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The 5 Best Substitutes for Curry Leaves

Have you ever ventured into the magical world of curry leaves?

This fragrant ingredient is an essential part of South Asian cuisine and has a distinct flavor that adds both depth and complexity to many dishes.

For those who are unfamiliar with how to cook with curry leaves, they can be stir-fried, fried, or boiled, depending on the desired outcome.

However, if you’re in a pinch or simply can’t access fresh curry leaves, there are five excellent replacements that offer a similar taste and texture: bay leaves, lime zest, kaffir lime leaves, basil leaves, or lemon balm.

Ultimately, you’ll need to do some experimentation to find out which option works best for your dish.

What are Curry Leaves?

Curry leaves are a versatile and vibrant part of Indian cuisine, with a flavor that hints at sweet and bitter.

These aromatic leaves come from the curry tree or Murraya koenigii, which is native to tropical parts of India.

Though they have been used for centuries in traditional Indian dishes, curry leaves are quickly gaining popularity across the world as more people discover their unique taste and texture.

The distinct flavor even works well with dishes outside of Indian food, like salads or omelets, adding a kick of flavor to any meal.

Curry leaves are most often used when they’re still fresh, where they lend bright, citrusy notes when fried in oil to a dish.

As fascinating as they may be on their own, it’s fun to try pairing them up with other spices, such as cumin seeds or cinnamon, for an even bolder taste experience.

The 5 Best Substitutes for Curry Leaves

If you’re looking for a substitute for curry leaves in your cooking, there are several options you can turn to.

Here are the five best alternatives to help you get that delicious flavor:

1 – Kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves, also known as Makrut lime leaves or Kieffer lime leaves, are widely used in Thai and Southeast Asian cuisines.

These glossy, leathery, dark green leaves are full of flavor and aroma.

They taste slightly citrusy when eaten raw and impart a subtle lemony warmth when cooked.

Most commonly used in dishes like soups, curries, salads, and stir-fries, kaffir lime leaves can be substituted with curry leaves to give an interesting flavor profile to the dish.

To substitute, dry the kaffir lime leaves in an oven and grind them into a fine powder which can then be added as desired according to personal taste.

Both fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves add an incredibly satisfying boost of aroma and fragrant taste to any dish.

2 – Lemon zest or lime zest

Lemon zest and lime zest have been used in cooking for centuries, particularly around their native Mediterranean region.

In addition to adding bright flavor to traditional dishes like paella, lemon and lime zest can also be used in many recipes to add a subtle tangy flavor.

Both provide a bright yellow-green color, though the flavors are distinct.

Lime has a crisp and tart taste, while lemon is more fragrant and mellow.

Zesting lemons and limes are simply done with a fine grater or Microplane.

If either of these items isn’t available, they can also be substituted in curries with curry leaves — just double the recipe’s suggested amount to make up for their smaller size.

Whether using these fruits’ zests or whole peels in dishes, they’re sure to add a delicious flavor that will enhance any creative chef’s work.

3 – Basil

Basil, an aromatic culinary herb, has long held sacred status in many cultures.

Originally native to India and other tropical parts of Asia, it is now found all over the world.

The flavor of basil is described as being sweet and slightly peppery, making it, along with parsley, the most common herb used to give a unique kick to dishes.

The leaves themselves are quite large, having a silky texture that stands up well to heat without losing its flavor or softening too much.

As basil goes perfectly with tomatoes and can also be used for garnishes, it makes an excellent substitute for curry leaves in any recipes that call for them.

4 – Bay leaves

Bay leaves are a fragrant and powerful cooking ingredient used to enhance the flavor of dishes from all around the world.

With oblong leaves and an unmistakable aroma, bay leaves can be added whole to a dish while it is cooking to infuse it with subtle notes of pine and lemon.

Once cooked, these leaves have an evergreen flavor that is both biting and bold – making bay leaves a popular choice for soups, stews, and sauces.

Because they are hardier than other herbs like parsley, bay leaves are often simply left in the pot or pan throughout the course of a meal.

For those looking for a curry-flavor substitute, bay leaves are a great choice.

5 – Lemon balm

Lemon balm, also known as Melissa officinalis, is an herb native to the Mediterranean and North African regions.

With a distinctly lemon scent, it has been used in herbal tea, skin lotions, and perfumes alike.

In addition, it can make a great substitute for curry leaves in cooking.

The leaves have a tart and citrusy flavor, with a texture that’s slightly thicker and crunchier than regular culinary herbs when fresh.

When dried, the texture becomes much softer while retaining delicate flavors of sage and mint, especially when combined with other fragrant spices.

Substituting lemon balm for curry leaves is easy – simply put some into prepared dishes like curries or broths to get the same nutty aroma that traditional cooking requires.


In conclusion, when it comes to substituting for curry leaves, there are a number of options available.

Depending on the recipe, each of these alternatives can help give dishes an extra boost of flavor and aroma.

Whether it’s the tangy zest from lemons or limes, the earthy flavors of basil or bay leaves, or the citrusy sweetness of lemon balm, these ingredients can all be used to replace curry leaves in a variety of dishes.

With their unique tastes and aromatic qualities, it’s easy to see why these substitutes are becoming popular choices for cooks everywhere.

By experimenting with different combinations, a creative chef is sure to find something new and exciting every time.

Yield: 1 Serving

The 5 Best Substitutes for Curry Leaves

The 5 Best Substitutes for Curry Leaves
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes


  • Kaffir lime leaves
  • Lemon zest or lime zest
  • Basil
  • Bay leaves
  • Lemon balm


  1. Pick your favorite substitute from the list above.
  2. Follow cooking directions for your selected substitute with the proper ratio of ingredients.
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