Are Limes Unripe Lemons? – What’s The Difference?

*This post may contain affiliate links. Please see my disclosure to learn more.

Lemons and limes are often mixed up due to similar shapes and sizes but there are actually quite a few important differences between the two.

So are limes unripe lemons, or are they a different fruit entirely? When lemons are fully ripe and ready to be picked they’re a bright and vibrant yellow, while limes are more commonly green. If you leave a lime on a tree until it’s completely ripe it will oftentimes turn yellow, which is why some people think that limes are just unripe lemons. They are not.

Limes have more of a bitter taste while lemons are sour. Both are popular and healthy fruits with a variety of similarities and differences, which is exactly what we’re going to talk about in this article.

Limes vs Lemons – Are Limes Green Lemons?

Limes and lemons are closely related but they do have different genetics and grow up in different environments. Lemons are traditionally grown in moderate climates whereas limes are found primarily in subtropical and tropical environments.

They are similar in taste and scent, however. Both of these fruits are well known for their bitter and acidic flavors and are used similarly in cooking or baking, often making simple substitutions for each other if needed.

They’re also both popular as essential oils, which can be used for medical and cosmetic purposes, as well as adding scent and grease-busting power to cleaning products.

Physical Differences Between Limes and Lemons

whole and sliced green limes

Although from a distance lemons and limes look very similar in shape, they are slightly different.

Limes are smaller and rounder, typically about 1-2 inches in diameter, while lemons are about twice the size at 2-4 inches in diameter with more of an oval shape.

When ripe, lemons are a bright and vibrant yellow, while limes are green.

Some limes will turn yellow with age, however, which can make it harder to see the difference between the two fruits.

whole and sliced yellow lemons

Lemon trees can grow up to 20 feet tall with broad branches, and large oblong leaves.

Lime trees, on the other hand, are often shorter and more slender with small leaves. 

Types of Lemons and Limes

There are at least 25 documented types of lemons, however, the most common types of lemons are Lisbon, Eureka, and Meyer lemons. 

Eureka lemons are the most commonly used mainly because they grow year-round. Lisbon lemons look quite similar, but they have a smaller nub on one end and they grow on a thorny tree in cold weather. The thorn-less Eureka tree prefers warmer weather. 

The Meyer lemon, while called a “lemon” is actually a combination of sweet orange and lemon. They’re sweeter and juicer than either of the above and have yellowish-orange colored flesh.

Meyer lemons are most commonly used in dessert dishes, like these amazing lemon bars.

There are 20 different types of limes and, in contrast to lemons, the differences in varietals are more obvious.

The most commonly known is Key Lime. They’re rounder, yellower, and more acidic than most limes.

This varietal originates from the Florida Keys, hence its name, but since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect in1994, the majority are now being grown in Mexico. They’re no longer technically Key limes, but the taste is the same, and old habits are hard to break.

Blood limes are blood-red in color and much smaller than other types of lime. They have a sweeter taste and are a cross between a mandarin orange and lime.

Kaffir limes are usually only used for zesting certain dishes and to add fragrance to oils. These limes are very bumpy and round and the minimal juice is quite bitter.

Eating Lemons and Limes

While both lemons and limes do share a similar acidic taste, lemons are sour whereas limes are bitter.

The difference is in the pH: lemons are acidic with a pH below 7 whereas limes tend to be slightly more alkaline.

Many toxic foods have a bitter flavor, so humans have evolved to be wary of this taste, explaining why many people prefer lemons over limes, despite their similarities.

How to Eat Limes

Despite a slight edge toward bitterness, limes can be delicious and healthy, and they feature in many fantastic recipes. If you’d like more lime in your life, try some of these:

  • Key lime pie or yogurt – add some key lime juice to your vanilla yogurt for a twist!
  • Ceviche – all the best ceviche recipes are made with fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • Sparkling lime water – squeeze some fresh lime juice into your sparkling water for a homemade spritzer
  • Tangy salsa – add chunks of lime and lime juice to your salsa for tropical zing
  • Fruit salad – best combined with oranges, raisins, and strawberries

How to Eat Lemons

It is often easier and cheaper to buy a bag full of lemons instead of just one, so if you find  yourself with extras, consider some of these ideas:

  • Lemon peel or zest – the healthiest part of the lemon, can be used to flavor sauces or make tea with 
  • Lemon juice – taken as a shot on its own, added to your water, made into ice cubes or used to flavor the adult beverage of your choice, lemon juice is a winner
  • Green beans with lemon – some fresh lemon slices added to a dish of green beans or other sauteed greens are delicious, especially with a bit of crunchy toasted walnuts to go along with them
  • Lemon flank steak – fresh lemon juice and lemon wedges brighten up a steak and enhance the flavor perfectly
  • Lemon meringue pie – a great tangy dessert to enjoy with the family

Fun fact – Many people eat their lemons with salt or add sea salt to a warm glass of lemon water because it can help regulate fluid balance, improve digestion as well as increase your immune function.

Nutritional Comparison:  Lemons and Limes

Per 1 Fruit Lemon, raw (108g) Lime, raw (67 g)
Calories 21.6 20.1

Grams Daily Value (DV) Grams Daily Value (DV)
Fat 0.3g
Carbohydrates 11.6
Sugar ~
Fiber 5.1
Protein 1.3
Vitamin A
1% 1%
Vitamin C
139% 32%
Vitamin B6
6% 1%
7% 2%
4% 2%
3% 1%
14% 2%

Benefits and Disadvantages of Limes

Limes are very high in vitamin C which is great for boosting your immune system. They also have small amounts of vitamin B6, potassium, and iron.

The vitamin C and certain other antioxidants found in limes that have been shown to promote healthy skin, helping to protect against dry skin and age-related.

Limes have also been found to increase iron absorption, may reduce risk factors for heart disease, kidney stones, and some cancers.

Not many people report negative side effects when consuming limes, however, while unlikely, it’s not impossible. If you have a known allergy to citric fruits, limes may cause breathing difficulties, hives, and swelling.

Due to the acidity, eating too much lime may cause symptoms of acid reflux, such as include vomiting, nausea, heartburn and sometimes difficulty swallowing. 

Lemon Benefits and Side Effects

Lemons, like limes, are very high in vitamin C, as well as fiber, and other beneficial plant compounds that can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke, as well as help you manage your weight.

Lemons and lemon water are often promoted as a weight-loss food. There are a few theories as to why that is but the most common is because lemons contain the soluble pectin fiber, which helps expand your stomach which will make you feel fuller for longer.

However lemon juice or water will not give you the same fullness, though drinking lots of water may help.

Which is Healthier – Lime or Lemon?

Both fruits are quite healthy and have numerous health benefits, such as reducing your risk of kidney stones, cancer, and increasing your overall well being.

Lemons offer a greater amount of vitamins and minerals, such as potassium, folate, vitamin B6 and vitamin C and are usually favored for flavor, making it easier to work into a daily routine or diet. 

If you have to choose between one or the other, lemons are likely your best option. There’s something to be said for enjoying both when you have a chance though!

Related Questions

Is a lemon a fruit or a vegetable?

When it comes to botany, any edible plant that contains seeds is considered a fruit. The seeds are how the plant reproduces, and both lemons and limes have seeds inside so they’re both considered fruits.

To learn more about lemons, read this article: Is Lemon A Fruit Or A Vegetable?

What are lime water benefits?

Lime water has many health benefits, one of best being that it simply gets people to drink more water because a lime wedge adds a slight burst of flavor to an otherwise bland beverage.

Water and lime alone have plenty of health benefits but when you put the two together you get so many more, such as:

  • Improves your diet
  • Can aid digestion
  • Reduces chances of cancer
  • Promotes weight loss
  • Improves the immune system

Where do limes come from?

Lime trees are primarily grown in tropical or subtropical climates, originating in Southeast Asia.

Arab traders introduced them to Egypt and Northern Africa in the 10th century and they can now be found around the world. These days, almost 40% of commercial lime production comes from Mexico and Brazil.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *