Why the Name ‘Kaffir Lime’ Is Wildly Offensive to Many
Maybe you’ve seen them in a specialty shop, or tasted the tangy leaves in your favorite curry, but the kaffir lime, as it’s commonly known in North America and beyond, is in serious need of a name change.
Or so says Veronica Vinje, a master’s student in Intercultural and International Communications at Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, the woman behind the @KaffirNoMore‘s Twitter campaign, an initiative to rename the kaffir lime (henceforth referred to as the k-lime) because of the racist nature of the k-word.
The k-word – a term that comes from the Arabic word kafir, meaning non-believer or infidel – is a highly offensive, even legally actionable, racial slur in South Africa. However, as Vinje states on the Twitter account, the @KaffirNoMore campaign is not about the history of the term, but removing the word from our vocabulary before it becomes totally engrained.
Vinje says there’s no reason why we shouldn’t enjoy this imported treat, but there’s no reason to import the offensive name as well. This of course brings up the issue of what to call this disputed fruit, a question that Roger Mooking, celebrity chef and host of the Cooking Channel’s, Man Fire Food, says has an obvious answer.
In Southeast Asia, where the fruit originates, it’s called Makrut, a perfectly viable option for North American gourmands.
He says in Southeast Asia, where the fruit originates, it’s called Makrut, a perfectly viable option for North American gourmands.
“There are all kinds of names for it, like Makrut or even lime leaves — that’s what I used to call it when I ordered it in my kitchens,” says Mooking. “I’ve been telling people in the industry for years that we need to change the name, but when you get an order list it’s always listed as a k-lime. I think for real change to happen it needs to come from the distribution side.”
Mooking says he first learned about the pejorative history of the word when he worked in the kitchen alongside a man from South Africa. After meeting the man he became intrigued with South African history and ended up stumbling upon the derogatory word while reading up about the nation.
“I recognized the word from placing orders in the kitchen, that’s when it hit me that we’ve been unknowingly using this racist term for a harmless fruit.”
Although the fruit may be harmless (and tasty), the word is not, and Vinje thinks the sooner we can rid ourselves of it the better off we’ll be.