Curry leaves are a popular herb spice that originates from south India. It has an intense lemony flavor and is used in various dishes, from rice, vegetables, and soups to curries and chutneys. Curry leaves are so versatile that they have been introduced to different cuisines worldwide.
They are not only prized for their flavorful and aromatic addition, but they also boast of a variety of health benefits. These herby and citrusy leaves contain vitamins A, B, b12, and C; provide iron and calcium; helps to boost metabolism, digestion, memory, and hair growth.
However, you may, sometimes, find it challenging to source curry leaves while cooking, especially if you are outside India, which will make you seek an alternative.
Some of the best substitutes for curry leaves that you can use include lemon line, lemon zest, kaffir lime leaves, bay leaves, lemon balm, and basil.
What Are Curry Leaves?
Curry leaves are also known as sweet neem; the leaves are gotten from a subtropical tree found in India. The tree produces glossy green leaves with a teardrop shape; these leaves can be used fresh or dried for different culinary purposes.
It’s worth noting that curry leaves are different from curry powder and do not share a similar taste despite their name, many people assume curry powder is made from ground-up curry leaves, but that is false.
Curry leaves are gotten from a citrus tree, which gives them leaves a slight citrus taste, very similar to lemon or lime, but with a little earthier undertones. These leaves have a fresh and warm flavor and a spicy aroma similar to aniseed or anise.
Curry leaves are commonly used in Asian cooking, particularly South Indian cooking; they are usually used alongside ghee and other spices to make curries and other recipes.
They are also a big part of Ayurvedic medicine and have been used to help regulate cholesterol and blood sugar levels; it also has anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial abilities.
Curry leaves are not very widespread, unlike curry powder; this is due to the citrus greening disease linked to the curry leaf tree, so its spread has to be kept in check.
So what do you do when you want that citrusy but herbal warm notes in your dish, and you don’t have curry leaves at hand?
Here are a few curry leaf substitutes that you can use to achieve a great tasting dish just as you would with curry leaves.
Best Substitutes For Curry Leaves
1. Kaffir Lime Leaves
This is undoubtedly one of the best substitutes for curry leaves in many recipes. Kaffir limes are also known as makrut lime, and they work perfectly well in the replacement of curry leaves.
Its flavor is very similar to curry leaves and works so well in their place. Kaffir lime is also a key ingredient used in many Indian dishes.
Both leaves have a similar appearance; they both have a glossy, green color and a teardrop shape. The only significant difference is that the leaves of the kaffir lime are slightly more citrusy in taste than that of the curry leaf.
However, this is only a slight difference, and you may be unable to tell them apart, so you can use kaffir lime leaves in almost all of the recipes that call for curry leaves.
It can be added to stir fry dishes, curries, soups, and even rice. They can be used to season fish dishes, meat, and various Thai dishes.
Replace curry leaves with the same amount of kaffir lime leaves, so if the recipe calls for five curry leaves, add five kaffir lime leaves.
2. Lemon Zest or Lime Zest
The zest of a lemon or lime is another excellent substitute for curry leaf in many recipes. The citrus taste and aroma of curry leaf, although milder, can be replicated by the zest from a lemon or lime.
This is a quick substitute for when you are in a pinch and really need that little kick of citrus flavor, like lemon, or lime zest, which is something you can easily get your hands on.
You will need unwaxed lemons limes for this purpose, as you do not want a load of wax in your zest when you grate the peel directly.
Also, try to use the freshest lemons or limes possible; choose organic if you can. Zest the peel of the citrus fruit and then store the rest of the fruit properly, as they can be juiced and used for other recipes or added to baked treats and smoothies.
Lemon or lime zest has a very pungent and fresh aroma. This is due to the oil contained within the rind of the fruit. So you only need a small quantity in your recipes.
When using lemon or lime zest in place of curry leaves, bear in mind that it has a much stronger citrus flavor, so you only need a small amount in order to prevent it from overpowering the flavor of your dish.
You will need half the amount of lemon or lime zest compared to curry leaves. So adjust your recipe accordingly; if it calls for one teaspoon of curry leaves, you will need just half of a teaspoon of lemon or lime zest.
You can use more or less zest depending on your tastebuds but bear in mind that the flavor of citrus is more intense than that of curry leaves.
Basil is commonly used in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines, unlike curry leaves that are associated with dishes from south India.
This doesn’t make basil any less of an excellent substitute for curry leaves. It can be added alongside the zest of a lemon or lime to better replicate the flavor of curry leaves in recipes.
Basil is quite similar to curry leaves in terms of appearance and texture but may have a slightly different flavor.
Basil does not give dishes an extra citrus tang like curry leaves, but it is undoubtedly very fresh like a curry leaf. It is also aromatic with a slight minty taste, quite similar to anise.
Adding some citrus will make up for the tangy keynotes of curry leaf, and they can be used in different recipes.
You’ll need an equal amount of basil leaves as the recipe requires for curry leaves, then add in a pinch of lime or lemon zest; you can even add a splash of the citrus juice to intensify the flavors even more.
Basil can be used in place of curry leaves in soups, salads, dips, and curries, both in Asian and Mediterranean cuisines.
4. Bay Leaves
This is yet another flavorful spice leave used in Asian dishes and as a garnish in Indian curries and other recipes.
Bay leaves do not have a similar taste to curry leaves but possess certain similarities, one of which is their appearance. They are minty and earthy, with a slight sweetness.
Bay leaves are easily sourced and a common ingredient in many households; in fact, you may have some in your pantry.
They can be used in various dishes, but keep in mind that they do not have a similar citrus flavor, just like curry leaves but provide a fresh taste and pungent aroma to dishes.
The ratio of substitution for curry leaves depends on the recipe, but keep in mind that bay leaves have a really overpowering flavor, so they should not use in large quantities.
If possible, add them leaf by leaf, tasting as you do until you achieve your desired taste instead of using a direct substitute conversion ratio.
Bay leaves can be used as a substitute for curry leaves in different recipes such as Indian curries, casseroles, stir-fries, soups, and sauces. They also pair really well in meat and fish dishes.
5. Lemon Balm
Your typical garden herb lemon balm has an earthy herb flavor and is quite similar to curry leaves; it boasts of a fresher citrus taste and an overall intense flavor but is a little sweeter than curry leaves.
Lemon balm makes an excellent substitute for curry leaves for when you are in a pinch, as you probably already have some at home.
However, they have a mild flavor, so you may need to use a little more of it when using it in place of curry leaves to achieve the same depth of flavor.
Lemon balm pairs well with warm meals such as curries, soups, sauces, and casseroles.