it imparts, lime juice has a tenderizing quality. Squid and rare meat, for instance, can become very tender and succulent from sitting in a lime sauce. Because of its tenderizing capability, lime juice has been used as a common folk remedy to dislodge a fish bone accidentally stuck in the throat. If this should happen to you, try gargling with lime juice or sucking on a piece of lime, slowly swallowing the juice. It can soften the bone sufficiently in a short while, such that downing a mouthful of rice or water afterward can push the bone away.

Buying Limes

When buying limes, select ones with smooth, shiny skin and a good weight for their size. They should not be hard – there should be some give when squeezed to indicate ripeness and juiciness. To get more juice out of your limes, roll them on a hard surface, applying pressure to break the juice sacs. Some people let the limes sit in hot water for a few minutes to soften.

If fresh limes are not available during the cold months of the year in your area, lemons make an acceptable substitute, though they lack the intensity of smaller limes. But as you learn how to balance primary flavors, you will be able to increase the intensity of lemon juice by varying a dish's salty and sweet flavors.

Our Ingredients Index contains links to many more Thai ingredients.

Copyright © 1995 & 2000 Kasma Loha-unchit in
It Rains Fishes & Dancing Shrimp. All rights reserved.

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