Fondly known as “citrus caviar”, this Australian native fruit has a beady, glassy pulp similar to fish roe. However, coming from the Rutaceae (citrus fruit) family, the tiny balls of finger lime flesh burst with a sour and tart tang – pairing perfectly with seafood and salads or used in cocktails, desserts and even jams.
Since the 1980s, finger limes have been commercially harvested for the hospitality industry and have seen increased popularity as an ingredient in contemporary cuisine. Today, nearly 50 per cent of Australia’s finger limes are exported to Europe and Asia, with demand from some of the world’s top chefs overseas. Although these acidic fruits are arguably one of Australia’s tastiest produce and somewhat of a national treasure, you won’t find them widely stocked in supermarkets. Finger limes can be bought at speciality greengrocers, farmer’s markets and are more common in areas where the fruit is native; in southeast Queensland and northeast NSW. And as they are somewhat hard to find, finger limes are often bought through online distributors.
Finger limes come into season in late July and are ripe up until early January and if stored in a refrigerator, as recommended, the fruit can last up to three weeks.
Finger limes have also been nicknamed ‘Rainforest pearls’ as they originate from, and thrive in, Australia’s east coast rainforests. They have been a traditional bush food for many thousands of years and the Indigenous peoples - Barunggam, Wakka Wakka, Bundjalung and Gumbainggir - who come from the fruits’ native regions not only use finger limes for cooking but also draw on its medicinal properties. The fruit’s generous antioxidants, being high in folate, potassium, Vitamin E and containing three times more Vitamin C than a mandarin, makes it highly nutritious, and it's believed to have significant health benefits.
Colours and species
There are six species of finger limes in Australia, which vary in size, colour and taste, depending on which tree they come from.
The round species of finger limes have been known to be called “Dooja”, but there is no Aboriginal language word(s) officially recorded for this fruit.
Generally, the outside isn't inspiring, giving few hints of the flavour explosion within. It’s narrow, droopy with dark brown/purple skin or very dark green skin, and somewhat resembles an unwanted surprise from your dog on your lawn, but the inside is one of mother nature’s true gifts. Finger limes have naturally occurring pink/red or yellow/green flesh that glistens vibrantly and makes a plate colourful and attractive – a key appeal for leading restaurants. Not only do they add a palatable accompaniment to meals, but they also add colour and texture.
The finger lime has overcome challenges. When European settlement came, much of the land where they originated was cleared for farming. The recent culinary boom of finger limes has since raised the profile of these healthy, tasty and utterly unique fruits, but also raises concerns about supply and demand. And given that many farms that now grown them are in fruit fly areas, where production has to be shipped out frozen, there is growing concern that Australia's finger lime industry could be lost to overseas markets that are growing their own.
Australian native finger limes are small and don’t produce a large amount of content, but the sour pearls are great in jams and preserves, cordials, dressings and marinades.