curry leaves

Substitutes for Curry Leaves – What Can I Use Instead?

We’ve all had that moment when preparing a dish for a gathering. You’ve been to the shop and gathered every conceivable ingredient that will really make this dish something special; something that absolutely ‘pops’. Then, when you’ve begun to put it all together – there’s a key ingredient missing! Curry leaves are one of these ingredients, they’re key to the recipe but yet all too easily forgotten.

The trouble is, this one isn’t all that easy to substitute for. You may be led into believing that a store bought curry spice will essentially produce the same effect but unfortunately you would be mistaken. In fact, such a substitute can take away from the other natural flavours that are present in the dish by totally overpowering them.

We invite you to review the following questions and answers section for some additional information that just might be of some use to you.

Where do curry leaves come from?

The curry leaf tree, or Murraya koenigii, is a relatively small bush/tree that will not surpass 20 feet tall. It grows mainly in subtropical zones but has been cultivated elsewhere with added supervision.

Are there any health benefits from using curry leaves?

Yes, there are a broad range of health benefits associated with curry leaves. They contain vitamins A, B, C, and E and can help fight infections and improve heart function.

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Substitutes for Curry Leaves


The main reason for this is that curry leaves, despite their name, are not actually used to provide that distinctive curry flavour that the name suggests. Instead, what they bring to the table is a moderate citrus flavour which ties the dish together. Think of it instead as akin to the bay leaf, except with an aroma and flavour like lemongrass mixed with anise. It truly is a unique ingredient!

Though curry leaf can be grown in your own garden, we’re going to make the assumption that you don’t have time for that and are looking for a more instantaneous solution. Thankfully, you’ve come to the right place. Below is a list of the best quick substitutes for curry leaves, some of which are as close to the real thing that many may not even notice the difference. So, without further ado, here is our rundown of the best substitutes for curry leaf that money can buy:


1. Lemon balm

lemon balm

Lemon balm, commonly known for its usefulness in tea manufacture, is an ingredient which many will already have to hand either in their garden or in their spice rack. The reason we have listed this one at the very top of the pile is that, simply put, it is the healthiest substitute out there. The leaf has antibacterial properties and has been known to improve concentration and sleep.

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However, its usefulness isn’t just limited to its healthy qualities. This leaf does quite a job at disproving the theory that everything good for you by its very nature tastes bad. This simply isn’t the case here, as lemon balm both tastes and smells pretty much the exact same as curry leaves! If you are interested in using this substitute in the future, it can be either grown or purchased in dried form.



  •         Several health benefits
  •         Same great aroma and flavour profiles
  •         Readily available in most areas


  •         There are no cons!



2. Lime zest

lime zest

When looking for a substitute for curry leaves, the aroma is a key factor which should be at the top of your list of priorities. Though the flavour imparted by the curry leaf is considerable, it tends to take a back seat and sit into the mix. Its real role is to drift its aroma out of the kitchen, alluring the waiting guests and raising their anticipation of the dish.

In this regard, lime zest can provide quite a bit of the same punch – and you may well already have some in the fridge already! Simply zest the top layer of your lime (avoiding the pith) into your dish towards the end of the cooking process and enjoy the sweet aroma. As an added bonus, the zest also adds a bit of colour to the dish. When we enjoy a meal, we first enjoy it with our eyes and nose before we taste it. In this regard, lime zest is a more than adequate substitute in a pinch.



  •         Adds a nice dash of colour
  •         Similar aromatic profile
  •         Generally is very easily found


  •         Falls short just a little in terms of flavour


3. Bay leaf

bay leaf feat 1

Pretty much everyone is familiar with the humble bay leaf and has used it at some stage in soups, stews, and casseroles. But, have you ever thought of using bay leaves in a curry? Admittedly, such a thing does sound a little bit unorthodox – but you may find yourself pleasantly surprised by the results! In terms of aroma, both share a distinctive citrus aroma. The same is also true of the flavour.

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So, if you’re willing to try using a leaf that is traditionally more associated with Mediterranean cuisine in an Asian dish, there are a few good reasons for it. For starters, it’s readily available. There may be some dried leaves already in your collection of herbs and spices. You may even have the tree in your garden! If you don’t, there are several producers of dried bay leaves that we would recommend, with this one below coming out on top:



  •         Bay leaves have a stronger flavor when in dried form
  •         Fills out the citrus element of the aroma and taste aspects
  •         100% organic and non-GMO


  •         Has a peppery note that the curry leaf doesn’t possess so is a little different



4. Lime leaves

lime leaves

This one is a bit of an unusual and uncommon ingredient and one which you are less likely to have to hand. However, if you do, this substitute is a strong contender for the title of best in show. The flavour and aroma of the lime leaf is powerful, so it is advisable to use this one sparingly. We would recommend using half the amount of lime leaf to curry leaf to strike the balance correctly.

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Apart from that, there is a remarkable similarity between the two. If you are lucky enough to have this in your culinary arsenal, please do remember that lime leaves cannot be consumed whole and raw. The best course of action is to dice them up small and then add them in early in the cooking process. If you are interested in using this substitute in the future, we would recommend using this particular variety for best results:



·         Perfect for achieving the desired citrus aroma

·         Also a great ingredient for other purposes

·         Possibly the best substitute there is


  •         Not as common as the others listed here


We hope that you found this guide to substituting for curry leaves to be a valuable and informative source as you embarked on your quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may be lurking in your spice rack as you read this!

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