The Elusive Appeal of Bengal’s Gondhoraj Lebu

Few outside Bengal have been able to appreciate the delights of the "king of aroma." But thanks to a new generation of chefs, the citrus is slowly making its way into cuisines across India.

Tania Banerjee

August 6, 2021

The Elusive Appeal of Bengal’s Gondhoraj Lebu
Gondhoraj Lebu (Shutterstock)

Summers in Kolkata are synonymous with gondhoraj lebu, a citrus fruit that stands true to its name of the “king of aroma.” You’ll find slices of the lime lining dining tables in every household, alongside bowls of vegetables, fish, and rice. A squeeze of it — the fruit is notoriously low on juice but high on aroma — on dals and curries imparts a very light sourness and a distinct fruity smell. But for as ubiquitous as the thick-skinned fruit is in Bengal, it is even more curious, then, that it is almost non-existent outside the region.

Most citrus species originated in northeast India and its surrounding regions, including China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, and southeast Asia. Natural cross-pollination among different citrus species gave rise to several hybrids, including gondhoraj lebu. Still, the gondhoraj lebu is shrouded in mystery: scientists still aren't quite sure how it came to be, and few outside Bengal even know of the fruit, partly because of how difficult it is to grow outside the region. But thanks to a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs, gondhoraj lebu is slowly, but surely, making its way into cuisines across India.

“There is a probability that gondhoraj lebu is a cross between sour orange [citrus aurantium] and citron [citrus medica],” said Pinaki Acharyya, an associate professor in horticulture at the University of Calcutta, though the plant’s exact genetic makeup is unknown. “Till date, very little research work has been done on gondhoraj lime, hence there is no conclusive result.”