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Enhance Your Recipes: Top 5 Curry Leaf Substitutes Revealed

Many people may be amazed to learn that the commonly used curry leaves can offer a surprising amount of health benefits.

But, many may ask: just how do we use this herbal remedy in our food? With a unique, citrusy aroma, subtle hints of bitterness and mouthwatering flavors, curry leaves are incredibly versatile and add an extra dimension of flavor when added to meals.

And for those who can’t find these aromatic leaves at their local supermarket, there are several excellent substitutes that can help you make all your favorite dishes without them.

Let’s explore the best substitutes for curry leaves and how to get the most out of this flavorful superfood.

What are Curry Leaves?

what are curry leaves

Curry leaves (Murraya koenigii) are a fragrant leaf that are predominantly used in Indian cuisine.

These small and dark green oblong leaves have a distinctively pungent, slightly bitter flavor that adds a hint of sourness to the dish.

They have been cultivated for use in food for centuries and are considered an essential ingredient used to give traditional Indian recipes their unique taste.

Curry leaves are commonly used in south Indian vegetarian dishes like sambhar and rasam, as well as non-vegetarian curries like chicken or fish curry.

They can be used either fresh or dried, depending on the dish being prepared.

Fresh curry leaves can be added at any stage of cooking while dried curry leaves may need to be soaked in hot water before cooking.

The aroma released when the curry leaves are fried or sautéed is considered typical of south Indian cuisine and is often used to enhance the flavors of many other dishes such as dal recipes and vegetables curries.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Curry Leaves

The five popular substitutes for curry leaves include bay leaves, lemon thyme, basil, lime zest, and cilantro.

All of these ingredients have a similar flavor profile as curry leaves and can be used in many recipes that normally call for them.

let’s take a look at each one in more detail:

1 – Kaffir lime leaves

kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves, also known as Makrut lime leaves, are a good substitute for curry leaves.

They have a zesty flavor, which is why they’re often used as an ingredient in many Asian dishes.

Kaffir lime leaves are dark green on top and have a light green underside.

The leaves have a citrusy aroma and tangy flavor that can give your dish an interesting twist.

When purchasing kaffir lime leaves, look for bright-green or dark-green colored ones.

Avoid buying any that are yellowed or wilted since they’re likely no longer fresh.

Kaffir lime leaves can be stored in the freezer for months without losing their flavor or texture, so you’ll always have some ready when you need them.

2 – Lemon zest or lime zest

lemon zest or lime zest

Lemon or lime zest is one of the closest substitutes for curry leaves in terms of flavor.

The flavor can be quite strong, so only a small quantity is required.

It is best used after lightly toasting it in some butter or oil, which mellows its flavor and imparts a subtle aroma.

Zest can be stirred into a dish before serving, or sprinkled on top for decoration.

It’s also a great addition to salads, grilled fish or chicken dishes where the bright tartness provides an interesting contrast.

For a more intense flavor, grate whole lemons and limes over your dish just before serving – this imparts gorgeous freshness yet another dimension of flavor to your dinner.

3 – Basil


Basil is a great substitute for curry leaves, especially in Indian-style dishes.

It has a wonderful flavor and aroma that work very well when paired with spices such as cumin, mustard seeds, and red chili powder.

As an herb that is readily available, basil is easy to find in supermarkets and online stores.

When using basil as a curry leaf substitute, use one part dried basil for every two parts fresh curry leaves.

Basil should be added at the end of cooking time to preserve its flavor and aroma.

Depending on the dish you are making, you may need to adjust the quantity of basil to get the desired results.

4 – Bay leaves

bay leaves

Bay leaves are popularly used for their aromatic flavor in a range of Indian dishes.

They are slightly sweeter and milder than curry leaves, which can be an advantage when you’re looking for a subtle flavor.

Bay leaves work well in recipes that don’t require too much cooking time, as they have the tendency to become bitter if they’re cooked for longer.

You can get them dried or fresh and it’s best to add them to your dish at the beginning of cooking.

If you use bay leaves that are still on the stem, remove them before serving as they can be slightly spiky when eaten.

5 – Lemon balm

lemon balm

Lemon balm is an aromatic herb related to both mint and basil and native to Europe, North Africa, and southwestern Asia.

It has a lemony flavor that makes it an ideal curry leaf operator, as it is often used in salads or chicken dishes.

The taste of the leaves will vary depending on the maturity of the plant; younger plant leaves offer a stronger flavor while older ones may be more muted.

To use them as a substitute for curry leaves, simply strip the leaves off their stems, mince them finely, or substitute them one-for-one with curry leaves in any recipe.


In conclusion, knowing the unique health benefits of curry leaves and the five best substitutes to use in place of them can help you to make the most of this tradition Indian ingredient.

Adding curry leaves to your dishes can be a great way to add an extra layer of flavor and nutrition to your meals.

Curry leaves offer some potent medicinal properties, making them a great addition to a health-conscious meal plan.

However, if you cannot get your hands on fresh curry leaves or would prefer not to use them, you can easily substitute in any number of other ingredients such as dried thyme, bay leaves, cumin seeds, parsley flakes, or mustard seeds.

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