Mercado dos Pinhões, Flavors of Brazil happened across a totally unfamiliar citrus fruit at one of our favorite vendor's stand. Naturally, we had to ask the vendor what it was, and just as naturally, we had to buy some to try it out. The vendor told us that the fruit was called limão cravo, which translates into English as clove-lime (clove as in the spice). We found the name strange, as it really didn't look like a lime at all, although in Portuguese the concept of what constitutes a lime (limão) is much broader than it is in English - for example, what we know as a lemon is called a Sicilian lime (limão siciliano) in Portuguese. The fruit was larger than most limes, and the color was a bright orange, not the green that one would expect. What it looked like, in fact, was some sort of tangerine or mandarin. Here's a photo of the fruit to give an idea:
When we got back home, we peeled one immediately. The fruit was easy to peel, though the skin didn't come away from the flesh as happens with mandarins and tangerines. The skin was thin, with little of the white pulp characteristic of oranges and lemons. The flesh of the fruit looked very much like a tangerine, too, although the segments were more closely bound than tangerine segments usually are. When we popped one in our mouth we were hit with a acidic wallop - with a taste of tangerine. The fruit was as tart and acidic as a lime, but with characteristic flavors of mandarins and tangerines. It certainly wasn't something that one would peel and eat.
A bit of botanical research led us to the scientific name for this fruit (Citrus limonia Osbeck ) and its names in English. In English it's known as either the mandarin-lime or the rangpur. the mandarin-lime name comes from the fact that it is a hybrid between the mandarin and the lime, and the rangpur name comes from the city of Rangpur, Bangladesh, famous for this and other citrus fruits. So our initial taste sensation of mandarin flavors with lime acidity and tartness wasn't off the mark - those are the two parent fruits of the limão cravo.
The limão cravo grows almost anywhere in Brazil, and although it originated in China, it has become completely naturalized in this country, and grows wild in many areas. In the USA it can only be grown in Florida, but it is used commonly there as an ornamental tree. Outside of Brazil, the only commercial use of it that we were able to find was in a brand of gin produced by Tanqueray called Tanqueray Rangpur Gin. Which got us to thinking - a caipirinha made with limão cravo would probably be delicious. And guess what? It was.