IT’S A LIME – but not as you know it.

Filled with pink, green and champagne-coloured pearls that look like beads of caviar and burst with a tangy taste sensation in the mouth, the Australian native fingerlime is not your average citrus.

Its varietal names – red champagne, chartreuse, emerald – suggest something just a little bit fancy: a fitting way to describe this small, cylindrical rainforest fruit that is taking the world by storm.

Sunshine Coast agronomist, farmer, and owner of Green Valley Fingerlimes Jade King is at the forefront of the push to extol the virtues, both locally and internationally, of this native gem, used by Indigenous Australians for millenia both medicinally and as a food source.

Jade, who is also head of agriculture at the Glasshouse Christian College, has 2000 fingerlimes growing at her 72-acre, aptly-named property, Green Valley, a serene slice of hinterland heaven between Beerwah and Peachester where she also farms Brangus beef cattle, Wiltipoll sheep, pigs and ginger.

Food sustainability is key to Jade’s agronomist philosophy, as well as the practice of keeping all her products spray-free.

She established the fingerlime orchard at Green Valley about 10 years ago as a result of an assignment she had set for a group of agricultural students.

A few hundred trees were planted initially, which Jade thought would make an ideal market garden.

“I thought I had five years, but I was harvesting within two-and-a-half,” she tells salt.

“And suddenly, I’d become a commercial finger lime grower overnight. Then I expanded further on and more and more, and now I’m up to 2000.

“I’m pretty sure that’s enough; it does make me one of the larger growers in Australia.”

She has spent the past two years travelling overseas extensively as a Nuffield Scholar – an international scholarship that encourages agricultural learning across the globe – an experience that has allowed Jade to share her own knowledge with the world while learning about international farming and production practices.

Although the fingerlime is endemic to Australia, it is grown extensively in several countries overseas with large established farms in Guatemala, France, Spain, Thailand and many other countries.

Jade is passionate about ensuring Australian proprietorship and leadership in the production, research and marketing of this native fruit and has established the Australian Native Fingerlime Alliance with these aims in mind.

“I want to identify that it is an Australian original product; I would like Australia to lead the quality, the production and be known for such an amazing fruit,” she says.

“And also, to recognise the fact that it has been used by Indigenous Australians [for a very long time].”

The fingerlime’s uses and benefits are numerous and it is thought to contain higher levels of folate, potassium and vitamins C and E than a normal citrus fruit.

While the tree itself is thorny, the juicy crystals the fruit holds within its glossy skin are making it increasingly popular in the culinary world for use in desserts, seafood dishes and drinks.

“They always go really well with any of the creamier products, as well as seafood, anything you would put a lime with,” says Jade.

“Just put it in sparkling water, and the pearls actually dance with the carbonated water.

“It’s pretty incredible because instead of just a lime flavour, it’s an experience.

“That pop, that burst of the pearl in your mouth, is the experience side of it.

“Unlike normal lime, that you would squeeze over a salad or seafood, the pearls keep the lime all held, and that flavour explosion happens only when you burst those pearls.

“So I think they’re very unique and a really amazing Australian native product. I fell in love with them straight away.”

Green Valley Fingerlimes supplies to Network 10’s cooking show Masterchef, as well as some of the Sunshine Coast region’s most prestigious restaurants including Spirit House at Yandina and Honeysuckle at Buderim.

Outside of Australia, the fingerlimes are also in high demand – in fact, Jade says, the world cannot get enough of them.

“My main [international] market currently is Singapore, but I export to Italy, Hong Kong, Macau, all across the board,” she says.

“I’ve just recently had another contact from France wanting some more.”

She has recently returned from a trip to Germany, Ireland and Texas and plans to visit India and Sri Lanka later this year, all with the aim of spreading the word about fingerlime production. She will also be presenting her findings from the Nuffield Scholarship travels at horticultural conferences in Melbourne and Tasmania in September.

It’s not only the fingerlime’s culinary assets that are responsible for its popularity – its natural resistance to some of the diseases other citrus fruit is prone to has also piqued the international horticultural community’s interest.

“California University [in the US] is currently doing studies on them. They’ve got a great collection of fingerlimes over there that they got in for research purposes, and they are using them only for the purpose of [researching] resistance of mainstream citrus.

“So they’re amazing, and they’re full of all these genetic possibilities that can help the world in citrus production and be a unique product on its own,” Jade adds.

One of the challenges faced by Australian fingerlime growers, she explains, is the difficulty in exporting the fruit because of the quarantine guidelines for some countries.

However, she plans to mitigate this by creating a variety of other products from the limes themselves, such as dried cocktails, powders and cordials.

“I’d love to expand the opportunities of product for fingerlimes,” she says. “That will be my next endeavour.”

She also plans to expand her research interests, having established a collaboration with the University of Queensland, which has set up research trials at Green Valley.

Despite her continuing and extensive travels to some of the world’s most envious destinations, Jade is thrilled to be a part of the Sunshine Coast farming community, which she believes is a one-of-a-kind collection of some of the country’s finest produce.

“I’m pretty lucky, to be honest,” she says.

“There are some amazing producers all over this area. It’s this amazing little boutique area of food.

“It’s incredible.”