Lemon-Lime confusion in Brazil

Back in my England days there was one thing you could almost always rely on: somewhere in my fridge you would find half a lemon. Always half a lemon. When you have a whole lemon, there are all kinds of uses (for half of it) – squeeze it over some fish, slice it for drinks, the list goes on… But what about the other half?  That would sit in my fridge for days, slowly shrinking and shrivelling and becoming increasingly useless.

Here in Brazil things are different – we have limes! Aren’t limes great? Not only do they have an amazingly fragrant, tangy, zingy flavour, but they are just the right size! You won’t find half a lime in my Brazilian fridge.

But what about lemons? Here in Brazil (in Rio at least) they seem to be very rare. After learning that the Portuguese for lime is limão, I wondered what the word for lemon was. The answer? Limão. Huh? “You use the same word for both lemons and limes?” I asked incredulously. It was like the moment I found out that Portuguese (and Spanish) uses the same word for fingers and toes! (Dedos).

Well, that is the simple answer anyway. In fact there is a way to distinguish between your limões (and your dedos). You get specific.

 

Apparently these limes are from Tahiti! Well, I guess the variety is at least. These particularly large and firm limes are very handy if you want to make yourself a decent-sized caipirinha - the extra juice will ensure that you can still walk after you've polished it off.

 

A Sicilian Lime! And check out the difference in price! R$ 1.49 for a kilo of limes, R$ 8.39 for a kilo of lemons!! Price and prestige often go hand-in-hand don't they. Here in Brazil, a caipirinha made with limes is just a standard drink. But if you have it with Limão Siciliano? Now you've got a fancy drink!

 

 

What? So there *is* a different name for lemons! And that word (Lima) looks a lot like the word "lime". How confusing! I should really do a taste-test to see what the difference is between Lima da Persia and Limão Siciliano - they look quite similar don't you think?

 

So, to recap, the short answer is that there is one word in Portuguese which covers lemons and limes (limão). The long answer is that there are different words that cover different varieties of citrus fruit that come in a variety of different colours!

Interestingly, the French word for lime is Citron Vert, literally ‘Green Lemon’. I guess that reflects the dominance of the lemon over the lime in Europe. And in case you were wondering, the solution for distinguishing between fingers and toes is simpler than the citrus situation. Fingers are Dedos and toes are Dedos dos pés – foot fingers!

 

20 replies
  1. Shayna
    Shayna says:

    I remember having to think twice about this when I first learned it!

    My students get a kick out of the fact that we use “toast” for the bread variety and for the “raise-a-glass-in-honor-of-somebody” thing. One of them once said, “Portuguese doesn’t have any words like that!” and I replied, “Oh yeah? What about MANGA (the fruit) and MANGA (your shirtsleeve)?”

    Here’s an interesting list of the ones in English:
    http://www.sk.com.br/sk-emmw.html

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Manga is a funny one isn’t it? Of course many people know about the Japanese comics/animation, but I also read recently that Manga means “cool dude” in Greek!

      The one I found/find strangest (in Portuguese) is Esperar. The same word for “wait”, “hope” and “expect”? Nuts! 😉

      It is good to see that list, just to remind myself that English has it’s fair share of weirdness too!

      Reply
  2. Katia
    Katia says:

    Hello Tom!

    I have been reading your blog for about 2 months now and I find it very interesting and entertaining. I am Brazilian and really enjoy learning about my country and city from the perpective of someone that was not born here. It is fascinating. Anyway about lime and lemons.

    Lime = lima
    lemon = limão

    Cheers! :o)

    Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Hi Katia!

      Bem vinda! I’m glad you’ve been enjoying the blog – I enjoy your country/city very much, so it seems like a good deal to me 🙂

      But now you’ve confused me even more! 😉 In England, we call the small green ones limes and the larger yellow ones lemons. Are you saying the small green ones are called limas? [confused face]

      Maybe I should just stick to bananas – no confusion there. Oh wait… 😀

      Reply
      • Katia
        Katia says:

        Hi Tom :o)

        Wow! now I’m even more confused than you! For me (and I imagine for most Brazilians) The small green ones are our everyday lemon and the large yellow ones are limes. Are you telling me it is the other way round?

        Cheers :o)

        Reply
        • tomlemes
          tomlemes says:

          Hmmm, I guess I am saying that Katia! 🙂 Certainly we call the large yellow ones lemons. But in England at least, those are the “everyday” ones. I guess the small green ones (limes) are quite common now, but when I was a kid they were quite uncommon. I still think of limes as being a little bit exotic!!

          Reply
    • Tony Horo
      Tony Horo says:

      Katia’s wrong unfortunally. I’m brazilian (I actually live in Rio) and the article is right: “lime” is the word to reffer to our “limão”, the green and round one. The yellow fruit that we barely see in Brazil except in some fancy supermarkets is “lemon”, which we brazilians call “lima” or “limão siciliano”.

      tl;dr:

      Lime = limão
      lemon = lima / limão siciliano.

      Reply
      • tomlemes
        tomlemes says:

        Thanks Tony! The confusion is real for many it seems! 😉 My current favourite citrus fruit is a Dekopon, which you can sometimes see for sale in the fancy Hortifruti stores. Totally yummy! 🙂

        Reply
    • tomlemes
      tomlemes says:

      Alex, I’m with you one this – I prefer the flavour of limes for sure. And when I see a lemon caipirinha, I just think how weird it is that lemons seem to be fancy here. Maybe I should be sticking up for the Euro-lemon, but I limes win for me every time. Lemons should be elemonated…

      Reply
  3. Andrea - Inglês Gourmet
    Andrea - Inglês Gourmet says:

    Hi Tom,

    As you said, “limão taiti” is “lime” (or persian lime, “Citrus latifolia” is the species).

    And “limão siciliano” is “lemon” (“citrus limon” is the species).

    I hope this helps.

    Andrea

    Reply
  4. Andrew Francis
    Andrew Francis says:

    Portuguese also uses “limao amarelo” for lemon. Lima da persia is a very different fruit: watery and slightly bitter. Makes a nice caipiroska… 🙂

    Reply
  5. tomlemes
    tomlemes says:

    Thanks to everyone for your help! I think between you all, you have cleared this one up for me.

    Looking again at the Lima da Persia box, I think some naughty scamp has put a lemon (limão Siciliano) in to confuse things further! 🙂

    Reply
  6. Eri
    Eri says:

    Tom,

    Além do limão tahiti e do limão siciliano você encontra na feira também o limão galego (pequeno e cor de laranja) e o limão cravo (que é uma mistura de tangerina e limão).

    Na minha opinião, o limão galego faz a melhor caipirinha e o limão cravo é ótimo para temperar peixes.

    Eri

    Reply
  7. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    I just had to comment because lime and lemons are a source of confusion for me as a Brazilian as well. To simplify limao = lime (green) and lima = lemon (yellow). But then you have limao galelo (my favourite btw, I have a tree in my house in Brazil – and it’s yellow and very aromatic) and no matter how many times I practice I call all of them (green and yellow alike) ‘Lemon’… that makes all ozzies go ‘WHUT’?

    Reply

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