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Here’s a breakdown of lime vs lemon: the difference between these popular citrus fruits and when to use each one in cooking!

Lime vs lemon
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Lime vs lemon: ever wondered the difference? Is a lemon a ripe lime? (Spoiler alert: no!) Even more importantly: can you substitute one for the other? Here’s an overview of the differences and similarities of the two fruits, and the culinary uses for each.

Lime vs lemon: overview

First, let’s discuss the definition of each of these citrus fruits! What’s the difference between a lemon and a lime? Limes and lemons are different fruits, but closely related.

  • Limes are small, round green citrus fruits with an acidic, sour flavor. There are several species of limes: the Key lime, Persian lime, makrut lime, and desert lime. Most limes you’ll find at the grocery store are Persian limes. Limes are often used in Mexican, Latin-American and Southeast Asian cuisine.
  • Lemons are oval-shaped yellow citrus fruits with a tart flavor. Lemons are often used in Mediterranean and European cuisine. The type of lemon in most grocery stores in North America are either Eureka or Lisbon. The Meyer lemon is also available: it’s a cross between a lemon and a Mandarin orange.

Main nutritional differences

Limes and lemons are very similar nutritionally. Here are a few of the similarities and differences of limes vs lemons:

  • Acidity: Both limes and lemons are high in citric acid; lemons have slightly higher citric acid than limes (source).
  • Vitamin C: Lemons have more Vitamin C than limes (source). A 3.5 ounce serving of lemons has 88% of the daily value of Vitamin C, whereas limes have 48% of the daily value.

Lime vs lemon: different culinary uses!

Can lime be used instead of lemon? Can lemon be used instead of lime? Sometimes! Both citrus fruits have a tart flavor that adds a zing and brightness to recipes. They often work as substitutes for each other, but not always. It goes without saying that you can’t make key lime pie with lemons, or limeade with lemons. Here are some pointers for substitution:

  • Lime juice can be a good substitute for lemon juice. But keep in mind: lime has a strong connotation with Latin or Southeast Asian flavors, whereas lemon is mostly Mediterranean. It wouldn’t make sense to add a squeeze of lime juice to your lasagna or arugula salad. Be sure to think about the flavors of your dishes to see what makes sense. 
  • Lemon juice can be a good substitute for lime juice. But keep in mind: lime is a key flavor in Latin and Mexican cuisine. Lemon can work as a stand-in, but nothing can fully replace lime in a margarita or salsa fresca.

About the authors

Sonja & Alex

Hi, we’re Alex and Sonja Overhiser, married cookbook authors, food bloggers, and recipe developers. We founded A Couple Cooks to share fresh, seasonal recipes for memorable kitchen moments! Our recipes are made by two real people and work every time.

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