kaffir lime leaves substitute

Top 6 Substitutes For Kaffir Lime Leaves That Are Just As Citrusy and Tasty

If you like Thai food, then you may know what Kaffir lime leaves are. However, not everyone is familiar with this ingredient, but it can be extremely important. If your recipe calls for some of these leaves, you may want to find out what other foods to use instead.

What Are Kaffir Lime Leaves?

These leaves come from the makrut lime tree, which is a common shrub in Southeast Asia. Kaffir lime leaves are common in Thai food and other Southeast Asian cuisines. These leaves have a strong citrus flavor and aroma. 

While they are common in some cuisines, Kaffir leaves may not be easy to find outside of Asian markets and specialty stores. These days you can buy them fresh, frozen, or dry, as they are often imported and better preserved when frozen or dried.

Because the term kaffir is often considered offensive, you may find recipes that say K-leaves or simply lime leaves, but they refer to kaffir lime leaves.

Some common recipes with kaffir lime leaves include coconut curry, fried rice, soups, and vinaigrette. You can also find this ingredient as part of sweet recipes, like cake, pie, yogurt, and more.

Why Replace Kaffir Lime Leaves, Anyway

Here are the most common reasons why you would need a Kaffir lime leaves replacement: 

  • Allergy: A citrus allergy is not out of question and can be relatively common, so using kaffir lime leaves may not be an option since it can result in an allergic reaction or outbreak.
  • Accessibility: As mentioned above, kaffir lime leaves aren’t very popular everywhere, so you may not be able to find it near you.
  • Cost: Since this ingredient is not accessible or too popular, it can be a bit expensive, particularly if you only need these leaves for one dish.

What Can I Replace Kaffir Lime Leaves With?

Whether your recipe calls for them and you can’t find them or need another option, these kaffir lime leaves substitutes are just what you were looking for:

Best For Cooking, Thai Curry, and Indian Food

#1. Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are much more accessible than kaffir lime leaves, so it makes sense to use them when you need a similar option. These leaves are pungent, but they are not citrus, so it is best to use about half of what the recipe indicates.

You should never eat bay leaves. Add them with enough time so the flavors settle and then remove before serving.

Use bay leaves when you cook things like Thai food, Indian food, curry, or stews. If you want more citrus, consider adding a few drops of lime juice or lime zest. Bay leaves are also more aromatic than kaffir leaves.

#2. Lime Zest

If you need to add citrus flavor and a bit of pungency, then using lime zest can go a long way. 

Lime zest is a common ingredient in many Asian cuisines, so using it in Thai and Indian food, as well as curry works well. Use only a bit of zest using a grater, as this option is bitter when added in excess.

Sometimes, you may also want to add a bit of the lime juice to complement more citrus and aroma. Add the lime zest when you are almost done cooking, otherwise, your meal may turn too bitter.

#3. Lime Juice

Since kaffir lime leaves are very citrusy, adding lime juice to your meal can be a good substitution to get that flavor. However, you should know that lime juice is much more acidic, and not floral at all. Use about ⅓ teaspoon for every couple of kaffir lime leaves that your recipe calls for.

You can use lime juice when you prepare all sorts of dishes, including Thai curry, Indian food, sauces, marinades, and more. As with lime zest, it is best to add lime juice toward the end of the cooking process so that the flavor doesn’t turn bitter.

Best For Marinades, Soup, and Coconut Curry

#4. Curry Leaves

Unlike kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves are more pungent than they are citrus, but they can still make a difference in your dish. Use this choice when you want to prepare coconut curry, marinades, stews, and some soups.

Curry leaves taste sharp, a bit pungent, and anise-like, but they can give your meal a good flavor when you add them at the end of the cooking process.

Although they are not very common, these leaves are easier to find than kaffir lime leaves. You can find them in any Indian market, and sometimes in organic grocery stores. Make sure you don’t add too many curry leaves, as the flavor may be too overpowering.

#5. Lemon Thyme

Lemon thyme has a very similar flavor to regular thyme, except it adds a touch of citrus too. This ingredient is great when you prepare marinades, soup, curry, meat, and fish.

Lemon thyme is a bit more pungent than these other choices, so you’ll want to add only a few leaves at a time and taste as you go.

Unlike regular thyme, lemon thyme is most likely only available in its fresh form, which is why you should add it when you’re ending the cooking process. If you want to substitute one teaspoon of kaffir lime leaves, use 1 ⅓ teaspoon of lemon thyme.

#6. Lemon Zest

While not ideal because it is sweeter and less citrus, lemon zest can be a good alternative for kaffir lime leaves. Unlike lime zest, lemon zest has only a few hints of bitterness, but it adds a lot of sweetness.

You can add lemon zest when you prepare marinades, coconut curry, soup, and stir-fry.

You should start with only a small piece of lemon zest, which should be added as you are finishing your cooking process. Remember to taste as you cook, because using too much lemon zest can change the flavor profile of your meal too much.


Where can you buy kaffir lime leaves?

Because kaffir lime leaves are not very common outside of Southeast Asia, then it may be hard to find one near you. An Asian market or specialty store may have them, or you can try the frozen or dry version online. Some organic stores have started to carry these as well, but you may have to request them ahead of time.

How do you use kaffir lime leaves?

While the most common use is in cooking, such as in curry, sauces, soups, and marinades, you can also use kaffir leaves in tea and garnish. Some people also eat these leaves for better breath, as they smell fresh and citrus. Since these leaves have some important nutrients, some creams and skincare products also contain them.

How do you make Kaffir lime leaves tea?

If you want to make a kaffir lime leaves tea, all you need is boiling water, some honey or sugar, and any other additions you like. In some cases, you can add lemongrass and ginger as well. Simply boil water, add the ingredients, and let them sit for at least 10 minutes before you drink it.


Even though not everyone is familiar with kaffir lime leaves, these are important ingredients when you prepare certain Asian dishes. If your recipe asks you to use these leaves, and you can’t find them anywhere, then you should try to use any of these six substitutes. These choices are all easier to find and will add great flavors.

kaffir lime leaves replacement

*image by depositphotos/n.nonthamand.gmail.com

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