Let the age old debate begin anew.
February 12, 2008 7:29 AM   Subscribe

Guacamole-filter: which is more authentic to use in your guac recipe: lemon juice or lime?

I don't care which is better. I don't care what else you put in yours. I don't care how much of either juice you use. I don't care what your mother has always used (unless maybe you're of Latin decent and the recipe has been passed down through the generations, and the answer is lemon juice, in which case I really want to hear from you).

All I need to know is which would yield me the most traditionally authentic guacamole ever. Bonus points for reasonings as to why - this is where my google-fu has failed me.

Thank you, and may you be blessed with infinite avocado.
posted by allkindsoftime to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I know that the Key Lime is also known as the Mexican Lime, and that lime is a very common ingredient in authentic Mexican food, as evidenced by my Rick Bayless cookbooks.
posted by cerebus19 at 7:34 AM on February 12, 2008

Anecdote 1: My off-the-boat Mexican step-grandmother made it with lemon, and that's how I make it to this day.

Anecdote 2: My cousin and I sort of trade on and off who's bringing the guac to what party. When my cousin makes it, he uses lime. My recipe always gets more compliments by the same control group. ;)
posted by fusinski at 7:39 AM on February 12, 2008

Of course, I guess "off-the-boat" doesn't necessarily apply when you are referring to Mexico.
posted by fusinski at 7:42 AM on February 12, 2008

well, i think lime. mi abuela taught me to use lime. all mis tios y tias have used lime.

mi familia viene de new mejico, which has long been the home of chicanos y mestizos (and we've been there much longer than it's been a state, ?no sabes?) pero guacamole is not nearly as 'native' a food there as are tamales, enchildadas, chile colorado, y (!como no!) tortillas/sopapillas.

new mejico is not quite as tropical as old mejico (let alone california), weather-wise, and as such, guacamole wasn't really popular there until the first avocados arrived from california along with contemporary supermarket-style distribution and transport of produce, in about the 1920s-1930s or so.

still, i say lime. i didn't see too many lemons growing wild down in chiapas, nayarit, or la riviera maya, after all . . . nor did i see to many cocineros using lemons . . . in fact, i've only known the word "limon" to refer to lime . . . is there even a american spanish word for "lemon?"

posted by deejay jaydee at 7:43 AM on February 12, 2008 [2 favorites]

All I need to know is which would yield me the most traditionally authentic guacamole ever. Bonus points for reasonings as to why


Both Lemons and Limes were brought to the New World by Columbus.

Also, and I've said this before, Mexican cuisine is so highly regional that a search for "authentic" is generally a fool's errand.
posted by vacapinta at 7:44 AM on February 12, 2008 [3 favorites]

strictly speaking, the most "traditional" recipe would use neither, as no citrus is native to the americas. as i understand it, ahuacamolli would, pre-conquest, have been made with just avocados, tomatoes, and salt.
posted by wreckingball at 7:48 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

It has to be lime, since as Jaydee says it's almost impossible to find or buy lemons in Mexico, on either coast or in any valley.

Maybe we've had generations of confusion due to the word "limon" in Spanish... which most people (including English-speaking Mexicans) seem to translate as "lemon" in my experience... heck, it may be taught that way in English classes in Mexico, I don't know.

Also from experience: even when a Mexican says "lemon" they seem to mean a "green lemon", and will chose it from a fruit basket or supermarket when given the chance.... and it'll be a lime. Not the teeny key limes, but the lemon sized ones. But green. That's a limon. :)
posted by rokusan at 7:49 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

My Grandma would use lemons, to her limes were to "exotic."

The oldest Mexican cookbook I have, also most similar to my grandmother's cooking style (which is why I love it) also says lemons.

That being said. lime tastes better.
posted by Max Power at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2008

I like vacapinta's answer, though. "Authentic" is indeed a sort of foolish quest, since Mexican cuisine has always been very fluid and adaptive to whatever's on hand. That used to mean what grew nearby, then it meant whatever the conquistadors carried, and now it seems to mean whatever Wal-Mart imports.
posted by rokusan at 7:51 AM on February 12, 2008

I should add she came to the U.S. in like 1915.
posted by Max Power at 7:54 AM on February 12, 2008


Maybe you should figure out a way to get ahold of a Citron.

Here is an article about citrus plants

from the article:
"C. medica L. - Citron. This lemon-like fruit may be the progenitor species of modern lemons and limes. The peel is very thick, and the white, spongy portion of the peel is edible."

One can make the case that the flavor difference between a lime and a lemon is somewhat trivial; the citrus in this case exists to add citric acid which balances the dish and stops the avocado from going brown. A lime in this case is more effective.

On that note, it is impossible to call any citrus fruit 'authentic' as our modern citrus is completely different from any of the citrus that the Aztecs would have encountered.

Although, if authenticity is a concern in preparation it would be wise to invest in a molcajete.
posted by tev at 7:55 AM on February 12, 2008

Honestly, if you leave the avacado pit in the guacamole, it won't go brown anyway. And I really disagree that the taste difference is trivial.
posted by fusinski at 7:59 AM on February 12, 2008

OK. The fact that citrus is not native to the americas and therefore neither are "authentic" has been duly noted, and marked as a best answer to prove it. HOWEVER...

In the history of GUACAMOLE (not the americas), and assuming that said Mexican dish originated somewhere either in Mexico or what we now know as the south-western US, which is more authentic.

Thank you. I will now return to trying not to be biased in the best answer marking towards lemon.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:00 AM on February 12, 2008

>is there even a american spanish word for "lemon?"

Deary me, such Spanglish doesn't lend one credibility!

limón or citrón for lemon
lima or limón for lime
...neither for authentic guacamole (as stated above)

Near all of the Central American immigrants here make it with lima, as in limes...
posted by benzo8 at 8:00 AM on February 12, 2008

What vacapinta said. In Mexico, I mostly saw lime (meaning those little Key Limes) being used, but sometimes people would use lemon (but a smaller kind of lemon than what is normally sold in the US, and not so vividly yellow). Mexicanos I know here use whatever they can get at the supermarket -- sometimes lime, sometimes lemon, sometimes key lime. It's all equally authentic or inauthentic -- I mean, is it the recipe or the chef or the eater that makes it authentic or not? This is a more philosophical consideration than a culinary one, I think.

(Also, every guac I've eaten in Mexico has been super spicy, whereas in the US it is usually made without much chili and isn't hot at all; when I am served it here by Mexicanos it is sometimes hot and sometimes not -- I have learned to take a very small first bite before digging in. So if you are going for ultra-"authentic," you may need to get out those extra hot little chilis (piquin, maybe?) and really surprise your Super Bowl party...)
posted by Forktine at 8:03 AM on February 12, 2008

The variety of citrus fruit known as lemons in the United States did not used to be widely known in Latin America, so supermarket lemons are not authentic. Except that they are now grown as a cash crop in Mexico, so maybe they are authentic.

There are a bunch of varieties of limes, including the one that is most commonly available in US supermarkets. This is more common in Mexican cuisine. Except where other varieties of limes are more common.

Here's an academic article on the cultivation and use of limes. Here's the companion article on varieties of lemons.

Which you would use would depend on what's available. And where you're from. And what you mean by guacamole. And what you mean by authentic.

Translated cookbooks aren't much help in this debate. Limon is/was often translated as lemon (perhaps because it was assumed that lima would be used for lime?) and most cookbooks don't have pictures to make sure that we're all on the same page in regards to what to call the fruit.

But even the horticultural definitions only get you so far when beloved recipes are involved.
posted by desuetude at 8:09 AM on February 12, 2008

The question of authenticism and culture always implies an omnipotent point-of-view that is able to judge such things in an objective way. But there is always the question of "authentic to who?" and "authentic when?" and "authentic under what conditions?" Authentic to Hispanics? Which ones? Authentic to Mexicans or those of Mexican-descent? From what region? From Chiapas? When? Authentic recipe for what social class? Perhaps one group says authentic guacamole has no citrus. Another group says that as long as it has citrus, it is authentic. No mango over there. Guacamole that isn't bought in a jar here. Guacamole bought in a jar in Texas instead of "New Yuck Citae."
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:47 AM on February 12, 2008

But for me it's lime and a whole lot of it and maybe a bit of chili (not jalapeno) for spice. It's a recipe I got from my 5th generation Texan neighbor while living in Los Angeles, and according to her, it is the "authentic" recipe.
posted by mrmojoflying at 8:49 AM on February 12, 2008

You have to redefine authentic if you're going to go by "Mexican" recipes.

Guacamole is Aztec.

On an aside the biggest trick I know to the best guac is to have a heavy hand on the salt.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:53 AM on February 12, 2008

I'd imagine lime (and lemon) are as "authentic" in Mexican cuisine as tomato is in Italian cuisine.
posted by amtho at 9:07 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

Let me just point out that "authentic" and "delicious" are not synonyms. I would suggest looking for authenticity less than just the best possible guac recipe. I'm sure the ancient Mexicans weren't using Worcestershire sauce. That doesn't mean they wouldn't have, though, if they had the option.
posted by Astro Zombie at 9:35 AM on February 12, 2008

Well put, amtho. Just because neither limes nor lemons were used a thousand years ago, that does not make them equally inauthentic. It seems reasonable to me to consider "authenticity" as a continuum rather than something that either is or isn't. How else could allkindsoftime ask which is more authentic?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:38 AM on February 12, 2008

Lime, lemon, and sour oranges were found to have naturalized in Mexico in the middle of the 16th century. I would guess people would use whichever was most readily at hand, or happened to be ripe at the time it was needed. Lemons generally tolerate a bit more cold than lies, so climate would be a factor as well.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:11 AM on February 12, 2008

Pariah here. I make my guacamole without citrus at all. I love the fresh avocado flavor and the citrus just kills it for me. Color me an outsider here, but I find that (often) people who put lemon or lime in their guacamole, just about kill the dish by using too much. I know that lots of folks like that flavor but alas, not me. I use fresh tomato salsa, fresh cilantro and a bit of minced onions and avocado. Salt to taste. Just heavenly.
posted by zerobyproxy at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2008

It seems reasonable to me to consider "authenticity" as a continuum rather than something that either is or isn't. How else could allkindsoftime ask which is more authentic?

That's a good point but then I'd have to ask: authentic to where?

I can provide a data point. In Central Mexico/rural Michoacan, it is always limes. Lemons as we know them are hardly used there. When people say "limon" they are referring to what we know as limes. When they say "Lima" they are referring to a fruit I've never found here - a naranjalima which looks like a lemon but is sweet, its like eating lemonade.

When I ask authentic to where, I am referring to the fact that for many types of Mexican food its not hard to find a region that has been doing it one way for hundreds of years. But then, less than a hundred miles away find another region that would look at what the others have been doing and call it blasphemy. If people from those two regions got together to try and determine which way was "more authentic" all you'd get is a fistfight.
posted by vacapinta at 11:26 AM on February 12, 2008 [1 favorite]

My very traditional but non Mexican family (yet still hispanic)....always used Limes and not Lemons......because it is a bit more sour I always thought the taste was better. Let it be know that I have eaten so much avocados and so much guacamole that now I am unable to eat the dish (my body somehow doesnt like it...so I still fantasize about the dish a lot)
posted by The1andonly at 9:04 AM on May 20, 2008

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