Foodstyles | Vegan “Caviar”?

They have been hailed as being the most exciting gastronomic discovery in recent history. They are one of six citrus species native to Australia, yet they are totally different the others – both there and abroad. Nothing else on earth is like them.

What is a finger lime?

The Australian finger lime is an elongated fruit roughly the size of a human thumb, on average. Their skin is green, maroon, or any shade in-between. Hundreds of tiny juice-filled capsules are inside, which resemble caviar.

Native to the wild rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales, it’s an understory shrub – meaning it grows under the shade of the forest canopy.

While it may have been found earlier, the finger lime was not mentioned in published literature until 1989… it’s barely 30 years old!  (1)

It’s so new, even the botanical name remains up for debate.
You will see Wikipedia list Citrus australasica, yet according to many botanists, it differs too much on a genetic basis from regular limes, lemons, and oranges to be part of the Citrus genus. They argue it belongs in a new genus; Microcitrus. As such, you will see some sources list the scientific name as Microcitrus australasica. (2)

Unlike other citrus fruits which have stringy flesh, the inside of finger limes have juicy encapsulated pearls. When you bite into them, they explode in your mouth with a burst of lemon-lime flavored juice. The green varieties are sour, while the pink taste sweeter.

It’s not that the tart flavor is that unique, but rather that it’s completely isolated within the caviar-sized globes.

Both professional chefs and foodies alike can get creative with these little beads, by adding another layer of flavor to just about any dish.
What to do with finger lime is far more diverse than the uses for lemon and lime juice. Because they’re enclosed balls of juice, their flavor won’t percolate throughout the rest of the food and overpower the other flavors. That means they work for both sweet and savory recipes.

As a dessert topping, you can use Australian finger limes as a lip-puckering flavor burst to complement the sweetness of ice cream, chia pudding, and cheesecake.

You don’t want to cook with these fruits, because heat can cause them to burst. Add them in after cooking. Entrees of pasta, rice, and seafood, as well as hors d’oeuvres, can all be augmented with a sprinkling of finger lime.

They will also serve as quite the conversation starter, when added to alcoholic and non-alcoholic cocktails. A finger lime mojito recipe is basically the concept of having little balls float inside. Some fine dining establishments in Australia are even using them in champagne, as seen above.

Nutrition facts and health benefits

There are around 225,000 food entries in the USDA National Nutrient Database, but you won’t find this one.

As with other unrefined fruits and vegetables, retailers aren’t required to provide nutritional values. Fortunately there is a produce supplier who has tested and published the data.

Finger Lime Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 2 oz (55g)Calories15% Daily Value*% Daily ValueTotal Fat 0g0%Vitamin A0%Saturated Fat 0g0%Vitamin C25%Trans Fat 0gCalcium2%Sodium 0mgIron2%Total Carbs. 6g2%Fiber 2g8%Total Sugars1gProtein 0g*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2,000 calorie diet
Source:  Frieda’s organic finger limes

For comparison, the average apple is 70-100g (2.5 to 3.5 oz). Finger limes are only 15 calories per 2 oz serving, which means an apple-sized portion is just 25 calories with 2g of sugar. You would also be getting 16% of your daily value for fiber and 50% for vitamin C. Sounds like a perfect food for weight loss!

The fruit’s high vitamin C content contributes in part to its high level of detected antioxidant activity. Its ORAC value, which is the best way to measure the total amount of antioxidants, was published by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). (4)

For a 100g (3.5 oz) amount, green finger lime have an ORAC of 4,590. Pink finger lime are even higher at 6,510.

Both have higher antioxidant content than dried and fresh goji berries, which are 3,290 and 4,310, respectively. Conventionally grown blueberries are lower too, with an ORAC value of 4,669 for the same weight.

This is a pleasant surprise, as finger limes have over 3x the antioxidants versus other citrus fruits.

Oranges average 2,103, tangerines are 1,627, lemons with peels removed are 1,346 and regular limes are lowest at just 82 for their ORAC. That means the fingered variety are giving you over 50x the concentration of antioxidants as a normal lime!

As to what health benefits exist for these lime fingers is unknown. Searching the nearly 30 million pieces of medical literature in the PubMed database will only yield 2 results for the Citrus australasia plant.

Among those is research out Switzerland, reporting low amounts of the essential oils which are normally found in lime; γ-terpinene, a-pinene, ß-pinene, citral. What the found instead was 6 unique essential oil molecules that have not been seen in any other plant. The oils will be most concentrated in the skin/peel. Certainly, this finding opens up the possibility that there might be unique benefits this fruit can offer (5)

Anyone who may be interested in studying its essential oil should give California-based Shanley Farms a call

How to grow trees and seeds

They’re called “native finger lime” in Australia, but they’re certainly not native to America. Only recently introduced, this is not exactly the type of tree you can run over to Home.

Where to buy the fruit

If you’re like us, you probably don’t have the patience, time, or inclination to start a citrus grove inside or outside your home.
Fortunately, more stores are starting to sell finger lime fruit.
At the Whole Foods in El Segundo, California we recently spotted these…

They were in the produce section, in the refrigerated case. Yes, they are 100% fresh. The difference is that Shanley Farms, out of Morro Bay in California, came up with an ingenious way to sell them; remove the rinds and just sell the edible pearls AKA the vegan caviar.

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