Curry leaves are a herb native to India and popularly used in Indian cuisine. Not only are they great for your health, but curry leaves also provide a fresh, citrusy flavor and an incredibly aromatic boost to various recipes. They work incredibly well in a range of culinary applications and are best used in curries, broths, and chutneys.
If you love Indian cuisine or simply love experimenting with spices and herbs, curry leaves are a must-have ingredient. But if you’ve run out of them, you can use these curry leaves substitutes to add a similar effect to your dish.
1. Basil Leaves
Basil has a fresh and minty aroma as well as a slightly minty taste that is similar to anise. It is commonly used in Mediterranean, Italian, and Asian cooking and shares similarities in appearance and texture with curry leaf, making it a great stand-in.
The sweet, floral basil is used in diverse dishes, from salads to yogurt-based dips. It offers more or less the same aroma and flavors as curry leaves but lacks that citrusy kick. Luckily, you can remedy that by adding some lemon juice or zest to mimic the flavor of curry leaves to perfection.
1 curry leaf = 1 basil leaf. (Add in a pinch of lemon zest or some lemon juice to intensify the flavors.)
2. Bay Leaves
Bay leaves have an earthiness to them combined with a hint of mint and slightly sweet and savory notes. They’re commonly used in Mediterranean and Asian cooking to boost the flavor of the dish and are readily available in most stores. The flavor is quite similar to curry leaves, so you can use them interchangeably in most recipes.
You can use bay leaves in stews, soups, sauces, and casseroles to infuse them with sweet and savory flavors and pungent aromas. You can also cook them with chickpeas or lentils or add them as a finishing touch to stir-fries and curries. However, keep in mind that bay leaves have a strong, overpowering flavor, so you will need to use less than the amount of curry leaves your recipe calls for to get the desired outcome.
½ cup curry leaves = less than 1 bay leaf. (Taste test as you go.)
3. Daun Salam Leaves
Daun salam leaves have layers of flavors. They have a spicy, sweet, minty, and earthy taste with a hint of citrus flavor that resembles the effect of cinnamon, only at a much milder level. However, these aromatic leaves are not easily available. But if you do find them, they make for a lovely alternative to curry leaves.
Daun salam leaves have a distinct aroma and flavors that work great in meat-based dishes. While you can add them to veggies, they’re unlikely to offer the same flavor benefits as curry leaves. So, it’s best to look for alternatives when making veggie-based dishes. You can add them at the start of the cooking process to infuse the dish with rich flavors.
1 cup curry leaves = 2-4 Daun salam leaves.
4. Lemon Balm Leaves
Lemon balm leaves, also called Melissa, come from the mint family. They have a citrusy, earthy flavor and fresh, minty aroma similar to curry leaves, but tend to be a tad bit sweeter. They also have lots of medicinal uses, which makes them a popular substitute for health and fitness enthusiasts.
You can use lemon balm leaves to add a citrus flavor in many recipes like curries, soups, or sauces that call for curry leaves. However, it has a much more complex flavor than curry leaves. So, it’s best to use less of it to recreate the depth of flavor that curry leaves offer in your dish.
1 cup curry leaves = 2/3 cup lemon balm leaves.
5. Lemon or Lime Zest
Lemon zest and lime zest have a pungent and fresh tangy, citrusy flavor, thanks to the oil contained in their rind. Its flavor is much like that of curry leaves but on a much more intense level. Lemon or lime zest is also easily available and thus works as a great replacement for curry leaves.
You can use the versatile lemon or lime zest in place of curry leaves in broths, aromatic curries, dips, fresh salads, stews, and more. It will enhance the flavors of the other ingredients in the dish without adding a lemony taste. However, as it has a much stronger zesty freshness with citrus undertones compared to curry leaves, you will only need a small amount to avoid overpowering your dish.
1 teaspoon curry leaves = 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
Or 8 curry leaves = 1 lemon or lime zest.
6. Lime Leaves
Lime leaves have the same aroma as curry leaves but tend to be much more intense in flavor. They also have a citrusy taste similar to curry leaves. Lime leaves are not always easy to come across, but if you do, they can be a great curry leaf substitute in a variety of dishes.
When using lime leaves, make sure to rub them between your palm to release their fragrances, and then add them to dishes as you would add curry leaves. Keep in mind that they have a strong flavor, so you will need to use them sparingly to prevent overpowering the recipe’s final flavors.
10 curry leaves = 6 lime leaves.
7. Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves, also known as Makrut lime leaves, add citrus notes to dishes, much like curry leaves. The teardrop-shaped leaves have a glossy, green color and have a flavor profile that is incredibly similar to curry leaves.
Kaffir lime leaves can be used to flavor soups, rice, and stir-fries, to season fish and meat, and to make curries as well because they go really well with coconut milk. Keep in mind, kaffir lime leaves should not be consumed whole. You should either crush them or slice them into thin strips before adding them to the dish.
1 curry leaf = 1 lime leaf. (You can add more if desired.)