Eight species of Citrus are native to Australia. Some of them are rare local edible plants found only in the far north (northern Queensland and Northern Territory), but two of them are finding their way into nurseries and onto the plates of discerning foodies across Australia. The Australian Desert Lime and the Australian Finger Lime.
The Finger Lime is native to forested regions in south-eastern Queensland and north-eastern New South Wales and is now extensively available commercially in grafted forms.
The Finger Lime plant is a shrub or small tree up to 7 metres tall. It has an elongated fruit up to 8 cm long, of varying colours (green, blue-green, red or pink). It's slow growing, very thorny, but is very pretty and as tough as an old boot.
Grafted Finger Limes bear fruit after 3 years, flowering in 5 months before maturing into fruit in summer through autumn. The juice sacs taste rather like limes, and you eat them by simply breaking the fruit and separating the sacs. The taste isn't as strong as a Desert Lime and is more like a sophisticated lime.
When you see the sacs, you can easily understand how they acquired the name 'lime caviar'. Lime caviar is a divine addition to all kinds of plates like this panna cotta from Lime Caviar Company, or simply on a good vanilla ice cream, or atop some sashimi or oysters. With Gin and Tonic or champagne. Pretty much anything really!
Finger Lime trees can be bought from reputable edible plants nurseries across Australia like Daley's Fruit Tree Nursery. You can also buy the fruit - lime caviar - picked and packed, direct from growers like Lime Caviar Company or through resellers. Beautiful summer fruit.
The Desert Lime or Australian Outback Lime is the only Australian species able to withstand hot, dry conditions as well as the cold. It grows in the wild in semi-arid regions of Queensland and New South Wales, with a few isolated populations in central South Australia. It is a shrub or small tree up to 4m tall, with narrow leaves and drooping branches.
Desert Limes take around 10 years to bear fruit in the wild, but have been grafted extensively for domestic use and you will generally see fruit within 3 years from a grafted tree. Desert limes flower in August and fruit in November.
The fruits are about the size of a marble and you eat them whole, without peeling them. They taste like a lime, but with a far more intensely piquant flavour. They make excellent pies like the divine Ricotta Desert Lime Pie, jam, chutney and marinades. They freeze well, holding shape colour and flavour. You can buy trees from Australian Desert Limes.
Images: Caviar Lime Company | Creative Native Foods / Outback Chef | Caviar Lime Company