Is lemon and lime a fruit or veg?

Lemons and limes are citrus fruits that are an integral part of cuisines around the world. Their tangy, tart flavor adds brightness and acidity to both sweet and savory dishes. While lemons and limes may look similar, they are actually two distinct fruits with some key differences.

Botanical Classification

Botanically, lemons and limes belong to the Rutaceae family, which also includes oranges, grapefruit, tangerines and other citrus fruits. The specific genera and species are:

  • Lemon: Citrus limon
  • Lime: Citrus aurantifolia

This places them firmly in the category of fruits, not vegetables, from a botanical perspective. Fruits contain the seeds of the plant, while vegetables are the other edible parts like roots, stems and leaves.

Culinary Uses

In the kitchen, lemons and limes are treated as fruits. Their juice, zest and pulp are used to flavor both sweet and savory dishes. Common uses include:

  • Squeezing juice over seafood, poultry, vegetables
  • Adding zest to marinades, baked goods, salad dressings
  • Using juice and pulp in sauces like hollandaise, bernaise, mayonnaise
  • Adding to beverages like lemonade, limeade, cocktails
  • Preserving with lemon or lime juice to make jams, pickles
  • Infusing into desserts like pies, cakes, custards

Lemons and limes contribute complex, acidic flavors that enhance and brighten the overall taste of recipes. Their versatility in both sweet and savory preparations firmly establishes lemons and limes as fruits in the culinary context.


Nutritionally, lemons and limes have a nutrient and vitamin profile consistent with other fruits:

Nutrient Lemon Lime
Vitamin C 53mg (88% DV) 29mg (48% DV)
Folate 11mcg (3% DV) 8mcg (2% DV)
Potassium 139mg (4% DV) 102mg (3% DV)
Calcium 26mg (2% DV) 33mg (3% DV)

Lemons and limes are an excellent source of vitamin C as well as providing smaller amounts of folate, potassium and calcium. This nutritional profile is consistent with other vitamin C-rich citrus fruits like oranges, grapefruit and tangerines.

Storage and Shelflife

Lemons and limes are stored and maintained like other fresh fruits:

  • Store uncut lemons and limes at room temperature up to 1 week
  • Refrigerate cut lemons and limes in airtight container up to 5 days
  • Freeze juice in ice cube trays for longer term storage
  • Use zest soon after grating to maximize flavor and aroma

The optimal storage conditions for lemons and limes matches how other fresh produce like apples, bananas and strawberries are handled. This again classifies lemons and limes as fruits.


Visually, lemons and limes do share some similar characteristics:

  • Oval to round shape
  • Textured outer skin
  • Nipple on one end
  • Juicy segmented pulp

However, there are some distinguishing differences:

Attribute Lemon Lime
Color Bright yellow Bright green
Size 3-4 inches long 2-3 inches long
Taste Sour, acidic Sour, acidic, more bitter

So while lemons and limes may sometimes be confused for one another at first glance, their distinct flavors, colors and sizes clearly differentiate them as two separate fruit varieties.

Growing Regions

Lemons and limes thrive in similar warm, humid climates. Some top producing regions include:

  • Lemons: United States (California, Arizona), Mexico, Spain, Italy, Argentina
  • Limes: Mexico, Brazil, India, United States (Florida), Persian Gulf countries

There is some overlap, particularly with parts of Mexico and the United States producing high volumes of both lemons and limes. However, other major growing regions focus primarily on one or the other. The similar climate needs link lemons and limes, but their distinct geographies confirm they are separate fruits.

Plant Differences

Lemons and limes come from different citrus plants:

  • Lemon tree: Evergreen, thorny branches. White flowers. Grows up to 15 feet.
  • Lime tree: Deciduous, smooth branches. White flowers. Grows up to 20 feet.

While both trees produce fragrant white flowers and thrive in warm climates, their differing leaf habits, growth patterns and thorns demonstrate that they are distinct plants that yield different fruits.


Lemons and limes have different origins and histories:

  • Lemons: Originated in Asia, likely India and China. Used in Europe by 200 AD. Introduced to Americas by Columbus.
  • Limes: Originated in Southeast Asia. Spread by Arabs in 600-700 AD. Introduced to Americas and Caribbean in 1500s by Spanish explorers.

While the exact details are uncertain, historians agree that lemons and limes were developed independently in geographically distant regions of Asia. This evidence again confirms their status as separate fruit varieties.

Uses in Cuisine

Lemons and limes are both integral to many types of cuisine, but there are some notable differences:

  • Lemons more popular in European and American cooking for sauces, salad dressings, pie
  • Limes more popular in Mexican, Southeast Asian, and Caribbean cooking for salsas, curries, marinades

In beverages, lemons are used more in lemonade, hot or iced tea, while limes are the defining ingredient in cocktails like the mojito, margarita and caipirinha.

These patterns illustrate how lemons and limes, while similar, have distinct culinary applications and associations with different world cuisines.

Non-Culinary Uses

Beyond cuisine, lemons and limes have other applications:

  • Lemon juice used as cleaning agent, hair lightener, skin brightener
  • Lime juice used to remove grease and odor, prevent fish spoilage, dye fabric

This demonstrates how both fruits have practical household and industrial uses totally separate from their culinary qualities.


There are many varieties of lemons and limes:

Lemons Limes
Eureka Key lime
Lisbon Persian lime
Meyer Kaffir lime
Bonnie Brae Rangpur lime

This range of varieties within each species indicates lemons and limes are diverse fruits with many cultivars tailored to different climates and uses.


While lemons and limes share some attributes like shape, color and tart flavor, they differ in their genetics, chemistry, uses and origins. Botanically they belong to two separate genera and species in the citrus family. Lemons likely originated in India and limes in Southeast Asia. Their distinct nutrient profiles, flavors, culinary roles and non-food applications provide further evidence that lemons and limes are distinctly different fruits.

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