Common lime name has racist history

'Kaffir' lime is the target of a campaign to change its name to the less offensive 'makrut.'

Campaign to rename variety of lime gaining traction in culinary world

A campaign is pushing to get the name of this lime changed to "makrut." (avlxyz via Photopin)

There is a growing campaign to change the name of a variety of lime because it is viewed as offensive by some.

"Kaffir" lime is gaining popularity as North American cooks expand their culinary horizons into Southeast Asian food. The lime's leaves are also used in parts of South Asia and Africa. It goes by many names around the world, but Veronica Vinje, a master's student in Intercultural and International Communications in Victoria, B.C., says the most common one is deeply racist.

Vinje says calling someone by this name in South Africa is akin to using the N-word to describe black people, while in the Middle East and South Asia, the name is a derisive term for non-Muslims.​

"Since there are so many other names for this lime already, I thought what's the big deal if we call it something else?" Vinje said. "Because it is becoming popular and trendy ... and it's not a very nice message to send to our citizens from Southern Africa ... that know this term from a very bad history. Why not change it to something else?"

Despite all that, the term is widely used by celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray and Gordon Ramsay.

On mobile? Click here to view a cooking video that uses "kaffir" lime leaves

But one high-profile chef is bucking the trend. Roger Mooking is a cookbook author, chef and judge on the Food Network's competitive cooking show Chopped. He says the name of a niche lime variety may seem like a small thing, but to those it offends, it's a big deal.

"If you know better, you do better," Mooking said. "A lot of people just don't know. I think if they understood that they would be walking around in the grocery saying, 'Pass that N-word lime to me' ... they just wouldn't do that. So once they realize that that's what they're doing, they revisit what they're doing. I'm helping spread that word. I take it personally."

Vinje has taken to Twitter in an effort to change the name, and has been petitioning companies and chefs to change the name to "makrut" lime. Which is the common name in much of Southeast Asia.

She has been posting pictures of recipe books that use the name in an effort to point out the problem. Roger Mooking says the campaign has been a long time coming.

"I've been telling people about this for years. It's such a common term in professional kitchens. That's the name suppliers use ... that's how you order it," Mooking said.

The makrut lime isn't much different from other foods that have had racist monikers in the past. From Brazil nuts to black licorice candy, many foods have had offensive names. Times changed for those products generations ago, now, perhaps the makrut lime campaign will gain some traction.