Does your favorite key lime pie recipe call for fresh or bottled key lime juice? When it comes to baking, I always assume that fresh is better, but key limes can be so difficult to find—not to mention expensive! So, could I use bottled juice or regular limes instead?
To find out, I made my all-time favorite key lime pie recipe—discovered after testing nine key lime pies in one day—to answer the ultimate question: how much does it really matter if you use fresh key lime juice, bottled key lime juice, or fresh regular lime juice?
How I Conducted the Taste Test
To conduct the taste test, I made three pies following the same recipe—the winning recipe, which comes from Cook’s Illustrated. The only difference among the three was the type of juice used. The first pie used fresh-squeezed key lime juice, the second used Joe & Nellie’s bottled key lime juice, and the third pie used fresh-squeezed Persian lime juice (aka regular grocery store limes).
I had about nine tasters do a blind taste test of all three pies and rank them in order of least to most favorite.
What the Taste Test Revealed
Bottled Key Lime Juice
The bottled key lime juice was the least popular with just one top vote out of all the tasters.
“This is my favorite because it has the best lime flavor,” said the one taster.
To most other tasters, the pie made with bottled key lime juice actually tasted the sweetest with a slightly artificial aftertaste. It did have a punchy acidic flavor, and some people might prefer this if they grew up with pies made from bottled juice since it strikes those nostalgic notes.
Fresh-Squeezed Persian Lime Juice
I was surprised that the pie made with regular lime juice wasn’t more popular. To me, this was a perfectly creamy, tart-yet-sweet pie with no astringent aftertaste.
More than one taster called this pie “the most balanced between tartness and sweetness,” and one noted it had a “limeade-esque flavor.”
Fresh-Squeezed Key Lime Juice
The winner of the taste test? Fresh squeezed key limes! Six tasters gave this pie top honors for its strong tanginess and clear, tart flavor.
“This is the winner because it’s the most tart,” said one taster.
While the pie made with regular lime juice came in second, most tasters thought this pie had an edge because of its more traditional key lime flavor.
Is it worth buying the often elusive, tiny, and hard-to-juice key limes? My data says yes! There was a general preference for the more tartness of the fresh key limes to fit with the traditional key lime pie flavor.
However, if you don’t mind a SLIGHTLY less tart option, fresh lime juice is an accessible and budget-friendly option that yields a balanced pie. In fact, regular limes will be my go-to whenever I make key lime pie going forward!