When Life Gives You Limes: The Limeade Primer


By Mike Hawley 

[Mike is one of these guys who does most everything right. Limeade, too. – mb]  

When I’m sweating my way through the tropics (my haunts are Cambodia and all over south and central Asia), my drink of choice is lime soda, with lots of fresh squeezed lime juice. I usually don’t take sugar or syrup with it because limes are sweet enough over there, though they’re still tart. Interestingly, a pinch of salt when it’s stinking hot, or when the limes are really acidic, can help.  

Back home, up here in the frigid North (i.e., Boston, where it was simmering near 100F last week) I love limeade. Or Margeritas. Or gin and tonic with a huge amount of lime juice. But most especially, I love limeade. I like lemons, too, and what follows also applies when life gives you lemons.  

But I love limes. I guzzle limeade when it’s hot, with lots of ice, and not too much sugar. 

You might buy a 2q carton of Newman’s Own limeade, but the problem is that all prepackaged limeades are much too sweet, and it’s hard to un-sweeten things. And besides, I like my limeade with lots of pulp. (Actually, I love pulp, and pulp is good for you.) So, I make my limeade. It’s limes, sugar and water — not real complicated. The ratio is roughly 1:1.3:4 of lime juice:simple syrup:water, with another :3 of ice.  In other words, 1 cup lime juice, 1 1/3 cups simple syrup (50 percent water and 50 percent sugar, boiled together briefly), and 4 cups water.  

There is, however, one overarching mistake most people make: they buy limes the wrong way. By which I mean, even during the height of summer when limes flood the markets, supermarket limes cost $0.89 each. Maybe $0.69 if you’re lucky. Do the math. 6-8 good-sized limes yield about 1c juice and weigh about 1.5lb.  

So: You want to buy in bulk. Go to a Mexican or Brazilian market, or someplace where you get 8 or 10 limes for a dollar. Here in Boston, the Haymarket overflows with limes at 8 for a buck. For $5 or $6 (and another $3 roundtrip on the “T”) I get 40-50 limes. That’s what you want. You’ll get a quart or two of lime juice. The result is economical, and just the way you want it to taste. 

OK. Now you’re home, with your truckload of limes. At this point, if you’re one of those “will it blend?” types, you could actually make limonada: just throw two limes – yes, whole limes – in a blender, with 1/2c sugar and 8c water. Strain, and pour over ice. This works fine, but this means you have more of the bitter pith and rind, so you might use more sugar. (See: http://laylita.com/recipes/2008/05/30/limonada-lemonade-or-limeade).  

My real problem with this, though, is that you really must strain it (trust me), and there goes the pulp. Did I mention I love pulp? Another problem is that you can’t efficiently freeze it for later use. And finally, you really want to wash your limes and scrub them with a vegetable brush if you do this. You don’t know where they’ve been. They are probably covered with pesticides, rolled around in all sorts of nasties, and have been waxed more times than a girl from Ipanema. And all of that glop gets churned up into your drink this way. Then again, they say citrus peel significantly reduces skin cancer. To each his or her own. 

You get the idea: I juice the limes. And there are basically two ways to do that. One is to use a citrus squeezer, like those little green metal things. This is the quickest but it only gives you juice — no pulp. 

My preference: I use a reamer attachment on my KitchenAid and juice them all, grinding out as much pulp as I can. When I was a kid, we didn’t have any electric thingies, so I used a hand citrus reamer. To be honest, the KitchenAid widget is kind of a nuisance — unless you’ve got 40 or 50 citrus fruits to juice. (Which I do. And you will.)  

Use a big bowl for your quart or two of lime juice. Then fill up half-pint containers and freeze them. 

To 1c lime juice, add 4c water and 4/3c simple syrup (2/3c water + 2/3c sugar, dissolved over the stove). I don’t like it too sweet, and the point of using the syrup is to be able to add sweetener to taste, and not have granular bits of sugar in the bottom of the pitcher.  

If you don’t want to make simple syrup, an alternative is to just throw lime juice, sugar and water into the blender, stir (high) to dissolve the sugar. And add ice if you like, too. This gives you a slushy limeade, which is great. 

Later, when I use frozen lime juice, the water, and syrup just off the stove, are enough to dissolve the frozen lime juice with a few stirs. 

You could also make the simple syrup in advance and even mix it in with the lime juice to have your frozen concentrate ready to go. But remember, sometimes the lime juice is sweeter, other times more acidic, or maybe you used meyer lemons, so it’s best to add the syrup to taste when you mix it.  

Whether the lime juice is freshly squeezed or frozen, a 1:1.3:4 ratio is still pretty concentrated, so I put it in a pitcher and double up the volume with ice. Ahhh. Because my fridge is at about 34F, an ice-filled pitcher of limeade keeps its ice cubes for several days. But I usually drink it before all the cubes melt. For 2q limeade, I figure 600 calories. This is my idea of refreshment: 

Of course, with the ten or twenty pounds of limes you just got, you’ll need to freeze most of the juice (unless you’re making limeade for a family reunion or something). I suggest the half pint plastic deli containers (left over from holding olives or other deli treats). 

Okay, okay, I know: you can add sprigs of mint and zest and have little slices of limes floating. Just like Martha Stewart. Or add blackberry juice (http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/blackberry-limeade-recipe.html), or pomegranate, or cherry (http://www.thecookingphotographer.com/2009/05/cherry-limeade-radioactive-way.html) or lavender (http://cafejohnsonia.blogspot.com/2008/04/lavender-limeade.html). Whatever. What I like is simple, tart, iced limeade with lots of pulp. 


Posted in Cocktails, Travel, Uncategorized


  1. cybercita said...

    as it happens i just sat down at the computer with a limeade, which i made by putting water, sugar, the juice of two limes {squeezed with a wooden reamer} and ice in the blender. when i’m feeling frisky, i’ll put in a couple of drops of rose water or orange flower water.

  2. kitchngardn said...

    Please… do smooth-skinned limes really have more juice than rougher ones? I’ve always thought so… am I correct?

  3. Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the great info. I’ve been making limeade and adding about 1/3 glass limeade to 2/3 glass sparkling water, all over ice and usually in a frosted mug. Serve with a wedge of lime. Voila. Very thirst-quenching, especially after a bike ride in Atlanta summer humidity.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Nice post – I just found this since joining Twitter today. I wrote a blog entry on Friday called "When Life Gives You Limes," thinking I was being both clever and original…haha. Check it out. (My juicing method is different than yours and still yields plenty of pulp) I’d also like your opinion on the use of sweet limes… Thanks! http://agoodcooker.blogspot.com/2010/08/when-life-gives-you-limes.html

  5. Joe Moncrief said...

    I live in Rockport/Fulton, Texas and I have one very large lime tree and two smaller ones. I just finished today juicing a 5-gal bucket of lime and I have lime juice in several containers, some frozen and some juice. I guess I have about another two or three 5-gal buckets of lime still to be picked. And here, the trees bloom year around. So I will be busy with my juicer.

  6. Felicity said...

    Your blog about limes and limeade is wonderful and just what I was looking for. I was looking for a limeade recipe where I could keep the pulp and your blog was the only one that came up for me. I will try this in my Ninja when the weather warms up. I don’t know a thing about limes and I have never in my life made limeade, even from a can (unless I added it to make a bowl of punch). Thanks for being so thorough. I love that I can buy a whole box of limes, put whole limes in my ninja, and/or use the zest too! Super heart healthy! Bless you for sharing 🙂

  7. Courtney said...

    I found this recipe to try with vanilla bean simple syrup and it was a perfect ratio! The vanilla beans also added incredible texture and flavor.

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