Allow a lime time to soak up a bit of sun and you end up with an ingredient that may be completely unrecognizable to most Americans. Hard, black and light as a feather, “black limes” retain some of their fresh counterparts’ zing while taking on new forms of complexity and depth. And, increasingly, they’re finding their way into your cocktails.
This unique ingredient is called limoo amani (“limes from Oman”) or noomi basra (“lemon from Basra”) in the Middle East, where they are ground and sprinkled in stews and spice mixtures. Now, the dried fruit is also being infused into spirits and tinctures, steeped in syrups and cordials, and grated over glasses.
“Black lime is a pretty intense flavor, sweet and herbal at the same time,” says Megan Coyle, bar manager at Washington, DC’s Hazel. “I find it can stand up to almost anything.”
Unlike their fresh, bright-green counterparts, black limes have a longer shelf life and their acidity is more evenly tempered, says Coyle. “The trick is not letting [them] take center stage.”
For her riff on the Boulevardier, Coyle infuses black limes in Dolin Blanc Vermouth. This subtle incorporation mixes well with botanical ingredients and also coaxes caramel and vanilla notes from barrel-aged spirits.
“You can showcase the sweetness that usually only comes through in …but deeper and a bit dustier,” says Coyle, who compares it to the difference between fresh and dried hops in beer.
“Black limes have a bewitching aroma,” says Alan Walter, creative director at Loa in New Orleans. “I pick up dried flower petals, notes of pine, even a candy-like quality. They are assertive and very versatile, but I use them mainly to ‘brighten the picture.’”
An earthy, almost fermented taste allows black limes to deftly mingle with spices like cloves or star anise, says Kyle Darrow, lead bartender at Red Owl Tavern in Philadelphia. The richness of Demerara sugar also turns up a black lime’s funkiness, which is part of the reason Darrow has begun to use them to make a replacement for traditional lime cordial.
For his Art of the City cocktail, Darrow uses gin infused with black limes for a more potent taste.
“The beauty of this ingredient is it’s a pretty familiar flavor, so it will be easy to play around with,” he says. “Any drink that calls for fresh lime juice can easily be twisted to use black lime to add a little extra depth.”