I grew up in Florida, where you could drive down just about any road and smell the orange blossoms from the many groves. But what about other citrus trees, and in particular–lime trees? Do they have a scent? I did some research to find out.
Lime trees and blossoms have little to no scent, especially compared to orange blossoms. However, lime fruits and leaves do have a scent. When crushed, lime leaves smell similar to kaffir lime leaves, which are used in Thai dishes. Kaffir lime leaves have a stronger citrus smell, while regular lime leaves smell sweet.
Let’s explore a bit more about what lime trees smell like, including the multiple varieties.
What Do Lime Trees Smell Like?
At the moment, I’m living in Austin, Texas, so I called up the person I know with four different kinds of citrus trees–one of the largest being a lime tree. I asked her to smell her lime tree and let me know if it has a scent (an odd request, I know).
Here’s what my mom had to say:
“The lime tree doesn’t have a scent. Weird, I thought it might. The fruit definitely does. The leaves smell really good too, less citronella and a little sweeter than kaffir lime leaves.”My mom
So, there you have it. Original research conducted by my mom (and her oddly strong sense of smell). If she can’t pick up a scent from a lime tree, then it must be pretty conclusive. To get a stronger scent from the lime leaves, she crushed it, much like you would with a kaffir lime leaf.
If you’re wondering why all the kaffir lime comparisons, before I moved to Austin, I left my parents with my kaffir lime tree. Kaffir limes are grown for essential oils and the leaves are used in many dishes (especially in Thai cuisine).
Doing further research, I stumbled across The Perfume Society. While it’s less about the tree and more about the scent of lime fruit, they write that the lime’s top note is sweeter and lighter than the scent of a lemon, but also more intense. It cites perfumer Julie Masse as saying that it has a “juicy, tart citrus note.”
However, there are different varieties and species of citrus trees and shrubs that bear fruits called lime and, genetically, they have diverse origins. These citrus species and hybrids belong to the rue (Rutaceae) family, and they are widely cultivated in tropical and subtropical regions, mainly for their acidic yet edible fruits.
Different varieties may have their distinct scents and flavors. The most common lime species include Key lime, Kaffir lime, Persian lime, Australian lime, Philippine lime, and desert lime.
Do Lime Leaves Have a Smell?
Lime leaves have a faint smell, but when crushed they smell similar to the rind of lime fruits, except a little sweeter. The scent of lime leaves isn’t strong enough to be smelled from a distance like orange blossoms would. Additionally, regular lime leaves aren’t as strong smelling as kaffir lime leaves.
Even though lime leaves have their own distinct aroma, the leaves of different lime species and varieties have different odor and flavor profiles.
The leaves of the kaffir or Thai lime, for instance, smell good and tangy and, when crushed, they give off an intense citrus scent. These leaves add a certain distinctive tartness to Southeast Asian cuisine, most commonly in sauces and soups.
These fragrant leaves are also used for their calming effect on a stressed mind and body. Many extract the essential oil from the Kaffir lime leaves and fruit by crushing them and adding the oil to some water in a burner.
What Do Lime Flowers Smell Like?
Lime flowers, like any other citrus blooms, delicately echo the odor profile of their fruits. The purple-tinged flowers of the different species and varieties of lime have a similar fragrance to that of their fruits, although there are slight differences. These flowers are uniquely sweet, minus the sour notes of their fruits.
Compared to orange, lemon, and grapefruit blooms, lime flowers have a more delicate and faint scent. The flower’s lime fragrance can be brought out by making lime blossom water.
The Many Scents of Lime Fruits
When it comes to limes and the scents of their fruits, flowers, and leaves, it’s not a one-size-fits-all. Different lime species have different odor profiles. Even if they generally smell similar, they’re used in different ways and have various applications.
Here’s some more information about the types of limes and the scents you can expect from them.
Key Lime (Citrus aurantiifolia)
Key lime, also known as Mexican lime, bartender’s lime, and West Indian lime, possesses a strong acidic smell and flavor. It’s grown in regions with hot climates, like the Florida Keys (from which it got its name). The fruits are small and round, and they are more yellow than the other types of limes.
Key limes are typically harvested while still green, before they’re ripe and turn yellow. As these fruits ripen, their flavor intensifies.
Many people find key limes better than lemons when it comes to scent, juiciness, and flavor. Because of its characteristic sour-sweet scent and taste, Key lime is widely used in baking and cooking and as a flavoring for cocktails.
Persian Lime (Citrus latifolia)
Persian lime or Bearss lime is one of the most widely known varieties of lime. The fruits of a Persian lime are larger than Key limes, and they have an oval shape. They also have a green rind that is thicker and that turns greenish-yellow when they are fully ripe.
When it comes to their scent and flavor, Persian limes are less acidic than Key limes. They also have a less intense citrus aroma and are not as bitter.
Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix)
When I took an authentic cooking class in Thailand, I was blown away when I first saw and used Kaffir lime. If you haven’t smelled kaffir lime or its leaves before, imagine smelling a regular lime after you cut and squeeze the juice out, but multiply it by 10. Compared to regular lime trees, kaffir limes and their leaves have a highly concentrated, yet not overpowering smell.
Also known as Thai lime, kaffir limes are lime-green and have distinctively rough and bumpy skin. This type of lime is the most popular in Asia. The fruit has an extremely tart scent and flavor and is typically too acidic to use in cooking. However, the leaves are used in many Thai dishes for their taste and acidity.
Compared to Persian and Key limes, the Kaffir lime is smaller and isn’t juicy at all. Because of its lack of juice, people use its rind in cooking. Its rind also contains plenty of oil which makes it popular to use for essential oils.
Philippine Lime (Citrus microcarpa)
The Philippine lime is known as calamansi in the Philippines and as calamondin in other countries in the southern part of Asia. It is a hybrid type of lime, and it looks like a tiny green tangerine with orange flesh.
The juice of the fruit is somewhat sour, but it can be a bit sweet as it ripens. Because of this flavor, calamansi is used in many dishes. It is also a must-have ingredient in many different sauces and condiments, preserves, and marinades. You can also use the calamansi fruits as a garnish.
Rangpur Lime (Citrus jambhiri Lush)
Rangpur Lime is a hybrid or cross between the mandarin orange and citron fruit. The fruits look like small oranges, but their acidic scent and taste are somewhat similar to regular limes. Rangpur limes are most common for their marmalade.
Blood Lime (Citrus australasica var. sanguinea x ‘Ellendale Mandarin’ hybrid)
Blood limes are quite unique in that their fruits are red and egg-shaped. It tastes sweet and tangy, and, unlike other lime fruits, you can eat its skin with its flesh and pulp.
This lime is a hybrid citrus that was developed to be a more salt-resistant fruit. It’s a cross between a Rangpur lime and a mandarin orange hybrid.
But Wait, There’s a Different Kind of Lime Tree!
If you live in Britain or Ireland, you might know a different kind of tree that’s also called a “lime tree“. Additionally, Europeans know it as the linden tree and Americans call it basswood. This tree doesn’t bear any fruit.
This type of tree is a genus made up of around 30 species of bushes and trees, and even if they are commonly called lime trees in some parts of the world, they are not related to the citrus lime trees.
Ironically, the linden or tilia lime trees are also known for their beautiful scent. People describe the linden blooms’ fragrance as intoxicating and potent enough that you can smell it from hundreds of yards away.
Overall, the beautiful scent from most citrus trees is more attributed to the smell of its leaves, flowers, and fruits than the tree itself. Flowers from lime trees have a faint smell that isn’t often able to be sensed. Even though lime fruit and leaves have a smell, it isn’t until they are cut open or crushed that you can really get a good scent from them.
If you’re interested in harvesting essential oils from the fruit or using leaves in cooking, kaffir lime is definitely the way to go. I found my kaffir lime at my local nursery when I lived in Ventura, California. However, the tree isn’t too common, so I recommend calling before driving around.
While lime trees can make great additions to your garden, patio, or balcony, don’t expect them to give off a strong citrus scent like orange blossoms.