Salt Preserved Key Limes

March 9, 2012(updated on October 3, 2018)

salt preserved key limes

I’ve been writing a lot here in the last week and a half, but I realized that this morning, that none of it has really been the meat and potatoes of why this site exists. There’ve been a lot of announcements, notifications and favors done for friends, but no recipes. No ruminations on canning or anything really that makes up the heart and soul of Food in Jars.

For that, I apologize. I’ve been tangled up in four-part to-do list that hasn’t left me a lot of time for the kitchen. It’s been hard to find a groove for even the most basic cooking. Last night, I ate toasted corn tortillas of unknown age topped with melted cheese and sriracha and some roasted broccoli.

salt preserved key limes

I decided to duck the demands of the to-do list for just a little while and show you a project I started back in February. Salt preserved key limes. I’ve had them fermenting on the kitchen counter for a few weeks and finally moved them to the fridge last night. The finished limes are nicely softened and have that same intoxicating salty tang that preserved lemons develop.

salt preserved key limes

I started these as a grand experiment, after finding a one-pound bag of organic key limes while grocery shopping. I hoped that they’d work like lemons do when packed in salt. I was also hopeful that I’d be able to create something akin to the pickled limes featured in Little Women.

I didn’t hew to any particular recipe from the past. I trimmed the ends, cut them in half and packed them in salt, hoping that the exposed flesh would help the salt do it’s work of releasing juice and creating a briny liquid for the limes to rest in.

salt preserved key limes

I didn’t measure the salt, but instead just covered each layer of limes with a generous spoonfuls of sea salt. Once the jar was filled, I shook it madly, trying to spread the salt and bruise the fruit a bit.

After a day, the limes weren’t expressing much in the way of liquid, so I helped things along by adding enough bottled lime juice to cover. I didn’t want my precious little limes to succumb to mold before they could ferment sufficiently.

salt preserved key limes

Once covered with juice, they fermented happily on the kitchen counter a little less than a month. If you choose to make these, know that your time could vary from mine. Depending on the temperature of your kitchen, the amount of salt you used and the fruit’s ripeness, they could be ready sooner or later.

Make sure to put a small saucer or plate under the jar while they “cook” as there’s always a little bit of leaking brine with this kind of preserve. I forgot to do this in the beginning and the jar ended up stuck fast to the counter. I had to create a little puddle of water around its base to be able to move it. Even after years of preserving, I still make silly mistakes regularly.

salt preserved key limes

Here’s what the finished limes look like. The fogginess comes from the bottled lime juice. Had I squeezed some fresh it would clearer. Thankfully, the taste is still strong and good.

You might be wondering what one does with salt preserved limes. Well, they can do anything that a preserved lemon can do, namely add a tart, salty bite to stews, tagines and other bits of rich meat.

However, I have discovered one particularly good partner for these limes. Avocados. The salty, fermented juice is a dream drizzled over a cut avocado (and helps prevent browning too!). You can mash up the pulpy flesh and a bit of the rind when making a batch of guacamole.

I must confess, there is another way I eat these. And that’s straight from the jar and sliced. My dentist wouldn’t approve (all that acid), but I like just a little nibble or two. On days when the things I’ve eaten have been boring or bland, just a taste of these limes brightens everything, including my attitude.

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54 thoughts on "Salt Preserved Key Limes"

  • How about . . . with vodka or gin, ala gin and tonic with lime? Maybe I just want a cocktail, but it sounds good to me.

  • How do you get around that bitter tang that lime skins give off? I’ve substituted lime for lemons in fermented recipes and always regret it because that flavor overpowers everything it’s fermented with.

    1. I’m not having an issue with a bitter flavor in these limes. It could be that they were key limes and they were quite ripe.

  • Salty lemon with soda is a common drink in southern Vietnam; smoosh the preserved lemon or lime in the bottom of your glass with a little sugar if you like and top off with selzter water. No reason to not add gin, vodka, or rum! Salty, sour, sweet: the way we do things in the tropics!

  • Perfect! I make a decadent Key Lime Cheesecake every year for my hubby’s birthday, but am left with a number of Key Limes afterward which often go to waste. I am definitely going to try this next time! Sounds delicious! Thanks for the post!

  • I have salted meyer lemons and kumquats in my refrigerator right now and over the last couple of days have been wondering about limes. Thanks for the motivation to give limes a try! (And I eat the salted lemons and kumquats straight from the jar sometimes, too!)

  • I love my salted lemons in tuna salad (peel minced, flesh finely minced), so salted limes would be a nice change. I also do as Laurie Pea mentions above, though my salty sweet drink recipe comes from a family I lived with in Thailand. Terrific and refreshing!

  • I love all the comments – lots of ideas and ways to use them. And I also love how easy this project appears to be. But what I love most is the fact that the idea for the project came first, then the “recipe” came second. I’m trying to move towards being more of an intuitive cook, where one can just see the ingredient and then figure out what to do with it. Thanks for the inspiration!

  • I am definitely going to give this a try soon! I was just reading a similar recipe for salt-preserved lemons on another blog, and about half the readers there had a question that the blogger there either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer, so I’m wondering if you’d know… if there’s a bit of lemon/lime that’s not quite submerged that gets kind of funky, but the rest seem fine, is it safe to discard the gross one and use the rest, or is the whole batch done for?

    1. As long as it’s not entirely moldy, it’s totally fine to just pluck the gross one and keep the rest.

  • Neat! I’ve never heard of pickled limes or lemons. I’d love to try this over the summer, though I’m not sure I would have too many ideas how to use it. I like the idea in stew and on avocados. If you stumble on any recipes to throw this in, send it this way!

  • This post is a new one for me. I’ve heard of salt preserved lemons, but I have to admit I had no idea how to do it and no clue even what to do with them. Great post!

  • Hey, I love this post. What a great idea! I can imagine this tasting very good alongside a Mexican mole — maybe in enchiladas — or in mixed drinks. I am feeling a preserved-lime gimlet in my future. I bet these would be good as a briny garnish for gazpacho, too. Ooo, feeling inspired!

  • Apparently Mexicans eat salt-preserved lemons while drinking beer. We found this out while visiting the Valley of Fire State Park in southern Nevada. So, we bought some as an experiment.
    Completely vile! OMG, never again!

  • These look beautiful! I’m currently trying my hand at salt preserving some kumquats, although they’re not turning out quite as I envisioned. There isn’t much moisture in the jar, even after two weeks in their salt plus a squeeze of some lemon juice. Do you think I need more citrus juice?

    1. A recipe I found (am in process of trying) for salt preserved lemons has you cut the lemons in quarters (leaving one end intact so it “flowers”), adding salt inside each cut lemon & putting in jar. Then you add the juice of 1 1/2 lemons for each lemon in the jar & add boiling water. (ready in 10 days). Havent tried them yet, but going by this I would think that more citrus juice would only enhance your recipe.

  • Ooh! Ooh! now I have to run out to our “big” grocery and see if they have any of the key lime bags left. Want. These.
    Laurie Colwin’s books got me hooked on Indian Pickled Lime — that skanky, addictive, astephoedita (sp?) taste. But these would be good in so many things.

  • Quick question about the process. When you say that you are adding lime juice to help the process… you are submerging all the limes in the juice, right? Not just coating them? I wanted to make sure before I start the process.

  • Hi, just dicovered (and signed up to) your marvelous blog! couldn’t tear myself away to get on with MY ‘to do’ list! One question; an old preserved lemons recipe of mine states keeping jar in th dark until preserved, not on kitchen shelf as n your preserved lemons recipe!?

    1. I find that I forget about fermenting things if I shove them into a dark place for their fermenting time. So I like to keep them out where I’ll remember to check them. And I’ve found that keeping the out in the light for that time doesn’t do any harm. Of course, do try to keep them out of the direct rays of sunlight. But beyond that, they should be fine.

  • I feel like this might be a silly question, but how do you know when they’re fermented “enough” and it’s time to move them to the fridge? I’m super excited to try this, but I’m always nervous I’m going to mess something up royally and waste all that time and all those limes!

    1. Katie, it’s really just a matter of taste. Start tasting the brine at three weeks. If it tastes tangy, tart and just slightly fizzy, they’re done. If you think they could go a little longer, let ’em go a few more days or up to a week. They’re really only bad if they start developing funky, colorful mold.

  • Sounds great but room in my fridge is limited. How well would these store if canned in a hot water bath. Of course would open put in fridge any opened jars.

  • The picture of Key Limes is not right. Key Limes when they are ripe are yellow. And have a very different taste compared to the green Persian Limes. I have a Key Lime tree in my backyard.

    1. Barbara, that’s what the key limes we get up here in the north look like. I’ve never seen a key lime that wasn’t small, hard and bright green.

      1. I have to agree with Barbara as my key limes are small and very yellow and soft when ripe. The tree is harvested almost year-round, and I’m happy to find something to do with lots of them (besides give them away, or juice for the freezer).

  • I am definitely trying out your method,Marisa. Thanks for the tips. Oh yes, i forgot to ask you, if you dont mind, how long can salted lime be kept? Thanks a lot !

  • Hi, Marisa – what kind of lid is that in the last photo? I am a recent convert to salt preserving, and on my first effort, I used a regular Mason jar lid. What with the shaking and the inevitable seepage, the band corroded somewhat. It still works, but I’m worried that I’ll end up in trouble at some point before the fruit is used up (I made a very large 1/2 gal batch!).

  • I started some limes 3 weeks ago. The juice does smell wonderful, but it just tastes like very salty limes. I think I went way too heavy on the salt. I rinsed a lime wedge and mixed with cream cheese for a bagel. It was too salty. Being a vegetarian, I’m not sure what I’ll do with them. I don’t drink much either. Not sure if they are “fermenting” or are just pickled in brine. Need more ideas for using them.

  • FYI, these are not Key Limes, which when ripe, are distinctly on the yellow side of green. I know that’s what they are labeled in the store, but that’s not what we grow in the Keys. Besides, Mexico, where the bulk of these are grown, isn’t a key.

  • My grandmother taught me this recipe. She grew up in San Francisco in the early 1900’s, a survivor of the earthquake and fire. Pickled limes were common then, and she bought them on the docks. They were a standard item of a British sailor’s diet — the standard ration was a piece of salt pork and hardtack (like a big cracker), for nourishment; a half pint of gin, to keep them docile; and a pickled lime for vitamin C, to prevent scurvy.

    The limes and gin went together well, you may have heard of the “pickle ship”, that is where it comes from.

    First, find good plump limes, wash them well, and cut off any woody parts.

    In a pot large enough to add the limes, boil water, and add salt — until there is enough salt in the water so a fresh egg will float on the top. Add the limes to the hot water, then let them cool. Refrigerate for a month in a good container, and they will be done.

    They taste like kerosine, but do go well with gin. It’s an acquired taste

  • The recipe looks exciting and I will try it but, buyer beware, I live in the Florida Keys and Key Lime trees are everywhere including my back yard. Key Limes are yellow when ripe never the bright green in the photo. Perhaps the produce you pictured was mislabeled or dyed or a persian lime? Persian limes are bright green. Someone is mis labeling. Unripe Key Limes are a much duller green than the photo, are hard, not juicy and you would not want to use them in any recipe.

    1. The limes I used in this recipe were packaged and sold as Key Limes. They looked like all other Key Limes that we get here up north, so I had no idea that they weren’t true to the fresh variety. Beyond that, I don’t know what to say.

    1. Andrea, it’s truly a matter of taste how you cut the limes. Mine came out just fine as I did them.

  • I decided to add a Caribbean flair to the limes so I added serrano chile and culantro leaves (not cilantro). I plan on making a salsa with the rest of the culantro and am planning on using some of the liquid from the limes as a base. As the tartness wasn’t quite the way I wanted it to be, I added some citric acid. Fixed it up in a hurry! Thanks for posting!