Key lime juice comes from the Key lime, a type of lime that differs greatly from regular, or Persian, limes. Key limes are smaller, lighter in color, more sour, more fragrant and juicier than Persian limes. Key lime juice is used in a number of culinary applications, from cocktails to the famous Key lime pie. Substitutes for Key lime juice include Persian lime juice, Rose’s lime juice, calamondin juice, lemon juice and passion fruit juice.
Key lime juice is used in cocktails, curries, dressings, fruit drinks, jams, jellies, marmalades, marinades, syrups and desserts. Key limes are also known as the “bartender’s limes,” because their bright, tart flavor enhances a number of beverages, including mojitos, caipirinhas, margaritas, and gin and tonics. Key lime juice finds its fullest expression in Key lime pie, a creamy custard pie that showcases the fruit’s distinctive flavor.
If you can’t obtain fresh Key limes or bottled Key lime juice, Persian lime juice is the next best substitute. Another possible substitute for Key lime juice is lemon juice, but it should not be substituted for Key lime juice in recipes that hinge upon Key lime juice’s distinctive flavor. Rose’s lime juice is bottled, sweetened Key lime juice. If you are making a sweet cocktail, you can substitute Rose’s lime juice for Key lime juice. The calamondin is a small Asian citrus fruit that is quite similar in flavor to lemons and limes. Calamondin juice can be successfully substituted for Key lime juice as well. Finally, passion fruit juice can be a delicious substitute for Key lime juice, despite the fact that the two fruits taste nothing alike.
Persian limes are not as flavorful or as pungent as Key limes. Lemons are much less acidic than Key limes and lack their distinctive flavor. Rose’s lime juice is often used by bartenders as a substitute for fresh lime flavor in cocktails, despite the fact that its flavor is flatter than that of fresh Key limes. Calamondins resemble limes, except that their peels are sometimes orange as well as green and yellow. Calamondins have thin, sweet peels that smell like tangerines, but their flavor is close to that of limes and lemons. Although calamondins are quite popular in Southeast Asia, they are mainly grown as decorative shrubs in the southern United States. Passion fruit juice has a beautiful color and floral scent. Its flavor is far more delicate than that of Key lime juice, but they are both highly fragrant.
When substituting Persian lime juice for Key lime juice, use a bit more than the recipe calls for, because Persian lime juice has a far less potent flavor than Key lime juice. To compensate for this, cut back on other liquids in the recipe accordingly. Bear in mind also that Persian lime juice is not as sour as Key lime juice. You may want to add a few drops of lemon juice to your recipe to make up for this.
Rose’s lime juice is best substituted for Key lime juice in cocktails. To balance the flavors in the drink, reduce other sweet ingredients to taste. If you are making a drink that isn’t intended to be sweet, such as a gin and tonic, substituting Rose’s lime juice is not recommended unless you think you would enjoy the extra sweetness. Rose’s lime juice may be substituted for Key lime juice in other sweet recipes as well.
If you happen to have access to calamondin juice, it makes a fantastic substitute for Key lime juice in almost any recipe, because their flavors are extremely similar.
If you’re desperate for a Key lime juice substitute, lemon juice can be used. Use a ratio of 1 cup lemon juice for every 2/3 cup Key lime juice required by the recipe, and adjust other liquids accordingly.
Passion fruit juice isn’t sour, so it shouldn’t be substituted if you are making a recipe that you wish to be sour. However, switching passion fruit juice for Key lime juice in cocktails and desserts has become increasingly popular. Passion fruit juice adds great color and aroma to any drink or dish.
When choosing a substitute for Key lime juice, carefully consider the role that this ingredient is intended to play in the finished dish or drink. Whether one substitute is superior to another depends on the context in which it is being used.
References and ResourcesCook's Thesaurus: Key Lime Juice
Practically Edible: Key Limes
ResourcesPurdue: Mexican Lime (Citrus Aurantifolia)
Epicurious: Key Lime Pie