Looking for Kaffir lime leaves substitutes? As an ingredient, they’re extremely popular with Thai food and some Asian cuisines, but they may not be as easily available outside these countries. So, if you find yourself in such a situation, it might be better to use a substitute rather than the original.
An interesting thing about kaffir lime leaves (also called makrut) is that they’re not directly edible. Don’t eat them raw. Instead, they should be used only as a cooking ingredient. The strong citrus flavor of these leaves lends a unique taste, which some may also consider a highlight of authentic Thai cuisine.
It’s not a flavor that lends itself easily to be replicated. Yet, there are a few options worthy of a try to replicate this flavor, or at least, hide the lack of it. Let’s take a look!
14 Top Substitutes For Kaffir Lime Leaves
1. Dry Or Frozen Kaffir Lime Leaves
This isn’t really a substitute – it’s more of a way to work around recipe requirements. Kaffir lime leaves are available dried or fresh (green). You could even find frozen leaves in the market. If you have any of these available, feel free to use them in a recipe.
For example, if the recipe calls for dry leaves and you don’t have any available, it makes better sense to use fresh leaves or even frozen leaves. Using the leaves is often a better choice than trying other substitutes.
2. Lemon Zest
The fragrance and flavor of lemon zest can present a good option to use in place of kaffir lime leaves. While these aren’t as flavorful or strong as the kaffir lime leaves, the zest provides a fairly acceptable alternative.
Use a quarter teaspoon of the zest for every two leaves of makrut. It’s possible to increase the amount of zest for more fragrance, but keep a check to ensure it doesn’t take over the flavor of the recipe.
3. Lime Zest
Lime zest works pretty much the same way as lemon zest. The idea is simple – it’s better to use an option for a lime fragrance and flavor rather than foregoing it. Use the zest the same way as lemon zest. Usually, a quarter teaspoon of lime zest should be a good place to start for every two leaves of kaffir lime. Try increasing the amount if you prefer a stronger flavor.
Commonly used in traditional medicine, lemongrass is native to South Asia. It does have remarkable culinary uses as well. The strong aroma of lemongrass makes it a viable substitute for kaffir lime leaves.
It has a flavor quite similar to lemon but it has its own distinctive taste as well. So, it will affect the flavor of the recipe, though it won’t throw off the scent or the flavor. The flavor here is something similar to lemon mint, which while distinct from kaffir lime leaves, isn’t wildly different.
Lemongrass can work with most recipes. Start with small quantities to check how you find the flavor and add more to taste.
5. Bay Leaf
Bay leaves are a very suitable alternative to kaffir lime leaves. They don’t create the same flavor and aroma. Instead, they have their own distinctive touch of taste and fragrance. While this isn’t an exact replacement, the bay leaf stands solid on its own ground and will add a nice touch to any recipe.
As with kaffir lime leaves, bay leaves aren’t meant to be eaten raw. Many chefs suggest removing these leaves from a recipe before it is served.
Learn more: Bay Leaf Substitutes To Flavor Up A Recipe
6. Lemon Thyme
Lemon thyme is a useful herb. It adds a nice and strong lemon scent, though with a crusty flavor. It has a different taste than kaffir lime leaves and that will make its presence felt in your recipe. However, it isn’t usually a big shift, so you can use it without any problem.
It doesn’t have as strong an aroma as the leaves. However, lemon thyme isn’t bitter, so it’s possible to add more of this herb to the recipe and achieve the desired results.
7. Lime Juice
Don’t want to miss that citrusy lemon flavor in your recipe? Get it some lime juice action and it will fix things right up! Though a useful substitute, lime juice has a limited range of options. It works best with Thai curry pastes. Other recipes might benefit from this addition, but you’ll see varying levels of success.
8. Basil Or Thai Basil
Basil or basil leaves are a decent replacement for kaffir lime leaves. If you want even better results, look for Thai basil. The herb adds a nice flavor and aroma to a recipe. It will be different from the original, but it will work just fine. The small leaves make it easier to work with the recipes.
Though not an ideal choice, cilantro will do an acceptable job as a replacement. Cilantro, also known as coriander leaves in many parts of the world, is a herb with a bright green color and a distinctive flavor. The flavor will be different, but the aroma from the herb will make a decent impression.
Much like basil and cilantro, the mint leaves can work to add a nice touch as a replacement for kaffir lime leaves. In fact, it might be a better idea to use a mix of mint, cilantro, and basil. This creates the same complex flavors we expect from the leaves, while also maintaining a nice flavor.
Even with the mix, the flavor will be somewhat different than the original, but it’s not usually a problem.
11. Curry Leaves
Curry leaves come from the sweet neem tree, which gives some relation to these leaves and kaffir lime leaves. They add a somewhat similar flavor and aroma to the food, making them an excellent alternative to kaffir lime leaves.
Remember, these leaves shouldn’t be eaten, so remove them from the food before serving it. Even with the similarities, there will be a difference in flavor and aroma when using curry leaves. These aren’t an exact option, but they serve as viable alternatives.
12. Persian Limes
Persian limes, also known as Tahiti limes, add a nice touch to the recipe. These limes are seedless and easy to use. They’ll add the same citrus flavor and aroma to the food as kaffir lime leaves, though they will affect the texture as well. Persian limes work best with soups and stews, but you can try your hand at other recipes as well.
13. Other Citrus Leaves
Can’t get hold of any possible substitutes? Well, try using leaves from a citrus plant. Using leaves from orange, lemon, or lime trees can provide a rather similar flavor and aroma as kaffir lime leaves. They’re not an exact replacement, but a decent alternative to use.
It’s best to use fresh leaves for this purpose, as older or dried citrus leaves can often leave a bitter flavor in the food.
14. Lime Oil
Lime oil is an interesting option to use if you want to replace kaffir lime leaves. These oils are usually made from (or distilled from) kaffir lime leaves, lime trees, or similar plants. A few drops of this oil should be enough to get the flavor and aroma going the way you prefer.
Be careful before using this oil for food purposes. Many lime oils are essential oils and are better geared towards aroma (room fresheners) and similar uses. So, carefully check the label to make sure the oil is safe for consumption.
Finding the right kaffir lime leaves substitute is an uphill task. The unique flavor and aroma of these leaves are rather tough to capture and reproduce with other ingredients. However, if you’re willing to accept some changes, there are remarkable substitutes and alternatives to use. Take a look at the options in this article and find which one works best for you!