Are Limes Unripe Lemons? The Truth

Lemons and limes have a surprisingly complex history, which is in part due to the generally complex nature of the citrus genus itself. Both lemons and limes aren’t “pure” species. Both of them have developed due to centuries of hybridization.

The two primary types of limes are Key limes and Persian limes. Key limes are the offspring of two wild tropical Asian citrus species – citrons and micranthas. And Persian limes are a combination of four citrus species: micranthas, pomelos, mandarin oranges, and citrons.

As for lemons, a study of the genes of the lemon found that it’s a hybrid between bitter orange and citron. 

So, you can see that citron is a common element between the various types of limes and lemons. But, is there a stronger connection? Are limes actually unripe lemons? No, they’re not. However, since limes eventually turn yellow if they become fully ripe, it’s easy to mistake fully ripe limes for lemons. 

Read on to learn more about the differences between lemons and limes. I’ll explain the benefits and drawbacks of each, as well as sharing some great uses for them both. 

Is a Lime an Underripe Lemon?

No, a lime isn’t an underripe lemon.

Whilst limes and lemons are very close relatives, they’re still in fact different fruits entirely and have different genetics.

If you’ve ever seen a lime that’s fully ripe, you’ll notice that it no longer has its signature lime green color. In fact, fully ripe limes are actually yellow. And, if you’ve gone even further and tasted a fully ripe lime, you’ll also notice a stark difference in the taste. The taste we’re accustomed to is actually that of an unripe lime. Once they’re fully ripe they become overly bitter and generally don’t taste very good.

This is interesting as it’s one of the only cases where we don’t use the ripe fruit of a species.

What’s the Difference Between Limes and Lemons?

Although limes and lemons are related, they have separate DNA and thrive in different conditions. Lemons are typically cultivated in temperate areas, whilst limes are usually found in subtropical and tropical settings.

They do, however, have a comparable flavor and fragrance.

Both of these fruits are widely recognized for their bitter and acidic tastes and are utilized in comparable ways in cooking or baking, frequently providing simple replacements for one another if necessary.

But, while their flavors are comparable, they are generally easily distinguishable. So, you could possibly use a lime as a lemon substitute (or vice-versa) but, there will be a noticeable difference in the taste, as limes are a bit more bitter than lemons. 

They’re also popular as essential oils, which may be utilized for medicinal and aesthetic purposes, as well as to add fragrance and grease-busting power to cleaning products.

Physical Differences Between Limes and Lemons

Usually, the physical differences between limes and lemons are quite obvious, as one is generally thought of as green and the other is yellow.

But, as I mentioned before, if a lime is completely ripe, it becomes yellow, making it harder to distinguish from lemons. However, there are some other differences as well. Limes are also smaller and rounder than lemons. They are usually only about one to two inches in diameter. While lemons are about twice the size at about two to four inches in diameter with a more oval shape, closer to the shape of a football.

And when it comes to the fruit trees that they grow on, there are also some obvious differences, the main one being the size of the tree. A lemon tree can grow quite large – up to 20 feet tall at times with broad branches and large leaves. On the other hand, a lime tree is usually much shorter and more slender. 

Lime vs Lemon Nutrition

If you compare the nutritional values of lemons versus limes, you will see more similarities than differences. However, there are some areas in which each has the nutritional edge over the other.

When comparing the two, I will use the nutritional value of one lime versus one lemon. It’s important to note that the average size of them as well. One average lemon is 84g and one average lime is 67 grams. This is important because this reflects the nutrient density of each. 

When it comes to the macronutrients like calories, protein, fat, carbohydrates, sugars, and fiber, the results are almost identical. There is more of every macronutrient in lemons, but the difference is proportional to the size of the fruit, meaning that the nutrient density is roughly the same. 

The biggest difference in the overall nutritional value between limes and lemons is in the vitamins and minerals.

Despite the smaller size, one lime actually has a higher calcium content than lemons. They have 22.1 mg of calcium while lemons only have 21.8 mg. However, that is the only advantage limes have in that regard. Otherwise, when it comes to potassium vitamin c, and folate, there is more in lemons than limes. In lemons, there is 116 mg potassium, 44.5 mg vitamin c, and 9.25 mcg folate. While in limes there is only 68.3 mg potassium, 19.5 mg vitamin c, and 5.36 mcg of folate.

Ultimately though, both fruits are very healthy for you. 

Uses for Limes

I mentioned earlier that you can pretty easily substitute lemons and limes, however, there are many times when replacing a lime or lemon with their counterpart would drastically change the flavor of the food or drink.

Whilst there are many different meal and drink recipes that use limes or lime juice, one of my favorites is key lime pie. This is one of my go-to summer dessert recipes that is sure to please a crowd. Another refreshing way to use limes is of course in a mojito – another summer classic. It’s fair to say that I am a pretty big fan of summer. 

Some other classic ways to use limes are: 

  • Ceviche
  • Cucumber lime water
  • Sparkling lime water
  • Pico de gallo
  • Fruit salad

Uses for Lemons

While there are many different recipes that use lemon from Spaghetti al Limone to lemon ice cream, there are also many ways that you can use lemons and lemon juice that aren’t in food or drinks. Lemons are also a great tool for various “life hacks” around the house.

You can use it to eliminate fridge odors, remove stains, whiten your clothes, or even keep bugs out. 

Additionally, both in your cooking and cleaning you can use lemons for: 

  • Lemon flank steak
  • Lemonade 
  • Cleaning vinegar
  • Freshen your garbage disposal

Pros and Cons of Limes

Both limes and lemons, of course, have their own set of pros and cons. Here are some of the pros and cons of limes. 


  • Lime helps eliminate joint pain, stiffness, arthritis, and other joint issues caused by inflammation.
  • They protect against cold and flu illnesses.
  • Uric acid can be reduced by using lime.


  • Limes are smaller than lemons and require more of them.
  • Lime contains half the vitamin C content of lemon.
  • Excessive intake of lime water may result in the death of male sperm cells.

Pros and Cons of Lemons


  • Lemon consumption lowers the risk of cancer.
  • It helps to strengthen the immune system.
  • Lemon is effective against allergies.
  • Lemon’s citric acid helps to avoid kidney stones.


  • Excessive consumption of lemon might lead to the development of GERD (Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease).
  • Lemon extracts can harm your teeth by dissolving the enamel.
  • Cavities can be caused by combining sugar and lemon water.

Limes vs Lemons – Which is Healthier?

Though lemons and limes are quite different fruits, they have many similarities, particularly in terms of nutritional content and possible health advantages. Lemons and limes are nearly similar in terms of macronutrient content – carbohydrates, protein, and fat – with limes claiming a minor advantage in carb and calorie content.

Lemons contain more vitamin C than limes, although both supply a considerable amount of this vitamin in the diet. They both also include somewhat more vitamins and minerals than oranges, including potassium, folate, and vitamin B6.

Since they both have similarly high levels of such beneficial nutrients, it’s no surprise that many traditional herbal medicine practices have been known to use not only lemons and limes but citrus fruits as a whole. 

Citrus fruits in general also contain a plethora of other plant chemicals that have been shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antibacterial effects. Several studies show that these chemicals may help prevent heart disease and some forms of cancer, such as breast and colon cancer. However, currently, research on the possible medical and pharmacological advantages of lemons and limes is restricted to animal and test-tube investigations. Finally, additional study is required to establish whether these fruits can successfully cure human diseases.

So, you can see, while lemons may be slightly healthier, you can’t go wrong choosing either one.