5 Powerful curry leaf substitute options

curry leaf substitute
Curry leaves are known for their complex citrusy flavor. As they’re not as widely available in the US, many chefs face the challenge of finding a suitable replacement. Good substitutes include lemon zest or bay leaves.

What does curry leaf taste like?

The curry leaf tree (Murraya koenigii) — not to be confused with the Mediterranean curry plant — is native to South India and Sri Lanka. It has an intense aroma and a citrus flavor that adds richness and some bitter notes to an array of dishes, such as soups, stews, dals, and curries.

Though some compare its taste to anise and lemongrass, fresh curry leaves deliver a distinct, subtle flavor that any other ingredient can’t exactly duplicate.

What is the difference between curry leaves and curry powder?

Curry leaves vs. curry powder
Curry leaves vs. curry powder
Curry leavesLeaves from the curry plantUsed fresh, in Southeast Asian (Thai, Malaysian) and South Asian cuisine
Curry powderA spice mix featuring common Indian spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cayenneA versatile ingredient found in many recipes, ranging from stews and stir-fried to pasta and salads

Curry leaves are leaves from the curry plant. On the other hand, curry powder is a spice mix featuring common Indian spices like coriander, turmeric, cumin, and cayenne. 

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Commonly used as fresh, curry leaves are a staple in Southeast Asian (Thai, Malaysian) and South Asian cuisine, especially Indian dishes. Together with mustard seeds and cumin, these leaves are the key ingredients of the country’s signature aromatic base, make tadka.

Fresh leaves can last up to two weeks when refrigerated; up to six months when you put them on a Ziplock and store them in your freezer. Dried curry leaves can last up to three months or even a year (seal them in an airtight bag). However, their dried version will have a less intense but more herbal feel.

Besides fish and vegetables, curry leaves pair well with other kitchen staples such as lentils, coconut milk, turmeric, and mustard dishes.

Curry powder is also a versatile ingredient found in many recipes, ranging from stews and stir-fried to pasta and salads. Because of the many types of spices it contains, this rich spice mix adds a sweet and savory flavor — and some heat — to dishes. 

Can you replace curry leaves with curry powder?

You cannot substitute curry leaves and curry powder for one another. These two have different flavor profiles.

What to use if you don’t have any curry spices at home?

Here’s a list of five curry leaf substitute options you can try.

  1. Lemon zest
  2. Bay leaves
  3. Lemon balm
  4. Basil
  5. Makrut lime leaves
Lemon zestOne of the best substitutes for curry leaves, goes well with , rice meals, soups, and broths
Bay leavesHave a sweet, earthy, and citrusy taste, with some peppery notes, ideal for cooking curries, stir-fries, stews, and casseroles
Lemon balmHave a predominantly minty flavor, still work well with soups, salads, and stuffing recipes
BasilSweet and floral, used when cooking Thai curries
Makrut lime leavesPack an intense citrusy flavor, used in steamed meats, soups, and salads

1. Lemon zest

Lemon zest
Lemon zest

Lemon zest refers to the shredded rind or outer layer of lemon. Loaded with essential oils, it’s one of the best substitutes for curry leaves if you’re looking for those citrus notes. This one also has a pleasant aroma plus a tangy taste, so follow a 1:½ ratio when using it as a swap. 

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While you can use the zest for curries, rice meals, soups, and broths, you can maximize the citrus fruit by using it as a juice, smoothie, or dessert.

2. Bay leaves

Bay leaves
Bay leaves

Think of bay leaves as Mediterranean curry leaves. They are widely used in many cuisines. However, unlike curry leaves, they have a sweet, earthy, and citrusy taste, with some peppery notes. Because of their flavor profile, only use 1 bay leaf for ½ cup of curry leaves. 

They work best when cooking curries, stir-fries, stews, and casseroles. Because of their hard texture, make sure to remove them before serving the food.

3. Lemon balm

Lemon balm
Lemon balm

Lemon balm belongs to the mint family. While lemon balm leaves have a predominantly minty flavor, they still provide a refreshing citrus-like aroma that makes them a great substitute for soups, salads, and stuffing recipes that originally call for curry leaves. For every 3 curry leaves, use 2 lemon balm leaves.

4. Basil

Basil
Basil

Typically used in Asian and Italian cuisine, this herb from the Mediterranean region boasts a flavor profile that’s both sweet and floral. If you’re using basil leaves as a swap for curry leaves, you must combine them with a trace of lime zest and juice (for the leaves themselves, follow a 1:1 substitution ratio). 

You can best use basil as a swap when cooking Thai curries. These particular curry dishes have the sweet and floral undertones that basil leaves provide.

5. Makrut lime leaves

Makrut lime leaves
Makrut lime leaves

Makrut lime leaves (also called kaffir lime leaves) lie at the heart of Thai cuisine. They lend an intensely citrusy flavor to dishes. If you want to use them as a curry leaf replacement, use them in smaller amounts. Substitute 10 curry leaves with 6 of these lime leaves.

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Apart from Thai curries and fish dishes, you can also incorporate them in steamed meats, soups, and salads.

How to extend curry leaf shelf life so you never run out of it again

Once you’ve got yourself some curry leaves from one of your favorite Indian and Asian cuisine-specializing grocery stores, it’s time to think about the proper storage.

If you want to prolong their shelf life — and never worry about finding the best curry leaf substitute — check out these tips.

  • Wash the leaves, then remove extra water by spinning in a salad spinner or patting them dry. Put them inside a paper towel, then place the towel in a vacuum-sealed bag. Store in your refrigerator.
  • Instead of putting them in a paper towel, get a Ziplock bag and store your leaves in the freezer.
  • You can also air-dry them, but you will have to substitute with a 2:1 ratio because dried curry leaves are less potent than fresh ones.

If you want to guarantee their freshness and strive to live that garden-to-table way of culinary life, consider growing a curry leaf tree yourself.

Randell

Randell loves experimenting in the kitchen (with his family and friends as willing victims). He sees cooking as a great adventure. To enjoy that, he believes this is the recipe: a tad of creativity, a dash of courage, a pinch of humility, and a ton of love.

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