Kaffir Lime Leaf Substitute – 7 Easy Citrusy Ingredients To Use

It’s a delicious treat to have Thai chicken curry or coconut curry with kaffir lime leaves. Lime leaves are a key ingredient to many Asian dishes, especially, Thai dishes.

You may want to prepare a Thai curry with a citrus flavor, but you don’t have kaffir leaves required for it. If so, what can you use in place of kaffir lime leaves?

This article examines the best kaffir lime leaf substitute you can use in a pinch, and also a little about its flavor profile and culinary uses.

What Are Kaffir Lime Leaves?

Citrus hystrix, also known as kaffir lime, Thai Lime, makrut lime, or Mauritius papeda, is a citrus fruit native to tropical Southern China and South East Asia.

Kaffir lime leaves and fruits are edible and popularly used in Asian cuisines. Kaffir lime essential oil is used in perfumery. The crushed leaves and rind of this lime plant emit a strong citrus fragrance.

The leaves have a close similarity to bay leaves in appearance, but they are more coarse.

Where can you buy kaffir lime leaves? Fresh citrusy leaves of kaffir lime can be sourced from Thailand, China, and other Southeast Asian countries. In the West, most supermarkets and online stores have them on sale in dried or frozen form.

What do Kaffir lime leaves taste like? Kaffir lime leaves have a spiced-citrus flavor that is zestier and lighter than a curry leaf or bay leaf. They have a very strong citrusy aroma and flavor, and their matured leaves can be pungent and overpowering.

Avoid eating raw lime leaves for their strong pungency may not be tolerable for everyone. But when they are cooked, their flavor permeates your dish with a pleasant citrusy flavor.

Culinary Uses of Kaffir Lime Leaves

How are kaffir lime leaves used in cooking?

Finely crushed or cut fresh lime leaves emit maximum flavor and fragrance. They are usually drizzled over your dish towards the end of cooking. In case, you have dried kaffir lime leaves, just crush the dried leaf in your hand and sprinkle it over.

These leaves are widely used in Thai, Cambodian, and Indonesian recipes. It’s an important ingredient in some Thai curry recipes and soups. Usually, lime leaves are added to meat and fish dishes for a citrusy flavor and fragrance. These leaves work well in rice dishes, sauces, marinades, or curry pastes.

Kaffir limes and their leaves are used mostly in cooking and not to be eaten raw, unlike regular limes.

Best Kaffir Lime Leaf Substitutes

Many authentic Thai dishes get their distinctive taste from kaffir lime leaves. If you are trying out a citrusy, herbaceous Thai dish you might require these leaves. If you don’t have them then no choice except to use a replacement for makrut lime to save your recipe. Consider one of the below-given substitutes suitable to the flavor profile of your dish.

1. Bay Leaves

Bay leaves have a strong herbal flavor with floral notes and exhibit some elements of clove-like flavor. They also provide a pungent kick similar to kaffir leaves suitable for savory dishes.

However, bay leaves lack a citrusy flavor. For this reason, use a little lemon zest along with bay leaves to replicate the flavor profile of kaffir lime leaves. In short, a combination of bay leaves and lemon zest could be the best substitute for kaffir lime leaves.

2. Lime Zest

If you are using lime leaves for their citrusy flavor, then lemon zest can also create the same effect in the dish. In a pinch, it’s a worthy replacement for kaffir leaves that won’t disappoint you.

Lime zest has an intense lime fragrance and a standard level of acidity akin to kaffir leaves. For every two lime leaves use the zest of one lime. Optionally, you may also use bay leaves along with lemon zest if your dish needs to be slightly pungent and herbaceous as well.

3. Lime juice

Just like the lemon zest, lime juice can also render a citrusy flavor and lime fragrance to your dish. Lime juice works exceptionally well in place of kaffir lime leaves if you are making Thai curry paste.

Note, lime juice is more acidic than lime leaves, thus a teaspoon of lime juice can matter a lot to your dish.

4. Lemon Thyme

Lemon thyme or citrus thyme is a lemon-scented evergreen mat-forming perennial plant in the family Lamiaceae. This appears like a thyme herb but with a citrusy flavor. All the more, it isn’t bitter like regular thyme.

They have a strong lemon scent and pungent notes, a lot more than kaffir leaves. The strong flavor of lemon thyme makes them a less favored alternative to kaffir lime leaves.

Lemon thyme works as a good substitute when it is combined with lemon zest and bay leaves (1/4 teaspoon of each lemon thyme and zest with one small bay leaf).

5. Persian limes

Persian lime or Tahiti limes is the common lime easily available in most places. Most varieties of Persian limes do not have seeds therefore easy to use them.  Simply cut a Persian lime in half and add them to your savory dishes, and remove the rinds before serving. Otherwise, make the lime zest out of a lime, and sprinkle it over your dish.

This lime adds a citrusy flavor and aroma to your dish like the kaffir leaves. Indeed, it’s a good alternative to kaffir lime leaves.

6. Curry Leaves

Curry leaves could be a simple replacement for kaffir lemon leaves in Indian curries. Preferably, use this option only in Indian dishes.

Curry leaves do not have the citrusy flavor and aroma of kaffir leaves but taste somewhat like anise or lemongrass with a pungent kick. Their taste is equally pleasant and satiating as kaffir lime leaves. It’s just okay when you don’t have other better substitutes on hand.

7. Other citrus leaves

Other creative options for replacing kaffir lime leaves are the leaves of other citrusy plants like oranges, lemons, or limes. They do not have much citrusy fragrance. Usually, all of them have a citrusy flavor with a good bit of bitterness.

Test them before using these citrusy leaves in your recipe; also, they won’t fit in all recipes. Use them in a little more quantity than kaffir leaves to achieve the same level of acidic sourness.

These substitutes for kaffir lime leaves are to be used only when you don’t have other better options available to you.

Final Thoughts

Kaffir lime leaves, essential in Thai cuisine, can be substituted with alternatives like bay leaves combined with lemon zest, lime zest, lime juice, lemon thyme, Persian limes, curry leaves, or other citrus leaves.

Each substitute offers varying degrees of the original’s citrusy, herbaceous flavor. Bay leaves and lemon zest closely mimics kaffir lime leaves, while lime zest and juice provide a strong citrus fragrance.

Lemon thyme, although pungent, requires moderation. Persian limes add a similar aroma, and curry leaves suit Indian dishes.

Other citrus leaves can be used, but they lack the characteristic citrus fragrance of kaffir leaves.

Related articles:

What can I use in place of sumac?

What is a good substitute for lemon verbena?

What to use instead of lemongrass?