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Lime or lemon? The fruits that confuse Spanish speakers on both sides of the pond

22 mayo, 2021

In the recipes in which lime or lemon is used, it is common to find comments in which it is noted that there has been a confusion, since in reality the other fruit would have to be used. But it is not that we have been confused: it is that lime and lemon have opposite names on either side of the pond.

In a good part of Latin America The green and more acidic fruit is known, which in Spain is called “lime”, like “lemon”, and vice versa, the yellow lemons, more common in Spain, they are known as “limas”.

Both fruit trees are native to Asia and the name of their fruits comes from the Persian

The truth is that both fruits are of the same family, but of species of distinct hybrid trees. The green fruit is the one that is collected from the Citrus × aurantifolia, also called “Lime”, and the yellow is the Citrus × lemon, known as “lemon Tree”.

Both fruit trees are native to Asia and the name of their fruits comes from the Arabic word “laymún”, which in turn comes from the Persian “limún”. Although most of the Spanish vocabulary comes from Latin or Greek, these two peoples were unaware of the existence of the lime and lemon, which were introduced in Europe after the Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, when its cultivation began to spread throughout the Mediterranean coast from 400 AD to the rest of Europe it arrived later, thanks to the crusaders who returned from the Middle East and North Africa.


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What is the confusion?

Like Christopher Columbus brought tomatoes, potatoes or beans from his first trips to America (species that forever changed agriculture and food in Europe), brought to the new continent species that were non-existent there, as is the case of all citrus.

It is probable that the Spanish brought several species of lemons to America, but although the lemon tree grew better in Spain, in the tropics the lime tree takes root, which is a tree that is better adapted to this climate. This is the reason why in much of Latin America the lime is more common than the lemon.

Harder to know when the names were exchanged, but it is probably due to a simple evolution of the terms, which were crossed with those used today in Spain. In Peru, for example, where both species took root, it is known as “Creole lemon” green fruit, as opposed to “Real lemon”, the yellow. But in all of Central America and Mexico, where only what we Spaniards know as “lime” took root, it simply remained with the name of “lemon”, which for greater confusion serves to refer to both fruits in some countries as Dominican Republic.

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