In my garden I grow Mexican limes. Citrus aurantifolia is a dried version of this lime. They are bright yellow, little, golf ball size, gems of tart, citrussy sunshine. When dried they become dark, tart, citrussy, with fermented undertones which are pure gold in the kitchen. My photo above shows my home grown and home dried limes.
Limes are native to Asia in an area described as the Indo-Malayan region, which stretches from India to Southeastern Asia, including the Philippines, Malaysia, and Indonesia. The fruits are believed to have been brought to North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean region by Arabian traders in the 10th century. Dried, or black, lime is known as loomi in Oman, noomi basra (lemon from Basra) in Iraq; and limoo amani in Iran.
Black limes have been a mainstay of Persian cuisine since ancient times. Bedouin women used Loomi or Black limes to dye yarn. In Saudi Arabia, Black limes are a staple ingredient in dishes such as kabsa, matazeez, and jareesh and are also used to make Loomi tea. Contrary to popular belief, black lemons are not lemons at all—they are actually limes!
The process of creating dried or black limes was originally developed in Oman, which is located south of Iran along the Arabian Sea. It is a lime that has lost its water content, usually after having spent a majority of its drying time in the sun. They are used whole, sliced or ground, as a spice in Middle Eastern dishes.
Today Black limes have seen a resurgence in popularity through the cocktail industry with bartenders creating drinks using ground Black lime. The dried fruit adds a burst of tart mixed with rich, fermented undertones to create unusual flavor pairings and the taste blends well with darker, aged spirits such as brandies and rums or fruit-forward drinks such as punches and daiquiris.
It takes two days in my dehydrator or in a low oven to dry these limes but you can buy whole black limes from a specialty spice shop or Middle Eastern store. Store them away from humidity and light. Black limes should keep for at least 15 months from date of purchase.
Pierce whole limes with a skewer and add to vegetable tagines, or chicken or fish casseroles. Grind the limes to make loomi powder, which can be added to Middle Eastern rice and meat dishes for a limey flavour.