A staple of South Asian cuisine, curry leaves, scientifically known as Murraya Koenigii, is one of the symbols of India, especially South India. There, these leaves are indispensable in many dishes. They are primarily used in soups, curries, and dals.
But not just in South Indian cooking, people use curry leaves in many dishes worldwide, including in the United States.
They are known as aromatic leaves and they are able to enrich every dish with their lemon scent and pungent taste. They can be used in many different ways like sauteing in ghee, making tadka, to flavor oil with them, etc.
Curry leaves are also known for their health benefits. For over 3,000 years, curry leaves have been used in Ayurvedic medicine, the ancient Indian medical system that is based on a natural and holistic approach to physical and mental health.
Curry leaves are rich in antioxidants, calcium, fiber, iron, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. These leaves can reduce high cholesterol, and heart disease risk factors and they can regulate your blood sugar levels.
They also possess pain-relieving and anti-bacterial properties, as well as anti-inflammatory effects.
As you can see, curry leaves are an amazing ingredient both for flavor and medicinal purposes. But if you don’t have a curry leaf tree in your backyard, or if you can’t find any fresh curry leaves in the grocery store, here are some excellent curry leaves substitutes for you.
The Ultimate List Of Best Substitutes For Fresh Curry Leaves
The list of the 10 best alternatives for curry leaves, as well as some important and interesting information about each of them, can be found below.
1. Lime Zest
The first on my list of best curry leaves substitutes is, justifiably, lime zest. I say “justifiably” because by substituting curry leaves with lime zest, you will achieve the closest flavor profile to that of curry leaves.
That is the lemony flavor and citrus flavor as well. Lime zest alone can provide you with the most similar flavor profile to that of curry leaves, but if you want almost the same one, you have to make some adjustments.
All you have to do is to mix the lime zest with some chopped basil leaves if you have any. That way, you will achieve that nice citrusy taste and, at the same time, balance the strong flavor of basil leaves.
The flavor profile is the first important factor. The second one is availability. You can easily find lime in almost any grocery store for a very affordable price. All you have to do when you buy it is to peel the lime zest and use it the right way.
You can use it in fish dishes, as well as in curries, soups, stews, dips, and sauces. Dips with yogurt are most suitable for the lime zest.
Just take into consideration that 1 lime zest is equal to 8 curry leaves.
2. Bay Leaves
The second on this list are also leaves – bay leaves, to be exact. Bay leaves are also known as the Mediterranean version of curry leaves, so it is not a surprise that they are ranking this high on the list.
Their flavor profile is not exactly the same as that of curry leaves. They provide you with earthy and minty flavors with some sweet undertones.
As you can see, they don’t have that characteristic citrusy flavor, but they compensate for that with their freshness, as well as with a somewhat pungent aroma.
Bay leaves also possess a similar color as curry leaves and they are very easy to find in the grocery store for a cheap price. Bay leaves are very versatile. You can use them in stews, soups, sauces, and casseroles.
They are also great in the combination with lentils, chickpeas, and beans. And, for those of you who really like the freshness that these leaves provide, curries, stir-fries, and almost any type of Indian dish are a great bet.
If you are a fan of Mediterranean cuisine, you must certainly have a cup of bay leaves on your kitchen shelves.
Keep in mind that bay leaves have a very strong aroma.
So, when substituting, replace half a cup of curry leaves with a single bay leaf.
3. Kaffir Lime Leaves/Makrut Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime or Makrut lime also originates from Southeast Asia, just like curry leaves do. It is one of the most popular variants of lime in that part of Asia.
It is not a surprise that the leaves of this lime variety found their place on this list since they both possess very similar flavor profiles.
Actually, it is very hard to distinguish these two. The only real difference is that the leaves of Kaffir lime are a little bit more citrusy than curry leaves. But, that is really not a big difference at all.
When it comes to appearance, these two kinds of leaves are also very similar. Kaffir lime leaves are predominantly used in Indian cuisine. They are a great choice for a vast number of dishes including soups, curries, rice, and stir-fries, to which they can offer some wonderful citrus notes.
They are also used in steamed meats, soups, and fish dishes, as well as in Thai and Asian food. Kaffir leaves go very well with coconut milk.
When substituting, you can freely add the same amount of Kaffir leaves. If you do not like that strong citrusy taste, you can add a little less.
4. Lemon Zest
Another zest on the list is lemon zest. It is very similar to lime zest but it is comparatively milder. Lemon zest is an oiled rind with a combination of citrusy and tangy tastes.
This zest is located at the upper layer of the lemon rind. This zest will add to your dish a lot of freshness, as well as a wonderful aroma. You can easily find lemons in most grocery stores at affordable prices.
When buying a lemon, try to choose the organic one if your budget allows you. The organic version is the healthiest one, especially when it comes to zest.
You can use lemon zest in a wide variety of dishes, from dips and fresh salads to stews, broths, rice dishes, and curries. Also, don’t let the rest of the lemon go to waste. You can use it in many ways including juices, smoothies, desserts, baked treats, etc.
When substituting curry leaves with lemon zest, use half of the amount of lemon zest compared to curry leaves.
5. Lemon Balm Leaves
Another leaf on the list of best curry substitutes is lemon balm leaf. Lemon balm also known as melissa is a herb that belongs to the mint family and it is quite similar to mint itself. It has that recognizable minty flavor.
But besides minty flavor, lemon balm also provides freshness and that citrusy aroma that will remind you of curry leaves. That is exactly the reason why this leaf can be a very good substitute for curry leaves.
I also have to emphasize that lemon balm leaves are very healthy as well. If you consume them regularly, they can help you to reduce anxiety, treat insomnia, solve digestive problems, ease menstrual pain, etc.
You can use these leaves in many types of dishes including soups, salads, and stuffings.
When you decide to substitute them for curry leaves, it is best to substitute 2 lemon balm leaves for 3 curry leaves.
6. Basil Leaves
Basil leaf can also be a decent alternative to curry leaves. This Mediterranean herb associated with Italian cuisine will provide your dish with a sweet and floral flavor profile, which is not something quite similar to curry leaves.
But, you can solve that easily with two other ingredients. Those two ingredients are lime juice and lime zest. Yes, adding these two to your basil leaves will provide you with a mixture with almost the same flavor profile as that of curry leaves.
This is the flavor profile that combines the fresh, aromatic, and minty flavor of basil leaves, the tanginess of lime juice, and the citrusy taste of lime zest. You can not ask for better when searching for the best curry leaves alternative.
When it comes to types of dishes that are best suited for basil leaves, they include all types of Mediterranean dishes, Asian dishes, as well as fresh salads, and dips based on yogurt. You can also use basil leaves when making pasta and pizzas.
When substituting curry leaves, you can freely add the same amount as you would when it comes to curry leaves.
7. Coriander Leaves/Cilantro
Another interesting herb on this list is coriander. Coriander is a member of the so-called Apiaceae family. It is also known by some other names like dhania, Chinese parsley, as well as cilantro.
Many people confuse cilantro and coriander, thinking that the two terms are different. Actually, cilantro is the Spanish name for coriander leaves. Those leaves possess that minty, fresh, and citrusy flavor, and that is the exact reason why they can be a good substitute for curry leaves.
Also, there are numerous health benefits that these leaves can provide, including mood benefits, management of diabetes, anti-inflammatory properties, antimicrobial properties, etc.
You can use cilantro in many Indian dishes, but it is definitely best in curries. When substituting curry leaves with cilantro in your dish, take into consideration that it is best to use half a cup of fresh chopped cilantro for every ten curry leaves.
On the other hand, if you are using dried cilantro, use a little more, i.e. 2/3 of a cup. My suggestion is to use fresh cilantro because you will get that desired citrusy flavor.
8. Coriander Seeds
As I already said, coriander belongs to the Apiaceae family. It is widely used in Asian and South Asian cuisine, as well as in many other cuisines around the world. Many chefs, as well as home cooks, love to use coriander in their dishes.
They use stems, leaves, and roots of the herb, especially in South Asian cuisine. Coriander seeds are also widely used by many chefs. Many of them use ground coriander, but when substituting with curry leaves, it is best to use freshly ground whole coriander seeds.
If you ask why that is so, the main reason for this is the fact that seeds in that state are fresher. They also possess a more vibrant flavor than pre-ground coriander powder. The flavor profile of whole coriander seeds is a combination of pungent and refreshing flavors similar to curry.
You can use these seeds in both dry and gravy-based dishes.
Just like their leaf counterparts, coriander seeds are also very healthy. They can regulate your blood sugar levels, protect your skin, and provide you with heart and health benefits.
They are full of immune-boosting antioxidants as well.
When substituting for curry leaves, keep in mind that you should use 2 teaspoons of whole crushed coriander seeds on every 10 fresh curry leaves.
9. Dried Curry Leaves
If you want to replace fresh curry leaves, one of the most obvious alternatives is certainly dried curry leaves. Their flavor profiles are quite similar, although dried curry leaves are much milder than their fresh counterparts.
Because of that, the most important thing you should do is to add dried curry leaves at the beginning of the cooking process when substituting in any cooked dish. You should let it simmer for a couple of minutes in order for dried curry leaves to release their flavors.
Another important thing is to dry your fresh curry leaves properly. In order to do that, you should put them in a baking tray or a plate first. After that, you must let them air dry for 2-3 days on the countertop or in the fridge.
After they have been dried properly, they will feel crispy and look wilted. If you do not want to use them right away, you can freely store them in an air-tight container or in a glass jar.
You can use dried curry leaves in many types of dishes including dals, curries, salads, and chutneys. When substituting, use 15 dried curry leaves to replace 10 fresh curry leaves.
10. Daun Salam Leaves
And last but not least on the list of best curry leaves substitutes is the so-called Daun salam leaf. Wait, what? I am sure that most of you don’t even know what Daun salam leaf is. Well, that is not a surprise since this type of leaf is only popular in Indonesian and Malay cooking.
It possesses an aromatic, earthy, and citrusy flavor profile that is a little less aromatic than the bay leaf.
Although, when compared with curry leaves, it has a somewhat more cinnamon-like taste, which is a mix of some flavors like mint, spicy, earthy, and sweet, it can still be a decent alternative for curry leaves.
The only real reason why this type of leaf is not so popular as an alternative to curry leaves is simply that a lot of people do not know about it. But, if you, in some cases, do know about it and have some on your sleeves, you can use it in some dishes like curries, soups, stews, and fried rice.
When substituting, use 2-4 Daun Salam leaves for one cup of curry leaves.
Can I Use Curry Powder Instead Of Curry Leaves?
No, it is not recommendable to use curry powder instead of curry leaves. Although they both bear the same name, they are in reality, two entirely different things.
Curry leaf is an herb grown on the curry leaf tree and curry powder also known as “garam masala” is a spice mix with various ingredients including turmeric, coriander, fenugreek, cumin, and cayenne.
Also, curry leaves originate from Southern India and Sri Lanka and, on the other hand, curry powder was produced by Britains to add flavor to Indian dishes.
Are Curry Leaves And Basil The Same?
No, curry leaves and basil are not the same. Some people confuse these two terms because of the so-called Lemon Basil.
Lemon Basil, also known as Thai lemon basil, Hoary basil, or Lao basil, is a type of basil that has a very similar flavor profile to curry leaves.
In Nigeria, this herb is referred to as curry leaf, probably because the flavor profiles are so similar.
Of course, these two are not the same.
What Does Curry Leaf Taste Like?
Curry leaves possess a somewhat bitter and pungent flavor that is most similar to that of lemongrass and anise.
Also, the flavor of curry leaves is somewhat similar to that of asafoetida, a powder made from the herb that bears the same name and that is also widely used in Asian cuisine.
Know Your Best Curry Leaves Substitutes
Knowing the best substitutes for your favorite food is one of the most important things that you should know. The main reason for this is the fact that many times you won’t have some food or ingredient on your hand and you will have to find an alternative.
In this particular case, I provided you with the ultimate list of the 10 best curry leaf substitutes that you can find. I also tried my best to provide you with the most important pieces of information related to those substitutes.Aside from that you also have some frequently asked questions answered, that are related to curry leaf itself and some other interesting facts as well.