The dried citrusy leaves will have a rebrand at the start of next year
Waitrose & Partners
Waitrose is changing its label on a popular South Asian product after customers pointed out that the name is deeply offensive in other parts of the world.
Kaffir lime leaves are a common ingredient in Thai and Indonesian cooking, but it turns out “kaffir” is also a racial slur in South Africa – akin to using the n-word.
The supermarket will henceforth refer to the spice as “Makrut lime leaves” following complaints from shoppers.
The word derives from the Arabic kafir, meaning “infidel” or “unbeliever”. It was originally used to refer to non-Muslims but, over time, was adopted by white colonialists to refer to black Africans, and gained traction during the apartheid, researcher Veronica Vinje pointed out in a 2014 article.
The term remains so insulting in South Africa that, in 2018, a woman was imprisoned for using it in a tirade against a black policeman.
It is unclear exactly why the name was applied to the citrus fruit, however, its appropriation appears to have its roots in Sri Lanka.
An ethnic group called the Kaffir or Kapiri, descended from African slaves, are among the country’s population. So some assume that the limes were named after them.
A Waitrose spokesperson said their main concern was not the word’s etymology but its power to cause offence.
“We have researched the history of the term, which we are aware is widely used in the industry,” she said. “We believe it’s important to avoid using any terms that may be offensive.”
The fruit is native to Sri Lanka but is also found throughout southeast Asia, including Thailand, where it is known as makrut – hence Waitrose’s new branding.
It is thought that Scottish botanist HF MacMillan introduced the fruit to the English-speaking world, using the name Kaffir lime in the late 1800s.
The leaves’ new packaging will be introduced to all stores and the supermarket’s online shop early next year.
Waitrose’s grocery trading manager, Helena Dennis, said in a statement: “This name change is a crucial step in recognising how important it is for us to listen to customers and educate ourselves when it comes to the language we use.
“While some of our customers may be unaware of the connotations of this particular word, it’s important to us that we avoid offending anyone who shops with us.
“It is changes like this that ensure we are moving forward. We need industry-wide support on this, and encourage other retailers to do the same in order to make a difference on a widespread, national scale.”