Exotic fruit: meet the kaffir lime… and what’s hidden behind the name

So not at all a native species to Mauritius, but we are just back from Reunion Island where it is widely used.

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Today’s little harvest

I am lucky enough to live in a house, where about 15 years ago there was a Thai lady who planted a tree in the garden. It is still there and I love it.

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Also known as Citrus Hystric, the Kaffir Lime is widely used in Thai, Indo and other South East Asian countries. Both the fruit and the leafs are used. It is extremely fragrant and a few leaves will give a beautiful and deep favour to soups or curries. In the fruit, the rind is used – the fruit in itself is just to powerful and bitter I think. It can be pickled, though I have never tried, the young leaves can used in salads and we use it on steamed fish or added to satini (the Creole tomato salsa).

If you can get hold of leaves, they freeze extremely well and can be kept for a long time without loosing its flavours. Just make sure that it is well wrapped or everything else will get the smell! You don’t need the fruit really, the leaves are just as good.

A month or so ago I saw an article praising the lemon as a whole food: freezing it and grating it completely. It can then be used and added to many different dishes. Apparently most of the vitamins and minerals are in the rind more than in the fruit itself. I guess that being the same family the kaffir lime would like the same treatment. Getting hold of organic in Mauritius is getting easier but is still very expensive – and citrus fruits are not easy to come by, specially not on the east coast! Now that my kaffir limes have grown,  I am going to indulge, and get super healthy, hopefully.

On another note, I find it so interesting what you find when you start research on something… Kaffir is apparently a very offensive and racist word in South Africa – and there was even a campaign in 2014, started in, I think Canada, to change the name of this little fruit – to get the bad word out of the vocabulary, before it gets too widely used in Northern America. Kaffir is synonym to the oh-so-bad- “N” word.

There is a very interesting book called An Encyclopedia of Swearing by Geoffrey Hughes, that goes into details of a lot of bad words (that’s a link to the free e-book). It doesn’t have many words under K. actually 2: one of them is Kaffir. Apparently the words come from the Arabic ‘Kafir’, that means infidel or unbeliever (from a Muslim point of view). As Arab traders moved down the East coast of Africa, the word got applied to the black people of the interior of Africa who were not converted to Islam. The term got then adopted by the Portuguese sailors and then the Dutch, making it’s way to South Africa, where the Eastern part of the Cape Colony got named Cafir-land or Cafraria – this was even before the Dutch colonised the Cape in 1652. Kaffir thus became the term used for the Xhosa-speaking people and got extended to many names of places (Kaffirstad), fauna and flora, or food (Kaffir Corn or Kaffir Beer). In the 1890’s it even entered the slang at the London Stock Exchange and was used, in a not very nice connotation, for the South African mining shares, with the name of “The Kaffir Circus”. As it was used by the white and not the African people themselves it got a derogatory sense. Today the use of this word is termed crimen injuria, defined as an insulting behaviour that is a deliberate attempt to a persons dignity. It has become increasingly taboo, only used rarely in literature to intensify a person’s racist character. (source: An Encyclopedia of Swearing). 

When I first saw the campaign to change the name, I thought maybe it was a bit over the top – but then probably it depends where it is used… in South East Asia, far away from all N-words, racial problems and misunderstandings it probably doesn’t matter. In other places I can understand that it could create more confusion. It appeared that the movement stopped though – maybe the use of the word didn’t really take off.

Back to our little friend the k-lime… One of the things I got in Reunion Island is a good mortar and pestle – in lava stone – I used it last night to make a satini with the leaves from the kaffir lime tree. Sadly I forgot the picture! But the mortar and pestle is awesome to use.

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3 thoughts on “Exotic fruit: meet the kaffir lime… and what’s hidden behind the name

  1. Thanks for the in-depth analysis of the K word ;P You are right! We are not very sensitive about derogatory terms here in the South East Asia. There are other more pertinent issues to deal with such as corrupt officials embezzlling taxpayers money.

    Liked by 1 person

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