Perhaps it seemed like a good idea at the time, using a name recalling the Asian origins of a popular ingredient known to lend a citrusy fragrance to dishes. 

But Waitrose has been forced to stop using the name Kaffir for its range of dried lime leaves after customers pointed out the word’s deeply racist connotations.

Clearly nobody at the supermarket chain appeared to be aware that for decades the word was used as a derogatory term for blacks, particularly under South Africa’s brutal apartheid regime.

Such is the word’s noxious legacy that it is now regarded as hate speech in post-apartheid South Africa, leading to an estate agent being jailed in 2018 for using the word 48 times against a black police officer.

Following complaints on social media and in letters to the supermarket chain, Waitrose has now announced it is to abandon the term and rename its Cooks’ Ingredients lime leaves as Makrut Lime Leaves.

Russell Davies, the host of Radio 4’s Brain of Britain, wrote on Twitter: “Why do Waitrose still sell "Kaffir" Lime Leaves under that name? "… the term Kaffir to refer to a Black African is a profoundly offensive and inflammatory expression" (Merriam-Webster). If you mean no offence, why risk causing it?

The new packaging of the dried leaves, which are a popular ingredient in South East Asian cuisine, will be rolled out to all shops and Waitrose.com by early next year, once the current stock has been sold.

Helena Dennis, Waitrose grocery trading manager, said: "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."

Waitrose said it would explain the name change on shelf labelling and recipe cards, along with its cookbooks and other literature.

The fruit and its leaves, known botanically as Citrus hystrix, are native to Sri Lanka and are also found in Mauritius and South East Asia, where the plant is known as Makrut.

It is thought it became known as Kaffir lime in reference to the Kaffirs ethnic group in Sri Lanka who traditionally smeared it on their legs and feet to ward off leeches.

However, the word Kaffir also became a term for a non-Muslim, or disbeliever, in Arabic, which was in turn applied to sub-saharan Africans who did not practice Islam. From here it became a racist insult used by South African whites against the country’s indigenous population.

"It is changes like this that ensure we are moving forward,” added Ms Dennis. “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."