Limes are the kind of thing you often have laying around for pretty much forever. Maybe you buy a whole bunch for a party, and then a guest brings some too, and weeks later… there are still limes. Or maybe there was a deal on limes at the grocery store and, as limes last a while and are useful so often, you bought… well… too many.
Whatever your lime story, you’re now asking yourself, wait, how long do limes actually last? How do I tell when a lime has gone bad? Should I be storing these limes more carefully?
Considering that citrus fruits are notoriously long-lasting, and limes were carried on ships to keep away the dreaded scourge that was scurvy, you’d expect limes to have a pretty long shelf life. That’s true, but seafarers in the 1700s didn’t really care too much about limes being at best quality.
Given that we like our ingredients fresh and high quality these days, I’ll give you some tips on how to store limes to keep them that way!
As well as the regular limes we’re all used to (Bearss limes most places) there are a few other varieties that are often available in bigger grocery stores. They have slightly different flavors and uses, but largely can all be stored in the same ways.
Here are a few of the most popular:
Key limes — You’ll know key limes from key lime pie. These small, round limes grow on bushes in hot climates (including in the Florida keys and Mexico, which won them their name, as well as the alternate title Mexican limes). Key limes are yellower than most limes and they’re very acidic, which means they hold up well to sugar in desserts. The strong flavor and thinner skin also makes them popular with bartenders.
Persian and Tahiti limes — Otherwise known as Bearss limes, these are the most popular limes in the world. You probably use them regularly if you’re in the USA or Europe. Less acidic than Key limes, Persian limes also come with the benefit of fewer seeds. Tahiti limes are a subset of Persian limes. They have a slightly thinner skin and a fatter oblong shape than other Persian limes.
Kaffir limes — Popular in Asia, Kaffir limes are small and round with thick lumpy skin. As they don’t contain a lot of juice, the skin of Kaffir limes is what is most often used in cooking. The skin is rich in essential oils, and the leaves of the Kaffir lime tree are often dried and used like bay leaves to impart a citrus flavor to soups, sauces, and curries.
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Do Limes go Bad?
Yes, limes go bad. They will change in color and texture over time, and then either rot or dry out. It’s pretty obvious when a lime has gone totally bad. It’s not so clear, however, when limes are just tipping over into being past their best so I’ll help you understand what to look for there later in the article. If you want your limes to last as long as possible, start with choosing the freshest limes you can find at the grocery store. You want uniformly green limes that are quite firm to the touch.
Lime juice lasts a lot longer than the flesh and skin of the limes, partially because of its extremely high acidity. If you have too many limes then juicing them and storing the juice properly is an excellent option. Stored lime juice can be used in most recipes where the juice of limes is called for.
As with all fresh foods, limes need to be stored correctly if you want them to last.
How to Store Limes
If you’re going to use them within a week or so you can store limes on the countertop or in the fruit bowl. Remember, though, that limes kept in a fruit bowl are more likely to rot because some fruits (bananas in particular) encourage other fruits to ripen and in turn to rot.
Limes stored in the fridge will last longer than those kept at room temperature or just below. You can put your limes straight into the vegetable crisper, but do make sure it’s clean and dry first. Cut limes should always be stored in an airtight container in the fridge. Make sure to pack them tightly in a container that doesn’t have too much excess space — the less room there is for oxygen in there the better.
Fresh lime juice should be kept in an airtight container in the fridge.
Can you Freeze Limes?
If you have a real excess of limes you can freeze them. Freezing whole limes is possible, and you can zest limes very easily when they’re still frozen. They will be a little mushy when they’re defrosted, which is fine if you want to juice them but not great for other uses.
Freezing sliced limes is a great option. They take up less space than whole limes and can be packed pretty neatly in freezer bags or tupperware boxes. Clean limes before you cut and freeze them, and then flash freeze on a cookie sheet in a single layer. After this, they can be packed in airtight containers and stored in the freezer. I like to use cut limes right out of the freezer in my drinks — they cool the drink down while also adding flavor.
You can also freeze lime zest. Grate the zest and store it in an airtight container in the freezer. Zest will dry out in a couple of months, though, so freezing whole limes is the best option if you need zest regularly. That being said, if time is a big priority then frozen zest makes sense because you can and add it straight to dishes from the freezer. Just be sure to seal the container you’re keeping it in carefully after every use.
Finally, lime juice can be frozen. Just remember that it will expand in the freezer so make sure there is space in the container for this expansion.
How Long do Limes Last?
Limes are pretty hardy, but they don’t stay top quality for as long as you might expect.
As with all fruit and vegetables, these numbers are just a guide and you should always use your senses to determine whether or not limes are bad. On top of that, an older lime is very unlikely to harm you so don’t be afraid to taste test.
Kept at room temperature, limes will last from one week to ten days. Of course this also really depends on how warm or cool you keep your house!
In the fridge, limes will last one month to 6 weeks.
Limes kept in the freezer, whole or sliced, should last 3 to 4 months.
How to Tell When Limes are Bad
As limes age, they will become discolored. This is usually a light brown discoloration and can start in one or multiple small patches. The skin of these patches will feel thin and dry. Often you can still use a lime that’s got some of these brown patches. Cut it open to check if the flesh is dried or discolored. If only some of it is, then it’s fine to cut it away and use the rest.
Limes might eventually totally dry out and become really hard and maybe wrinkled or shrunken. At this point, the flesh inside is almost certainly dried out and unusable.
Especially when kept at room temperature, limes sometimes rot. At first this will be patches of fuzzy gray, green or blue mould. The lime may get mushy in these areas, and eventually will collapse in on itself. Once a lime is rotting, you should definitely throw it out.