The Calamansi: Southeast Asia’s Dwarf Lime

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Five ripe calamansi fruit on a bamboo tray with one cut open to show the juicy inside.
Despite their small and unassuming appearance, calamansi fruit can pack a sour punch. Image: © dwimulyani

When it comes to citrus fruits, the first ones that usually come to mind are lemons, limes, grapefruit, oranges, and mandarins. However, there’s one citrus fruit that’s more culturally significant in Southeast Asia than all the others: the calamansi.

Popularly known as calamondin in the west, the calamansi (Citrus x microcarpa) is a citrus hybrid native to the Philippines and parts of Indonesia, Malaysia, and southern China.

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It also goes by the name Philippine lime or Philippine lemon due to that country being the only major producer of this fruit, ranking fourth on the country’s list of grown fruit crops, just behind bananas, mangoes, and pineapples. Other common names that it goes by in the tropical world include dwarf kumquat, golden lime, and Panama orange.

The fruit is primarily used as a cooking ingredient or accompaniment, but over the years it’s also been utilised as a cleaning agent. It provides health benefits when consumed in moderation, and has some commercial uses too.

A hand holding calamansi fruit with a calamansi bush in the background in front of a tropical house.
Calamansi is easily grown in the tropical garden, either in the ground or in large pots. It needs at least half a day’s direct sun. Image: © imakamis

Calamansi is a well-known ingredient in many Southeast Asian cuisines, and it is ubiquitous in traditional Filipino cooking. Additionally, both Malaysia and Indonesia make good use of this fruit in their cuisine.

It’s naturally very sour, like your average lime or lemon, but has a distinct aroma that separates itself from the other two. You can use this fruit in various condiments, marinades, sauces, desserts, drinks, and plenty more.

In the Philippines, calamansi is often used as a complement to a variety of dishes. Two traditional Filipino dishes, pancit and lugaw, make use of freshly squeezed calamansi juice to give them a fresh sour note that helps whet your appetite.

Additionally, the sourness of the calamansi plays an important role when cooking an iconic Filipino dish, sinigang. It’s a sour soup that uses either fish or pork as the protein and includes a couple of vegetables.

A plate of pancit canton with a cut calamansi fruit in the foreground.
Pancit and many other Southeast Asian dishes are usually accompanied by a cut calamansi fruit to squeeze onto the food.

Filipinos also make use of calamansi when creating a basic dip for a variety of dishes by combining calamansi juice with soy sauce or fish sauce, chopped onions, chopped garlic, and chopped chili peppers.

In Indonesia, the use of calamansi is more prevalent in the region of North Sulawesi. There, they use calamansi as a marinade to help remove the fishiness of seafood. They also have a local version of a sour soup called kuah asam.

Malaysia and Singapore likewise make use of calamansi to complement a variety of dishes. It is used to either improve the taste of the food to your liking or make it more balanced by cutting through the richness and oils of some dishes.

Other Uses of Calamansi

As well as their culinary use, calamansi fruits also make superb cleaning agents due to their natural antibacterial properties and high acidity. It works similarly to lemon and vinegar in removing stains from clothes and bathroom rust, making calamansi a great home remedy alongside those two.

Many commercial brands in the Philippines have incorporated calamansi into their products, further exemplifying how much potential it has.

Essential oils made from calamansi fruits can be used to remove bad odors from the house, keeping the place fresh and smelling good. By spraying those essential oils on bathroom floors and walls, it not only removes the bad odors but also helps eliminate bacteria.

Lastly, you can make a homemade mouthwash using calamansi juice. The fruit contains plenty of antibacterial properties that help eliminate bad breath and disinfect your mouth.

Health Benefits

As a citrus fruit, calamansi contains high levels of Vitamin C. It’s also abundant in Vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and antioxidants. Many Southeast Asian cultures make use of calamansi as a beauty product. Slicing the fruit in half and scrubbing it all over your body is said to help make your complexion lighter and remove dark spots or acne scars on your body.

Due to its high content of antioxidants, it helps promote skin growth as it removes dead skin and aids your body in forming new skin cells. Calamansi also contains anti-inflammatory tannins that can help control abdominal swelling.

A glass of calamansi juice on a table surrounded by green calamansi fruit.
Fresh calamansi juice is said to have several health benefits, but should be consumed in moderation due to its acidity. Image: © Nokuro

Drinking calamansi juice is said to help regulate sugar levels inside your body and lower bad cholesterol. It may also help to detoxify toxins from your gallbladder, liver, kidneys, and colon.

Other claims that are made by traditional health practitioners about calamansi juice are that it promotes collagen growth inside the body, aids in weight loss by helping to eliminate stored fat inside the body, increases the body’s metabolism, and improves bowel movements, thus preventing constipation.

How to Make Calamansi Juice

It doesn’t take a whole lot of steps or fancy ingredients to create calamansi juice. All you need is a few calamansi fruit, a knife, and a glass of water. Simply slice the calamansi fruits in half. Then squeeze the juices out of each one into a glass of water. Stir well and give it a taste.

If it’s too bland, you can add more freshly squeezed calamansi juice to the glass. You can also add a little sugar or syrup to help tone down the sourness. Add a few cubes of ice if you want to enjoy a cold drink.

Despite all the benefits that calamansi juice provides, it’s best to enjoy it in moderation. Overconsumption of calamansi could lead to various health complications. While calamansi is full of anti-inflammatory tannins and helps relieve stomach pain, it’s also highly acidic. Consuming too much of it, especially for those with acid reflux problems, can easily upset your stomach and induce cramping.

Additionally, it can also lead to kidney problems. Because of the detoxifying traits that calamansi has, abusing this may do harm to your kidneys, both of which should already doing their work without any outside help.

Lastly, drinking too much calamansi juice can cause damage to your tooth enamel, a trait that all citrus fruits share. One way to combat this is to use either a metallic or glass straw to drink the juice and lessen its exposure to your teeth. You can also rinse your mouth after you finish drinking the juice to help remove any leftover residue.

How to Propagate Calamansi

Calamansi is one of the easiest plants to grow in a tropical garden. As well as providing fruit, it makes an attractive ornamental shrub that is resistant to most pests and diseases. Mealy bug is usually the only thing that bothers it, and that can be easily removed with soapy water.

It grows readily from seed. If you don’t already have a calamansi bush in your garden, you can pocket a few complementary calamansi from a restaurant to bring home or buy some calamansi fruit at a supermarket. After taking the seeds out of the fruit, remove the outer pulpy layer of the seeds. Plant the seeds in a pot containing damp potting soil. Bury the seeds just deep enough for the soil to cover the seeds.

Place the pot in a brightly lit place, but out of the direct sun. If it’s in the middle of the dry season with cool nights, you can cover the pot with clear plastic to help maintain a warm and moist environment for the seed to germinate.

Green calamansi fruit growing on a mature calamansi bush.
Calamansi bushes fruit prolifically once established. Two bushes are usually sufficient for the average household. Image: Rubeb Sukatendel

After few days, the seeds should start to produce the first sprouts. Once the sprouts are a couple of inches high with at least two leaves, transplant them into individual pots. If the seedlings become root bound in the pot before they are large enough to plant in the garden, then you’ll need to transplant them to a larger pot to avoid the root ball drying out.

An 8-inch pot is usually sufficient for growing-on plants that you want to transfer to the garden, but if you want to continue to grow the calamansi in a pot, you’ll need to transfer it to a 12-inch or larger pot. If you try to grow it in a pot smaller than that, it is unlikely to produce much fruit.

Of course, if you don’t have the time or patience to raise your calamansi from seed, you can buy a ready-to-plant bush from a local nursery. As they are so easy to propagate, even a two-foot-high bush in a black plastic bag that is already fruiting will not be that expensive. And you can start using the fruit straightaway.

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3 COMMENTS

  1. During my younger years, and long before the existence of glutathione, I used calamansi as a whitening agent by mixing it in the pail of water.

  2. Je ne sais même pas comment j’ai atterri ici, mais j’ai pensé que cet article était excellent. Je ne sais pas qui vous êtes, mais il est certain que vous allez devenir un blogueur célèbre si vous ne l’êtes pas déjà.

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