Sunday, October 2, 2016

Thai lime, makrut - just not the k-word

I moved the makruts (Thai limes) to our bright bedroom windows about a week ago, as overnight temperatures started falling below 60'F. They look very healthy and will have to be transplanted to deep pots, next spring, and later I will be pruning them to stay small. I use the leaves, of course, but fruit would be a wonderful bonus. If you've never smelled the bumpy-textured, green, fresh limes you're in for a treat when you do: intensely aromatic and very different from the grocery store Persian limes that we buy day in, day out.

"Kaffir" is a chilling word for South Africans; in South Africa it is a racist slur (still) used by some racist people to refer to black or brown people. America  has the n-word. South Africa has the k-word.

Still known as kaffir limes in many homes and listed as such by many businesses and on menus, the enlightened and informed are calling Citrus hystrix either Thai lime, or makrut - both appropriate (and time-honored) names.

Above: to open a box that says this is startling.

Not one of my attempted reviews - 5-star for plant quality, packaging, speed of delivery, but with this one criticism - was published on Amazon, where I bought the trees. So I left a question about their name on Amazon: "Are you aware," blablabla. The same night the grower called me, to my surprise. I felt he responded positively then, as well as in a later follow-up email, from I directed him for reference to the useful Missouri Botanical Garden's Plant Finder website, which is up-to-date in terms of this information. Modern Farmer published a short piece about the offensiveness of the name two years ago. The Oxford Companion to Food lists the tree under M for makrut, with full explanation under the letter K.

But after four weeks neither the Amazon listing nor the grower's own website, Lemon Citrus Tree, reflects any changes at all, which is disappointing.

From a seller's point of view there is an issue: potential customers searching for a k-lime will not land up on a site selling Thai lime or makrut. And an American sale will be lost. But the marketing gods are in the details, and there are ways around this. The least I expect is a short explanatory paragraph. That would be the right - and very easy - thing to do.

If you find a lime sold as "kaffir," anywhere, carry the torch, and speak up.


In other non-news, there are still spots left on this Saturday's wild North Woods forage walk. Hen of the woods soup is on the menu. Booking info in the link below.



  1. totally agree. The grower could easily change his listing to include the correct information, too. Most "serious" gardeners would probably appreciate knowing and changing the name. Goodness knows, they follow the changes in botanical names all the time.

    Waht pretty windows you have.

  2. In South Africa's apartheid era, to be called a "kaffirboetie" was the same as being called a "n....lover" in this country. It is a deeply offensive slur, I will add a voice to the plea for a more accurate name.

  3. I learn such interesting and useful info while reading this blog. Thank you very much, Marie.

  4. "Kaffir" is derived from the Arabic word that is usually translated into English as "non-believer".

    1. That is exactly what the racist lady said. And it is 100% irrelevant. Anonymous.


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