Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kaffir lime - whose name must change

When Don and Rosie came to dinner recently, they brought with them a paper bag filled with the supremely thorny and fragrant branches of Citrus hystrix. It was a real treat. Don grows them.

They are commonly known by many culinarians as kaffir lime. This name never fails to make a South African's hair stand on end, since in South Africa the word kaffir, which I write with difficulty, is akin to the North American word nigger, which I write with as much reluctance. In short, it is deeply offensive and is saturated with a history of hatred and intolerance. Worse, it is still used by racists.

(You can read here about the drama it created for us in Nieu Bethesda.)

My mom gets around it by pronouncong it as kaffeer, to distinguish it from the other.

But makrut is another, less familiar, Thai name. So let's call it makrut.

The leaves are intensly aromatic and have a strange, nipped in waist. Each leaf looks double, vertically.

And I find they infuse white rum superbly well, after just 24 hours. So above you see the rum, fresh lime juice, sugar and soda (what South Africans call seltzer) water. Good. On the night of the dinner several were shredded into a hot-sour-salty-sweet dipping sauce for the flavour bundles.

The one plant missing from my New York life is sour citrus in some form. I like any lime or lemon leaf in cooking, though these makrut are special.

Perhaps this year I'll try and grow citrus in Harlem, depending on the sun situation - spring is another country, after all. I'll bring the pot in if it must overwinter. Or, I suppose I could try the so-called hardy orange, Poncirus trifoliata - it stands the New York cold with ease.

I wonder how fragrant the leaves are?


  1. I have had great success with makrut from Four Winds Growers in CA. Here in Connecticut it is difficult to find the leaves at Asian markets, so I finally decided to grow them myself. I place the pots outside during the spring and summer and bring them inside when it begins to frost in the fall. The plants do great inside, and their foliage is a lovely shiny green.

  2. In Indonesia they're called djeroek (leaves) poeroet (lime). I use lime leaves a lot in Indonesian recipes. In vegetable dishes but also with beef or chicken. Thanks for your lovely blog!

  3. Why make out this is a word designed by whites to call balcks???
    Online Etymology Dictionary
    1790, "infidel," earlier and also caffre (1670s), from Arabic kafir "unbeliever, infidel, ... to be used there almost exclusively as the disparaging word for "Christian.

    1. I never said it was "designed by whites." (Also, that was the racist woman's argument.) Etymology aside, anyone who knows anything - or who cares to know anything - about South Africa would know that this argument is specious, at best. The word evolved and is used in an intensely derogatory way, in South Africa. Wise up.


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