Limes come from a small, thorny evergreen citrus tree with dark green leaves and small white flowers (blossoms) which turn into the fruit. Native to South-East Asia, it is naturalized in many tropical and sub-tropical regions around the world. In the Caribbean, for example, it’s common to see a lime tree growing in the backyard of many homes. Several varieties of lime exist – Italian lime, leech lime, “kaffir” lime, West Indian, Mexican or key lime found in Florida and the Bahamas, Persian and desert lime.
The leaves, blossoms and fruit of the lime tree are all aromatic. The leaves are particularly fragrant, and are used to perfume the water in those finger bowls you sometimes find in restaurants. Just like the orange leaf or orange petitgrain oil commonly used in perfumery, a lesser-known essential oil is also produced by steam distillation from the lime leaf. Lime leaf or lime petitgrain is extremely high in citronellal – a chemical compound with a strong herbal, lemon-citrus aroma that is often used to fragrance commercial soaps. It also contains linalool (a floral-woody aroma compound ), limonene (citrus aroma) and rose oxide (a green, fresh, rose geranium, metallic rose aroma).
There are two main types of lime essential oil. The first is steam distilled from the whole fruit. It’s main chemical constituents are citral, limonene, linalool and linalyl acetate. It is often used in aromatherapy to refresh the mind and body, and to relieve fatigue and stress.
The second essential oil is produced by cold press extraction of the lime peel, which is full of tiny oil-filled sacs. The aroma of cold-pressed lime oil is much more complete, natural and complex than the distilled variety, and is the preferred choice for use in perfumery (lime oil is also one of the main ingredients in Cocoa Cola).
It is fresh, fruity, candy-sweet, zesty with floral, green and bittersweet notes. Used as a top note, it gives a sweet and vigorous introduction to a fragrance, but only lingers for a short time. Yet it is still mellow enough to blend well with most oils, working especially well with neroli, nutmeg, geranium and sandalwood.
Here are some of the main chemical constituents and their aroma descriptions found in cold-pressed lime oil:
Limonene – orange-type citrus, fresh and sweet
Pinene – woody
Terpineol – lilac-type floral
Linalol – floral, woody
Coumarin – sweet, vanilla, herbaceous, hay-like
Citral – lemon-type citrus
Like all essential oils, lime oil contains a number of chemical constituents that all have their own individual scent. But as a group combined, they are what makes a lime smell like a lime.