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Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes

July 31, 2007

This is the first edition of our new column called "Ask a Brazilian". It is meant as a bit of fun and answers should not be construed as expert opinion or the definitive reply on the matter. For that reason we ask you to please send comments and experiences in order to add to our replies.


This may be silly but it is something for which I have yet to receive a good answer. In the USA, we consider the color of a lemon as yellow and a lime as green. In Brazil, it is the opposite. What‘s up with that? Obrigado. Bob.

Olá, Bob,

I understand what you say, but remember lemons can be green and yellow, the same happens with limes.

Probably the lemon you use is the yellow one, but here it‘s common to use the green, especially for caipirinhas and salads.

Check on Google for Lima and Limão pictures, you will see what I‘m talking about.

Beijo pra você,

Vanessa T. Bauer

Readers comments:

I have been asking the same question of Brazilians for 18 years and have come up against the same wrong answer every time... it drives me nuts.

In the English language, a lime is a green fruit when ripe (citrus aurantium) This is what is referred to in Brazil as limão, and incorrectly translated every time as lemon.

A lemon is a yellow fruit, (citrus limon) usually referred to as lima (usually lima da persia) in Portuguese. The correct translation to English from Portuguese for limão is LIME, not lemon.

I am curious to know how this mistranslation came about, because it is universal amongst Brazilians.

-- Chris

Regarding limes and lemons, I have a few comments. The first is that it‘s fairly easy to see where the mistranslation comes from: LIMA - LIME, LIMÃO - LEMON. This mess is not specific to citric fruits and are known as false cognates. The yellow fruit referred to as Lemon, often used in slot machines with two extended parts along its axis, is a "Limão Siciliano" and not "Lima da Pérsia".

These are the most common kinds of "Limões" in Brazil. There are a lot more of them like "Limão Cravo" which is orange coloured and "Limão Galego" which is also used in caipirinhas and is yellow coloured.

When in doubt, trust your eyes. Look at the picture below and you shall never get the wrong meaning again (from left to right: Lima da Pérsia, Limão Siciliano, Limão Tahiti).



-- Vitor

The explanation by Vitor is perfect. I would like to add that in Brazil we also use a kind of "limão" that we call "limão casca fina", which happens to be very good to prepare "caipirinha". This one is known in the USA, or at least in Florida, as "key lime" and is used to make the "Key Lime Pie".

The yellow fruit called lemon in the USA and, as Vitor said, we call "limão siciliano" in Brazil, is also very much used in Italy and probably comes from Sicily. This is also probably the reason why we call it "siciliano", which means Sicilian.

-- Luiz


Are there any burning questions you have about São Paulo or Brazil in general, or other issues that you‘re curious about, such as Brazilian culture? If so, send your questions to gringoes@gringoes.com with "Ask a Brazilian" in the subject. We will forward to our Brazilian experts, and publish the best questions (and replies) on the site.




Previous questions in this article series:

Ask a Brazilian: Lemon and Limes
Shocking Showers

8/2/2010


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