Techniques

Heard of Black Lime? Here’s How To Use It.

The time-honored Persian ingredient gets a new life on cocktail menus.
Black Limes originally developed in Oman, and are often for sale at Middle Eastern grocery stores.
Black limes originated in Oman, and are often for sale at Middle Eastern grocery stores.

Chicago beverage director Lee Zaremba, who works at Somerset and Devereaux, is taking a time-honored Persian ingredient and giving it new life on their cocktail menu. It’s called loomi — or black lime, or dried lime, or depending on how confused someone is, dried lemon. The flavor typically graces Middle Eastern meals, adding a tart kick to whatever’s on the plate.

Black limes originated in Oman, though the history of the ingredient is unclear. Now, they’re on sale at many Middle Eastern grocery stores and markets. Zaremba got his first batch from an importer he knows in Chicago.

“I saw it in the warehouse and I was like, ‘Hey, what the hell is that?’” Zaremba said. “I got home and scraped a little off and I was just like, ‘Holy tart essence of lime, Batman!’ It was so pungent and flavorful.”

Inside the black lime, instead of the juiciness we all know, everything is dried and turned dark. And the darker the lime, the more potent the flavor is. Inside the black lime, instead of the juiciness we all know, everything is dried and turned dark. And the darker the lime, the more potent the flavor is.

So what is it, actually? Well, it’s a real lime to begin with. It’s often a key lime or similarly sized lime. First, the whole lime is boiled in a salt water brine. Then it’s set out to dry in the sun until it turns into a super-light dark brown or black version of what used to be the lime, with a thick leathery skin.

“When we get them, they look like little burnt out planets,” Zaremba said. “They’re super light, they weigh almost nothing, and they’re just purely concentrated flavor of lime. It doesn’t smell like much, just a faint hint of lime.”

Inside the black lime, instead of the juiciness we all know, everything is dried and turned dark. And the darker the lime, the more potent the flavor is. Zaremba knew at first sight that he wanted to use the black limes in cocktails. It took a bit of testing, though, to figure out the best way to use it as a garnish. As it turns out, black limes can really only be used as a sprinkle that looks a bit like black pepper or vanilla bean seeds.

Just a pinch of black lime is all that's needed in the Kiwi Swizzle. Photo by Christine Domino. Just a pinch of grated black lime is all that's needed in the Kiwi Swizzle. Photo by Christine Domino.

“You’re not going to get much slicing out of it,” Zaremba said, noting that he originally tried to get some slices out of his batch. “Because it’s so dehydrated, it just falls apart into chunks and pieces as you cut it. It is fully dehydrated. It looks like vanilla. In the shaker, it breaks up completely into little dots.”

But even though it’s just a small dot (and one you don’t use much of according to Zaremba, noting “as my grandmother would say, ‘a pinch’ll do ya’”), the pure concentrated lime flavor packs a huge punch.

“Every time one of those dots hits your mouth, it fires off like a firework. Boom, acidity! Boom, tart! Boom, lime!” Zaremba said. “It’s about one black lime to every 100 cocktails. A little goes a long way.”

The Ti'Punch has a simple garnish of grated black lime. The Ti' Punch has a simple garnish of grated black lime that packs a tremendous amount of acidic flavor.

Lee’s Black Lime Cocktail Recipes

Devereaux Daiquiri

  • 1.0 oz three year aged white rum
  • 0.5 oz aguardiente
  • 1 oz kiwi syrup
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • shaved black lime garnish

Ti’ Punch

  • 1.5 oz aged rhum agricole
  • 0.5 oz 100 proof apple brandy
  • 0.25 oz Turbinado sugar
  • small lime cap
  • shaved black lime garnish

Kiwi Swizzle

  • 1.0 oz mezcal
  • 0.5 oz kiwi
  • 2 dashes Chartreuse Élixir Végétal
  • 0.5 oz lime juice
  • splash of Topo Chico
  • Thai basil and black lime garnish

Jennifer Billock is a writer and author focusing on culinary travel, culture and history. She is currently dreaming of an around-the-world trip with her Boston terrier.

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