The controversial lime. Photo credit: Stockfood.
The humble lime has had a rags-to-riches sort of year: It sold for a buck a pop during the limepocalypse, when it was called “green gold,” and now, even though its price is back down in the dime-to-quarter range, it’s in the news for being derogatory. “Hate speech doesn’t belong in the produce department,” trumpeted a headline in The Seattle Times this week.
Limes, what have you done now?
“Kaffir” limes are apparently responsible: The knobby fruit and its leaves are commonly used in Southeast Asian and Indian recipes, and the Oxford Companion to Food suggests its common name (botanically, it goes by Citrus hystrix) probably originated in Thailand in the 1970’s.
Well, it’s also apparently equivalent to the N-word, and has sparked an angry Twitter campaign and “name ban” at the PCC Natural Markets in Seattle, Washington.
According to the Oxford Companion to Food, “kaffir” is “an epithet” in some parts of the world: “The term originally was “an Arabic word meaning non-believer or infidel,” but “in Southern Africa [it] came to mean what would now be called ‘black African’… in most contexts it now has a pejorative sense.” It’s “a reasonable assumption,” suggest the authors, “that the term had its origin in southern Africa and may have reached Malaysia and Indonesia from there through the Cape Malays, and then travelled westwards to Thailand.”
Yikes. It’s worth noting that re-naming the fruit has not yet caught on in the national food press, but until we’re told otherwise we’ll be calling it a “makrut lime,” which is generally considered less dicey, on the occasions when we see it in cocktails and Thai dishes.
[via Grub Street]