What's the Difference Between Key Limes and Limes? (2024)

Updated: Mar. 19, 2024

Key lime pie is a summer essential—but can you make this dessert with regular limes? Let's take a closer look at Key lime vs lime.

Limes are a summer staple. Just a splash of this tart juice is all you need to bring out the bright flavors of salads and sooth the savory notes in grilled food. Not to mention, lime can be refreshing in co*cktails, limeade and desserts!

But what if your recipe calls for Key limes—and you can’t find them at the grocery store? Is it okay to use regular limes instead?

The Difference Between Limes and Key Limes

What Are Key Limes?

Key limes—also known as Mexican limes or West Indies limes—are small, spherical limes that grow in tropical and subtropical regions. They’re light yellow (not green) when ripe and contain more seeds than regular limes. Their skin is also very thin, which means they don’t store well. It’s best to keep them out of the fridge and use them within two days of purchasing.

Key lime juice is prized for being tart and super-aromatic. You can use them in place of regular limes in any recipe, but they’re an ideal choice for sweetened-up desserts like Key lime pie, cupcakes or thumbprint cookies.

These limes might get their name from the Florida Keys, but they’re grown all of over Florida and in some areas of California. They only grow in the U.S. between June and September, though. In Mexico, they enjoy a year-round season, but their delicate nature means transporting them to the U.S. can be challenging.

Key Lime Recipes That Go Beyond Pie

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What's the Difference Between Key Limes and Limes? (1)

Key Lime Cream PieI am very proud of this luscious no-bake beauty. It's so cool and refreshing—perfect for any summer potluck or get-together. Wherever I take this pie, it quickly disappears, with everyone asking for the recipe. It's one of my favorite key lime recipes! —Shirley Rickis, Lady Lake, FloridaGo to Recipe

Key Lime Pound CakeThis Key lime pound cake was inspired from a basic pound cake recipe that I like to play around with. It's now the only cake requested at every gathering. The unfrosted cake freezes well. —Pat Stewart, Canton, Georgia

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Taste of Home

Key Lime Pie BallsThe classic creamy filling, graham cracker crust and burst of lime are all mixed together in every bite of these rolled cookies. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Key Lime Blondie BarsHere’s my tropical take on a beloved treat. These Key lime bars combine the taste of the classic pie with a blondie batter and cream cheese frosting. You can make a thicker crust if desired. —Kristin LaBoon, Austin, Texas

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Key Lime CheesecakeI modified this old family recipe to use healthier ingredients. The texture is so smooth and light. It is a favorite dessert that is enjoyed by all.

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Easy Key Lime Pie Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Easy Key Lime PieThis refreshingly easy Key lime pie is a winner on all counts. It's quick and easy enough to make for a weeknight dessert, but special enough to take to weekend potlucks. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Key Lime Cookies Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Key Lime Butter CookiesI love limes so much that if a recipe calls for lemons I almost always use limes instead. With their pretty green color, these are perfect for Christmas—you can also make them as sandwich cookies and use lime curd for the filling.—Deirdre Cox, Kansas City, Missouri

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Key Lime CupcakesI made these light, tangy cupcakes on a chilly day to remind me of our vacation in southern Florida, where Key lime pies are star attractions. —Jennifer Gilbert, Brighton, Michigan

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Margarita Tres Leches Cake Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Margarita Tres Leches CakeThe first time I ever had tres leches cake I felt as if I were in heaven. I have made it at home using several techniques and flavors, and this margarita twist on the classic is my favorite. —Laurie Lufkin, Essex, Massachusetts

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Marshmallow-Almond Key Lime PieSummer is peak season for Key limes—a must for this pie’s distinctive sweet-tart flavor. Unlike other Key lime pies, mine has a smooth marshmallow layer on top. This makes it stand out as a crowd favorite. —Judy Castranova, New Bern, North Carolina

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Taste of Home

Key Lime TrifleWhen I saw a recipe for banana cream pie trifle I was inspired to invent a version than spun off my favorite pie, Key lime. My family loved it! Some friends got to try it, too, and they enjoyed immensely as well. —Rebecah Lytle, Ocala, Florida

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Coconut Key Lime ThumbprintsThis is the cookie recipe I created for the Las Vegas World Food Championships in 2013. It's similar to a shortbread thumbprint cookie, but with lots more personality. —Amy Freeze, Avon Park, Florida

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Taste of Home

Frozen Key Lime DelightIn the middle of summer, nothing hits the spot quite like this sublime Key lime dessert. Cold, creamy and tart, it tastes like sunshine. —Melissa Millwood, Lyman, South Carolina

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Fluffy Key Lime Pie Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Fluffy Key Lime PieFor a taste of paradise, try this no-bake Key lime pie recipe. It's low in fat, sugar and fuss. It truly is the best Key lime pie recipe ever! —Frances VanFossan, Warren, Michigan

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Key Lime BreadI first tried this deliciously different bread at a friend's house, and she graciously shared the recipe with me. It's so easy to make and it tastes absolutely yummy! —Joan Hallford, North Richland Hills, Texas

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Key Lime PieWe created this refreshing mini pie with a homemade crumb crust and a pudding-like lime filling. If you can’t find Key lime juice, regular lime juice works just fine. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Key Lime Pie Cupcakes Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Key Lime Pie CupcakesI bake over 200 of these cupcakes for our church suppers, and we always run out. If you can't find Key lime juice, use lime juice. Just add a tad more sugar. —Julie Herrera-Lemler, Rochester, Minnesota

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What Are Limes?

The limes you’ll find at the grocery store are called Persian limes or Tahiti limes. These larger limes are oval-shaped, dark green and juicy. Each lime contains two to three tablespoons of juice (compared to Key lime’s two to three teaspoons). Their thick skin helps them keep longer than Key limes, and they’re good for about a month in the crisper drawer of your refrigerator.

Persian limes are acidic with a tangy flavor, but they lack the floral bouquet that accompanies Key limes. They’re a great substitute for vinegar in marinades or homemade salad dressings, and their juice and zest boost other flavors in savory recipes like lime-chipotle carnitas.

Mexico and Brazil grow most of the world’s Persian limes, but they’re also grown in the U.S. in Florida. Because they have thicker skin, they’re easier to ship, so you’ll find them available year-round.

Recipes Made with Fresh Limes

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Margarita FloatsOn a hot afternoon, what could be better than a cold margarita float? The addition of creamy ice cream really takes this treat to the next level. —Teri Rasey, Cadillac, Michigan

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Margarita CakeThis margarita cake is perfect for a picnic on a warm day. You'll be surprised at how closely it tastes like the real thing. These other margarita dessert recipes are delicious, too. ?—Dawn Lowenstein, Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania

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Lime-in-the-Coconut Almond BarkI love the combination of flavors in this tropical treat, and it takes mere minutes to make. If you need something for a school or church bake sale, this will get you out of the kitchen in a flash. —Julie Beckwith, Crete, Illinois

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Roasted Lime ChickenThe subtle citrus flavor infused throughout this moist and baked lime chicken makes it a frequent request for family dinners. It's the ideal way to use fresh herbs such as rosemary, sage, thyme and parsley. —Kathy Lewis-Martinez, Spring Valley, California

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Mojito Recipe photo by Taste of Home

MojitoTraditional mojitos are made with rum, which is both pleasant and mildly sweet. If you want a new spin on the classic mojito recipe, try using tequila for tart yet refreshing flavor. —Christine Rukavena, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Key Lime Cream Pie Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Key Lime Cream PieI am very proud of this luscious no-bake beauty. It's so cool and refreshing—perfect for any summer potluck or get-together. Wherever I take this pie, it quickly disappears, and everyone asks for the recipe. —Shirley Rickis, Lady Lake, Florida

Go to Recipe

Steak with Chipotle-Lime Chimichurri Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Steak with Chipotle-Lime ChimichurriSteak gets a flavor kick from chimichurri. This piquant, all-purpose herb sauce is so versatile, it complements most any grilled meat, poultry or fish. —Laureen Pittman, Riverside, California

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Coconut, Lime and Pistachio Cookies Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Coconut, Lime and Pistachio CookiesPerfect for freezing, these cookies look like Christmas but taste like summer. —Barbara Crusan, Pass Christian, Mississippi

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Fresh Lime Margaritas Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Fresh Lime MargaritasThis basic fresh margarita recipe is easy to modify to your tastes. Try it frozen or with strawberries. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen

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Want to add a slice of lime to your margarita glass? Make sure you know how to cut a lime the right way.

Easy Grilled Corn with Chipotle-Lime ButterGrilling corn in the husks is so easy. There's no need to remove the silk and tie the husk closed before grilling. Just soak, grill and add your favorite flavored butter. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Lemon-Lime Bars Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Lemon-Lime BarsThis easy lime bar recipe is a dessert that will wow your guests. I baked these bars for a luncheon on a hot summer day. A gentleman made his way to the kitchen to compliment the cook who made them. —Holly Wilkins, Lake Elmore, Vermont

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Bloody Maria Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Bloody MariaTequila, lime and jalapenos give the brunch classic a fresh Mexican twist.—Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, WIsconsin

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Lime-Rosemary Shrimp Skewers Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Lime-Rosemary Shrimp SkewersI had a big bunch of rosemary, so I turned the stems into skewers for grilling shrimp. Serve with rice or couscous and lime wedges. —Leah Lenz, Los Angeles, California

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Key Lime Pound CakeThis Key lime pound cake was inspired from a basic pound cake recipe that I like to play around with. It's now the only cake requested at every gathering. The unfrosted cake freezes well. —Pat Stewart, Canton, Georgia

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Taste of Home

Pressure-Cooker Spicy Lime ChickenThis tender chicken with light lime flavor is a natural filling for tacos, but my son Austin also loves it spooned over cooked rice and sprinkled with his favorite taco toppings. —Christine Hair, Odessa, Florida

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Pineapple RumChata Shortcakes Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Pineapple RumChata ShortcakesThis deliciously different dessert is made in the slow cooker instead of in the oven. When done, add final touches to the cooled pineapple shortcake jars and serve. —Joan Hallford, North Richland Hills, Texas

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Emily's Honey Lime Coleslaw Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Emily's Honey Lime ColeslawHere’s a refreshing take on slaw with a honey-lime vinaigrette rather than the traditional mayo. It’s a great take-along for all those summer picnics. —Emily Tyra, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Frozen Margarita MousseWho doesn't love a frozen margarita? This creamy frozen mousse combines ready-to-drink margarita mix and whipped topping (you could use this whipped topping substitute instead). It's easy to put together and the freezer does all the work. Garnish with additional crushed pretzels and kosher salt to enhance the sweet and salty flavor. —Debbie Glassco*ck, Conway, Arkansas

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Sazerac Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Pressure-Cooker Lime CheesecakeI love my pressure cooker and get a kick out of creating recipes for it. When I wanted to try a cheesecake, I did some research and put together my own version. Success! It not only was beautiful with no cracks but also tasted absolutely scrumptious. —Joan Hallford, North Richland Hills, Texas

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Easy Seafood Salad Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Easy Seafood SaladThis super simple, deceptively delicious recipe was inspired by a seafood salad I had in the Bahamas that featured conch. I substituted crab and shrimp for the conch and like it even more! —Cindy Heyd, Edmond, Oklahoma

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Sunshine Lime Rickey Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Sunshine Lime RickeyThis is my re-creation of the lime rickey sodas served at my favorite burger place. I even tried a version using my own homemade bitters. —Shelly Bevington, Hermiston, Oregon

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Key Lime Blondie BarsHere’s my tropical take on a beloved treat. These Key lime bars combine the taste of the classic pie with a blondie batter and cream cheese frosting. You can make a thicker crust if desired. —Kristin LaBoon, Austin, Texas

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Lime-Chipotle Carnitas Tostadas Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Lime-Chipotle Carnitas TostadasHere's a terrific recipe for your next weeknight dinner. Set out various toppings and garnishes so your family members can customize their own tostadas with the lime-kissed shredded pork. —Jan Valdez, Chicago, Illinois

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Cilantro-Lime Rice Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Cilantro-Lime RiceMy family's favorite Mexican restaurant serves a similar rice as a side dish. I threw this together one night when I was making fajitas, and everyone loved it! It's such an easy side dish and pairs well with kabobs on the grill, too. —Robin Baskette, Lexington, Kentucky

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Taste of Home

Frozen Key Lime DelightIn the middle of summer, nothing hits the spot quite like this sublime Key lime dessert. Cold, creamy and tart, it tastes like sunshine. —Melissa Millwood, Lyman, South Carolina

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Cranberry Lime MacaroonsIt wouldn’t be the holidays for my family and friends if I didn’t make these chewy lime-flavored macaroons. I usually make several batches a week during the season..—Alisa Costa, Chatham, New York

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Cranberry LimeadeWhen cranberry and lime juice get together, the result is thirst-quenching. Add ice and you’ve got a party in a glass. —Michael Passow, Poughkeepsie, New York

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Taste of Home

Cilantro Lime ShrimpA quick garlicky lime marinade works magic on these juicy shrimp. They come off the grill with huge flavors perfect for your next cookout. —Melissa Rodriguez, Van Nuys, California

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Marshmallow-Almond Key Lime PieSummer is peak season for Key limes—a must for this pie’s distinctive sweet-tart flavor. Unlike other Key lime pies, mine has a smooth marshmallow layer on top. This makes it stand out as a crowd favorite. —Judy Castranova, New Bern, North Carolina

Go to Recipe

Easy Key Lime Pie TrifleI came up with this easy Key lime pie trifle because I adore Key lime pie in all its forms. It's a refreshing treat on a hot summer day, and since it can be made ahead, it's ideal for entertaining, too. The pie is easier to cut when still a little frozen, but be sure to let the pieces finish thawing before starting the recipe. —Barbara Moorhead, Gaffney, South Carolina

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Easy Pad Thai Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Easy Pad ThaiSkip the takeout restaurant and give this easy pad thai recipe a try if you need an easy and quick meal. —Taste of Home Test Kitchen, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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Taste of Home

Simple Lime Gelatin SaladLooking for a festive dish to light up the buffet? This pretty green gelatin salad is eye-catching and has a delightful, tangy flavor. —Cyndi Fynaardt, Oskaloosa, Iowa

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Cranberry-Lime Sangria Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Cranberry-Lime SangriaTart, light and fruity, this party-worthy sangria is a hit any time of the year. —Katy Joosten, Little Chute, Wisconsin

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Lime Angel Food CakeFor my husband's family reunion, I took a store-bought angel food cake and turned it into this special dessert with a lovely lime cream frosting topped with toasted coconut. It went over big! —Nancy Foust, Stoneboro, Pennsylvania

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Tequila Lime Shrimp ZoodlesThis tangy shrimp dish is a smart way to cut carbs without sacrificing flavor. If you don't have a spiralizer, you can use thinly julienned zucchini to get a similar effect. —Brigette Schroeder, Yorkville, Illinois

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Lime Coconut Smoothie BowlThis Key lime and coconut smoothie bowl is the most refreshing thing on the planet! —Madeline Butler, Denver, Colorado

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Honeydew Lime Cooler Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Honeydew Lime CoolerServe up a frosty glass of this citrusy blend of lime sherbet and honeydew melon for a real thirst-quencher. I like to sip this on warm afternoons, but it's equally good for breakfast or brunch. —Mitzi Sentiff, Annapolis, Maryland

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Taste of Home

Coconut-Lime Chicken Curry SoupI created this chicken recipe to replicate the flavors of my favorite curry dish—slightly sweet with just the right amount of spicy heat. When served with a garnish of green onions and toasted coconut, the soup makes the perfect cold-weather meal. —Lisa Renshaw, Kansas City, Missouri

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Taste of Home

Honey-Lime Almond CookiesDecades ago my grandmother passed this buttery lime cookie recipe to me. Through years of baking, our cookie memories keep the family connected, although we’re miles apart. —Paula Marchesi, Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania

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Chili-Lime Mushroom TacosI used to make this dish with beef, but substituting with portobella mushrooms turned it into my family's vegetarian favorite. It's quick, nutritious, low fat and tasty. —Greg Fontenot, The Woodlands, Texas

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Baby Kale Salad with Avocado-Lime Dressing Recipe photo by Taste of Home

Baby Kale Salad with Avocado-Lime DressingWe pull a bunch of ingredients from our garden when we make this baby kale salad with zucchini and sweet onion. The yogurt dressing layers on big lime flavor. —Suzanna Esther, State College, Pennsylvania

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I took these lime and coconut macaroons to our annual cookie exchange, where we name a queen. I won the crown! —Milissa Kirkpatrick, Angel Fire, New Mexico

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The Final Word

There is a slight flavor difference between Persian limes and Key limes. But when baked into a dessert like Key lime blondies, it’s hard to tell the difference. So if you can’t find Key limes, go ahead and use Persian limes. You’ll still wind up with a delicious summer pie. Just try to avoid pre-squeezed, store-bought juice; its flavor pales in comparison to the freshly-squeezed product.

What's the Difference Between Key Limes and Limes? (2024)
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