Meet the Philippine Lime: The CALAMANSI.
I was introduced to the Philippine lime, Calamansi, from a newspaper story I read in the food section, about a chef wondering how and what dish would make the best use of Calamansi. In the story, it was spelled with a K not a C. Since I had never heard of the fruit before, I asked my Philippine-born friend, Leo, what he knew of the fruit. His face lit up.” My mom was growing Calamansi in her Fruit Garden before I was born. Back home, we use them in so many ways, when cooking meats and fish, to make a marinade, to drink with club soda or water and to just suck on for it’s refreshing juice.”
To me what Leo was describing sounded like the limes I knew and loved, as a flavor in a lemon and lime soda, squirted into gin, rum or vodka drinks and used as a food seasoning. Actually, I even love to slowly chew a slice of lime for the spurts of its sweet-sour, refreshing juice. Lime has always also been a favorite flavor. I love it in water ices or ice cream and can you think of anything more tasty than lime juice squirted on a slice of cut up pineapple?
That’s where my thinking was when friend Leo brought me a dozen Calamansi he’d bought at his favorite Philippine food market. In their plastic carry, I realized they were much smaller than our lime and what I had imagined, more yellow than green and when I cut into one, very thin skinned. But the pits were all normal lime size.
I squeezed a taste into a glass and sniffed. No big rush of flavor came out, as our limes do. Then a touch to the tongue and UGH!! Quick, water! That first taste had me thinking bitter, sharp and acidy.
Why was this called a lime? Is it really in the lime family? But, my daughter who is also a gardener, thought differently. She liked it and asked Leo to buy some for her. So, obviously, liking the Calamansi or not is a matter of personal taste.
Here’s a paraphrase of how Google describes Calamansi: a fruit tree native to the Philippine Islands, also called a Golden Lime, Panama and Chinese Orange and acid orange (I’ll buy that). The Calamansi comes from China and can be found today through Southeast Asia, India, Hawaii, the West Indies and the Americas. Before the fruit ripens, it’s dark green. After it bears white or purple flowers, it ripens to a full orange color.
Then, I read the specific home recipes for turning the fruit into a juice and from a juice into a tea which in the Philippines is consumed to ease throat aches. To make the juice, carefully wash the Calamansi. Cut the top off, but retain the seed inside.
Squeeze seed/pits out from the rind. Add water in a cup and spoon 1-¾ sugars for each ¼ cup of water. Refrigerate for 3 days ‘til the pulp floats. The next step is to make the Throat Tea. To turn juice into tea, pour the juice into a kettle and boil the liquid. Pour it into a Tea Cup. You now have Calamansi Tea.
But will it help heal a sore throat? We read, for medicinal purposes it is often applied to a scalp to reduce dandruff…that it can be used as a fine shampoo…that it reduces itching when rubbed on after a shower. Supposedly, it also helps sooth the skin after a bug bite, but would you drink it to heal a sore throat? A dissenter suggests because of its acidity, it might do more harm than good, while an advocate says his family uses it to avoid nausea and fainting and that sniffing its rind is an ideal inhalant. Others say it’s good when you have a cough or sore throat and drinking it boiled reduces constipation...and one Philippine said, “…we drink it hot for every ailment and it heals whatever you have.”
Additionally, I read that Calamansi is used in making beverages, as a flavoring when squeezed over baking fish or grilling meats…that it adds flavor to cakes, pies, preserves, sauces, and marmalades. It is also squirted into many different soups…further, its citrus acid, when used with tuna makes a delicious ceviche. Many island chefs old and young, claim as a sweet and sour taste, Calamansi never misses. Leo says, as a cool refreshing drink, calamansi makes a great Ice Tea and when it cold, a delicious cup of hot tea and in his home they mixed it with sugar and water as a remedy when they had a dry throat.
For such a little fruit, it seems that Calamansi has been proclaimed a universal panacea. Oh, and it’s juice also removes ink stains. What can’t Calamansi do?
More comments from other Philippine Island natives:
At my parents home in Mati never a day went by without it with our meals. We never ate any fried food without a soy/vinegar and calamansi dip, with few chili peppers to kick it up a notch. Always a remedy for colds, sipped lukewarm with a little salt is perfect for itchy throat.
I use them in my iced tea. I also love the sauce with fish and to put on my rice. My family uses it in hot tea for sore throats.
Dipping fried fish in soy sauce is a big no no. Funny thing is, before I migrated to the US I rarely ate fried fish or fried meat. Now in local markets I get Calamansi to put on the dishes as I fry them. Calamansi and honey are a good combination and healthy, too.
I love those little Philippine limes. They go great with both a San Miguel Light Beer or a Diet Coke!
So what am I going to do with Leo’s Calamasi?. Today the heat hit 90 degrees, so let us Think Cool. And what is Cooler than a freeze-frozen Sorbet. Being that our subject today is the Calamansi, I researched and found this Calamansi Sorbet recipe. Following it, the sorbet is now in the freezer, chilling out. Here’s the recipe:
Calamansi Sorbet Recipe
Makes about 3 cups
1. In a medium sized saucepan mix ½ cup of water with 1 cup of sugar (or sugar substitute)
2. Add 2 tsp. of Calamansi Zest. Heat, stirring often until sugar is dissolved.
3. Remove from heat and add 1-1/2 cups of water. Chill in refrigerator.
4. After chilling, squeeze ½ cup of Calamansi Juice (fm. 24 limes) into the chilled sugary juice.
5. Freeze the sorbet in your ice cream maker, according to direction from your ice cream maker manufacturer.
6. Taste. Add Calamansi to sweeten or water to make it less sweet.
7. Freeze. (which the sorbet has been doing and is now firm.)
SCOOP. SCOOP. Plop into small dish. Spoon up a taste.
Let it sit on the tongue as it melts. Not bad. The Cold part is good, but the taste is too tart for my plebian taster, so I sprinkle on a bit more sweetener. Better. Feet up, sitting in front of the fan, I savor dish # 1, knowing there’s much more where this came from.
In summation, I think making the sorbet with our lemons or limes would have better suited my personal taste, but the London Olympics have me thinking International today, the last day of the games. In tribute to the Brits for staging wonderful games, Calamansi Sorbet it is.