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Substitute for Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir is derived from an Arabic word that means infidel; how this came about is still a mystery to history scholars. Following the takeover of the Swahili coast, Muslims used the term to refer to the non-Muslim indigenous Africans, who were increasingly abducted for the Indian Ocean slave trade, which reached a height in the fifteenth and sixteenth century.

Kaffir lime is a perennial shrub and a member of the citrus family. It’s mostly grown in Southeast Asia and some nearby countries, including India, Nepal, and Bangladesh. The kaffir lime fruit is green but turns yellow as it matures. Kaffir lime leaves are the edible leaves that are part of the plant. kaffir lime leaves come from the kaffir lime plant. Kaffir lime is exotic citrus native to South-Eastern Asia. It is also called makrut limejeruk purut (in Indonesian), or Mauritius papeda. In South Africa, kaffir lime leaves may be known as Thai lime or K-leaves.

This plant has hourglass-shaped leaves that would remind you of the citrusy aroma of lemons.  The leaves turn a dark-greyish color when they mature, and its texture is slightly courser than bay leaves. Kaffir lime leaves have a strong citrusy flavor blended with a note of pungency. They also have a bitter taste of green leaves, which people find too tough to eat raw or alone.

Kaffir Lime Leave Recipes

There are numerous ways to take advantage of the distinctive flavor of this leaf. Below is a list of recipes with kaffir lime leaves.

  • Superfood Thai Green Curry
  • Tom Yum Goong
  • Curry Chicken
  • Tom Yum Noodle Soup
  • Gai Tom Kha
  • Peanut and Red Thai Curry Spicy Beef Stew with Coconut
  • Basic Chicken Larb
  • Beef Rendang
  • Vegan Tom Yum Soup

Substitute for Kaffir Lime Leaves

There are a few reasons that may warrant kaffir lime leaves substitution. One of which is the scarcity and rarity of the spice. Kaffir lime leaves may be difficult to find outside Asia since they are exotic citrus native. Also, some people may not enjoy the strong flavors, which may indicate that you need to find a good replacement. Below is a list of worthy substitutes or kaffir lime leaves in your favorite recipe.

Bay Leaves

They taste very similar to Kaffir lime leaves: pungent and slightly bitter. However, the citrusy flavor of this plant is very mild, which is not as strong as what you find in Kaffir lime leaves.

Fresh bay leaves are often used to season soups, seafood, sauces, stews, and rice dishes in Thai, French, and Mediterranean cuisine. When dried, the bay leaf is considered an herb with a slightly floral fragrance similar to oregano and thyme. Replace an equal amount.

Lime or Lemon Zest

Although coming from different parts of a plant, lime zest and lime leaves are relatively close in taste. That’s because they both possess the sharply citrusy flavor and pungent scent. Also, lime (fruit) is widely sold in groceries, so it’s not surprising that lime zest is the most popular replacement for Kaffir lime leaves. Another good substitute for Kaffir lime leaves is lemon zest. But lemon zest adds a touch of slight sweetness in addition to the sourness of citrus.

To use lime or lemon zest, you need to grate the zest from the fruit –  don’t grate the white portion.

Thai Basil

A native herb to Southeast Asia and commonly used in cooking is the Thai basil. This is our last pick on our list as a way to replace kaffir lime leaves in your cooking.

It’s a very delicate herb that can fit nicely in your cooking. You can use it in curries, noodles, or some summer rolls. You can swap them in almost any recipe that asks for kaffir lime leaves. The small narrow leaves will be perfect for soups, sauces, or any other rice dishes.

Persian Limes

Also called Tahiti lime, this is the most common lime in the US, so you can buy it easily in grocery stores. Amongst various types of limes, this one has the most similar flavor notes that Kaffir lime leaves have. The juice is very fragrant, just like Kaffir lime leaves. Furthermore, Persian lime is convenient to use. As the recipe requires, you simply cut the fruit in half and squeeze its juice into dishes like shrimp soup or curries.

Besides, this kind of lime is usually seedless, meaning you won’t have to worry about removing the seeds from your dish before serving anymore.

Lemon Thyme

Lemon thyme is an herb with small leaves that can be used to season meats, fishes, soups, and salads. Don’t mistake between lemon thyme and common thyme (Thymus vulgaris). Although they belong to the same scent area, lemon thyme has a much more intense lemony fragrance, which is closer to Kaffir lime leaves.

It also gives you an earthy note without the bitterness you sometimes get from common thyme. Use the same amount of lemon thyme as kaffir lime leaves required.

Curry Leaves

If you’re cooking Indian curry but have nothing on your hands to replace Kaffir lime leaves, then using curry leaves can be a choice. Although curry leaves and lime leaves are different in many aspects, they give similar citrus notes that might be enough to enrich the taste and smell of your dish.

Also, keep in mind that curry leaves are inevitable, so you must remove them before serving the dish.

Frequently Asked Questions [FAQs]

How long do kaffir lime leaves last?

Kaffir lime leaves can be kept in a plastic bag or a glass jar for up to one week. However, place the leaves in a plastic bag for longer shelf life and store them in the refrigerator.

How do you add kaffir lime leaves to curry?

Kaffir lime leaves are usually introduced into Thai and Indian cooking in two ways: they may be added whole to the recipe or grounded and mixed with other spices.

Are kaffir lime leaves the same as lime leaves?

No. Although lime leaves can substitute for kaffir lime leaves, these two herbs are not the same lime leaves are more bitter and less aromatic.


Listed above are some of the best substitutes for kaffir lime leaves. If you need kaffir lime leaves but can’t find them or are out of stock, try any of our substitutes; there is a great probability of having at least one in your kitchen or garden.