Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitute: Be Creative And Cook Tasty Thai Dishes!

You have probably noticed by now that I am a great fan of Asian cuisine.

I must say that Thai dishes lay closest to my heart, or stomach 🙂 and I, therefore, try to indulge myself with Thai specialties as often as possible.

Unfortunately, eating at my favorite Thai restaurant does not come cheap, and my hubby has started complaining and calculating how much money we spend there every week.

He has reached some serious figures. Determined to recreate the same exotic flavors and aromas for way less money, I have turned to Thai home cooking.

Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitute

The first problem I have encountered was finding all the ingredients needed for authentic Thai dishes. Fresh ones were the real tough ones to come by.

For example, fresh Kaffir lime leaves took me about two weeks of googling and store-searching to find and buy, and without them, Thai curries and stir-fries would not be the same.

For this reason, I have decided to spend some additional time online and find the right Kaffir lime leaves substitute right away, too…just in case. 🙂

What Are Kaffir Lime Leaves?

Kaffir lime leaves are a part of the makrut (makrud, magroot) lime plant of the Rutaceae family. Its scientific name is Citrus hystrix, but it is known by numerous other names throughout Southeast Asia.

This shrub is native to Southeast Asia, and its leaves are sold on most Asian markets, especially in Thailand. The shrub also has small, dark green fruits that can be used for cooking as well.

The leaves have a specific scent that is a mixture of pine and citrus. Fresh leaves will have the strongest smell and aroma, but unfortunately, they are hard to find outside Thailand.

Therefore, you can try and find dried or frozen leaves as an alternative but be aware that they will not be the same as the fresh ones.

If you cannot come by fresh leaves, frozen ones are second best and definitely a better option than dried ones. If you do have fresh leaves and do not use them all at once, you can freeze them too and keep them that way for about six months or even longer.

Be careful when and how you use the word Kaffir too, as it a derogatory term in Arabic. You can use some alternative expressions such as “K-leaves” or “makrut,” or simply call them wild lime leaves to avoid ambiguity or problems.

How to Buy Fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves

As I have already mentioned, the favorite shot at finding fresh kaffir lime leaves would be visiting Asian markets in your neighborhood, especially local Vietnamese or Thai specialty markets.

However, the chances are that you are going to find dried leaves, sometimes even frozen ones, rather than fresh kaffir lime leaves.

There is always online shopping as an alternative. However, ordering fresh kaffir lime leaves online can be quite a lottery. The greatest risk is that by the time you get the leaves, they go bad- wilt or even rot!

For this reason, make sure that the site you are ordering from is reliable, has good reviews, and speedy delivery! I have not tried ordering the kaffir lime leaves online myself yet, but the research that I have done has shown me that there are numerous satisfied customers out there.

If you do find fresh kaffir lime leaves, buy a lot, especially if you love Thai cuisine as much as I do. You can store them for quite a long time and use them as needed, which brings us to our next point of interest…

How to Store Fresh Kaffir Lime Leaves

As I told you before, if you do find fresh kaffir lime leaves, feel free to stock them up and save them for future cooking endeavors.

Freezing them would be the finest option if you do not intend to use them any time soon, but they can be refrigerated too. Before continuing to any of the two mentioned methods, make sure you clean and dry the kaffir lime leaves thoroughly.

1. Freezing the Kaffir lime leaves

  • Put the clean, and dry kaffir lime leaves in a freezer-safe, airtight, plastic storage bag. They will last for six months or even longer.
  • Alternatively, you can freeze the individual leaves by laying them out on the bottom of the quick-freeze drawer and then transfer them into the freezer-safe bag. The second method takes a bit more time and effort, but you will avoid the risk of leaves clumping together and be able to use each leaf separately.

2. Refrigerating the Kaffir lime leaves

  • You will need a moist paper towel (run it underwater and then wring out the excess water) to wrap the kaffir lime leaves in. The leaves wrapped in this way should next be placed into a Ziploc bag. Preferably, put the bag with leaves in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. Use the refrigerated leaves within the next fortnight or so.

Top Five Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes

There are several pretty good options when it comes to substituting kaffir lime leaves.

Of course, nothing will totally replicate the complex aroma of this exotic plant, but your dishes will taste great nonetheless.

The 5 best kaffir lime substitutes are the following:

1. Lime zest

  • You are sure to find regular Persian or Tahiti limes at your local grocery stores; its fresh scent and citrusy flavor will recreate the freshness that kaffir lime leaves provide to your dish.
  • The use of limes is quite simple: you can cut them in half and add them to your dish (do not forget to remove the halves before serving though), or use the lime zest. If you opt for zest use zest of one lime to substitute two kaffir lime leaves your recipe calls for.
  • Do not worry about having to hunt out the lime seeds from your dish as Persian limes are normally seedless.

2. Lime and lemon zest combo

  • The combination of the lime and lemon zest will provide you with a taste that is more close to the original one. Use one and a half teaspoon of finely chopped lime zest and half a teaspoon of lemon zest to substitute one kaffir lime leaf.

3. Combination of the bay leaf, lime zest, and lemon thyme

  • The complex taste of the kaffir lime leaves can be replicated only by a complex combination of other ingredients. The good choice is the combo of the leaves of the bay laurel tree, lime zest, and lemon thyme. It is a great option for cooked dishes such as soups and stir-fries.
  • The bay leaf will provide your dish with a dominant herbal flavor and slightly bitter after-taste, while the lime zest delivers the clear citrus flavor. Thyme is there to balance the flavors by securing the softer herbal note and a unique citrus spark.

The combination needs to be quite precise:

  1. Half of a small bay leaf
  2. 1/4 teaspoon each of lime zest
  3. 1/4 teaspoon of lemon thyme. This combination works with soups, stir-fries, and other cooked dishes.

4. Citrus leaves

  • You can use the leaves of other citrus fruit to substitute kaffir lime leaves. The leaves of limes, lemons, and oranges can provide a satisfying alternative if you do not mind an evident lack of fragrance intensity. To make up for it, try using more of these leaves than the recipe requires for kaffir lime leaves.

5. Curry leaves

  • The curry leaves can be picked up from the sweet neem tree. They too have the citrus notes similar to the ones kaffir lime leaves have.
  • BE CAREFUL! The curry leaves should not be consumed. ALWAYS REMOVE THEM prior to serving the dish.

Read More: Curry Paste Vs. Curry Powder


I hope that kaffir lime substitute ideas I have provided you with will inspire you to try cooking Thai dishes at your home!

They are all so delicious, and you will not regret it!

Share your thoughts and suggestions, please! 😉

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