For this week's column I have been writing about the lime that is used in Thai cooking, Citrus hystrix. It is primarily the leaf that is used, and it is said to have a unique and wonderful aroma and flavor. The peel of the fruit is second most used, and the juice probably last. I've never used any part of the plant, and have always wondered if I could grow it. I have learned that the plant, while it is a tropical citrus, needing more warmth than many other kinds, has been grafted onto roots of less tropical citrus plants, which makes it better able to handle our somewhat colder soils and air, and that it can grow, and even fruit, in San Francisco and other coastal locations, given that it is planted where it will get sun on a sunny day and is watered and fertilized adequately.
But here is the question. It is often called the Kaffir lime. "Kaffir" is a highly objectionable word meaning, variously, a non-muslim or a non-white person. One place the word has been used (not so much anymore) is in South Africa. (Another plant given that name is the "Kaffir lily." That plant is the orange lily that blooms in shade, Clivia miniata. To escape from the objectionable name, we just call it Clivia.)
I have a lot of questions about the name. The plant is originally from Thailand. I don't think that's where it picked up this name, but where could it be from? Was this plant being grown in south Africa at some point?
A second perplexity is that Sunset Western Garden and other Sunset pubications call the plant the Kieffer lily. Very interesting. I wonder where this name came from. I suspect it is just a similar-sounding word that someone started using, but there is no trace of evidence about the name change, when and where?
Well, we can't just call it "lime" because there are other limes. And we can't just call it "citrus." In Thailand they call it "magrood" or "magrud," neither of which are names that would be recognized by most of us here.
I'm glad we are retiring objectionable names for any person, and I'm happy to call the plant a Kieffer lime, but it is the history of the name that I find interesting. Anyone have any info about this?