5 Excellent Substitute Kaffir Lime Leaves You Need To Know

When cooking becomes my own little word, one of my hobbies is trying out different recipes I find on the Internet. Although food experimentation is funny, there would always be times when I get frustrated.

 Yesterday, I did plan to cook a Thai curry dish. When I checked the ingredient list, I found the name “fresh Kaffir lime leaves” which is not available in my living area.

I bought dried Kaffir lime leaves in a grocery as a replacement, but they had never given the right flavor profile that the recipe requires.

 So, I went to the Internet and searched for substitutes for Kaffir lime leaves. I found some ideas, and to my surprise, one of them worked really well.

Today, I’m over here to share this experience with you!


What is Kaffir Lime?

a Kaffir lime is a perennial shrub and a member of the citrus family. It’s mostly grown in Southeast Asia and some nearby countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh.

Since Kaffir lime leaves and fruits are sold frozen or dried in Asian markets outside the Asia, it’s not surprising if you cannot find them in your area.

This plant has hourglass-shaped leaves that would remind you of the citrusy aroma of lemons. New leaves are colored shiny green and turn to dark green as they’re mature.

The fruit is green and turns to yellow as it’s ripe, but what makes it different from other types of lime is the warty texture in its peel that you will easily notice at the first look.

Note that Kaffir is actually an Arabic word. In some countries, people don’t use this name, but they change it to “Makrut lime”. In South Africa, people call “K-leaves” when referring to Kaffir lime leaves.

What Does Kaffir Lime Leaves Taste Like?

Before discovering possible substitutes for Kaffir lime leaves, it’s important for you to know the exact flavor and scent of the leaves themselves.

 In general, Kaffir lime leaves have a strong citrusy flavor blended with a note of pungency. They also have a bitter taste of green leaves that many people (including me) find it too tough to eat raw or alone.

There are numerous ways to take advantage of the distinctive flavor of this leaf. You can add it to curries, soups, sauces, marinade, Basmati rice, and so on.

Top 5 Substitutes for Kaffir Lime Leaves

Bay Leaves

They taste very similar to Kaffir lime leaves. When eaten whole, they’re also pungent and slightly bitter. However, the citrusy flavor of this plant is very mild which is not as strong as what you find in Kaffir lime leaves.

Fresh bay leaves are often used to season soups, seafood, sauces, stews and rice dishes in Thai, French and Mediterranean cuisine.

When dried, the bay leaf is considered as an herb having a slightly floral fragrance that is somewhat similar to oregano and thyme.

It’s a rich source of vitamins (A, C, folates, pyridoxine, etc.), minerals (calcium, potassium, zinc, magnesium, etc.), and essential oils (eugenol, chavicol, phellandrene, etc.) that are necessary for optimum health.

Lime or Lemon Zest

Although coming from different parts of a plant, lime zest and lime leaves are relatively close in taste. That’s because they both possess the sharply citrusy flavor and pungent scent.

Also, lime (fruit) is widely sold in groceries, so it’s not surprising that lime zest is the most popular replacement for Kaffir lime leaves.

Another good substitute for Kaffir lime leaves is lemon zest. But lemon zest adds a touch of slight sweetness in addition to the sourness of citrus.

This makes it unable to replicate the taste of Kaffir lime leaves as good as lime zest.

To use lime or lemon zest, you need to grate the zest from the fruit. You can do this with a good knife  or a microplane (much easier). No matter which tool you choose, make sure you don’t grate the white portion.

Lime zest refers to only the colored layer of the lime peel, and it doesn’t include the white layer which is extremely bitter and unpleasant tasting.

For a guide to grate citrus in 4 ways, check this video:

Persian Limes

Also called Tahiti lime, this is the most common lime in the US, so you can buy it easily in grocery stores.

Amongst various types of limes, this one has the most similar flavor notes that Kaffir lime leaves have. The juice is very fragrant, just like Kaffir lime leaves.

Furthermore, Persian lime is convenient to use. As the recipe requires, you simply cut the fruit in half and squeeze its juice to dishes like shrimp soup or curries.

Besides, this kind of lime is usually seedless, which means that you won’t have to worry about removing the seeds out of your dish before serving anymore.

Lemon Thyme

Lemon thyme is an herb with small leaves that can be used to season meats, fishes, soups and salads. Don’t mistake between lemon thyme and common thyme (thymus vulgaris).

Although they belong to the same area of scent, lemon thyme has a much more intense in lemony fragrance which is closer to Kaffir lime leaves.

It also gives you an earthy note without the bitterness you sometimes get from common thyme.

There are many reasons why lemon thyme is called an herb. Basically, it helps to enhance the immune system, control blood pressure and heart rate, prevent lung cancer, benefit neurotransmitters in the brain, relieve upset stomach, bloating and flatulence, reduces stress and fatigue, improve vision and skin, and so on.

Other Citrus Leaves

Leaves of other citrus plants, such as limes, lemons and oranges, can be good substitutes for Kaffir lime leaves, although they cannot give the strong fragrance compared to what you would get from Kaffir lime leaves.

A simple way to boost the fragrance is adding more of them, perhaps doubling the amount if the recipe requires.

Curry Leaves

If you’re cooking Indian curry but have nothing on hands to replace Kaffir lime leaves, then using curry leaves can be a choice.

Although curry leaves and lime leaves are different in many aspects, they give the similar citrus notes that might be enough to enrich the taste and smell of your dish.

Also, keep in mind that curry leaves are inevitable, so you have to remove them before serving the dish.

Best Way to Replicate the Flavor and Scent of Kaffir Lime Leaves

substitute for kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves have a very complex and distinct floral note, which makes it really hard to be replaced with just one ingredient.

 Therefore, my advice is to combine various plants. For example, the following mixture of bay leaves, lime zest and lemon thyme can be used in place of one Kaffir lime leaf:

  • 1/2 teaspoon of bay leaf
  • 1/4 teaspoon of lime zest
  • 1/8 teaspoon of lemon thyme

While the bay leaves bring a slight touch of bitterness with floral notes, the lime zest provides a sharply citrus flavor with a pungent scent.

To boost fragrance, add a bit lemon thyme. Together, they give you the close effect that you want to get from a Kaffir lime leaf.


If you plan to try out a new delicious savory dish that requires for a Kaffir lime leaf as an important ingredient but you cannot find this leaf in your living area, then don’t worry.

Our substitutes for Kaffir lime leaves can help you. You also might try other substitutes from my blog: ranch style beans substituterosemary substitute.

What are you waiting for? Let me know your thoughts by leaving your comment in the section below. Thank you for reading!

Kevin Richard

Hi all! I’m Kevin. I spend plenty of time in the kitchen every day because I love cooking healthy and delicious foods for my family and friends. Cooking gives me a chance to be creative and fun. It’s also one of the most meaningful ways to express my love and take care of my little family.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 7 comments
Lydia Herrick - 3 years ago

Kaffir lime leaves are hard to find in Ohio, so I very much appreciate your advice. The nutritional info is an extra bonus! I do want to point out, though, that domestic bay leaves are poisonous if consumed, so I don’t think one would enjoy all the benefits you thoughtfully mentioned, at least without a nasty stomach ache or worse. It is best removed after cooking. I believe Turkish bay (tricky to acquire and differing slightly in flavour) is safe, though. Now, I’ve been using crushed dried curry leaves forever, on the other hand, and never had any ill effects. Did you mean they are poisonous, or just an unpleasant texture or something? Thanks!

    j - a couple of years ago

    just fyi bay leaves of any kind are not poisonous or toxic to humans in any way if consumed. this is an absurd myth that has been around forever. however,despite not being toxic, unfortunately, they do not tenderize no matter how much you cook them, thus becoming a potential choking hazard. That is the only reason they are removed after cooking, it has nothing to do with toxicity.

Rick - a couple of years ago

This is some bad advice. Bay leaves are nothing like KLLs. If you can’t get them where you live, order them on Amazon for $10. Use a few and put the rest in the freezer to use later.

Ajwan Al Bahar - a couple of years ago

Hello dear can I use regular dry thyme instead of lemon thyme because it doesn’t exist in my local grocery store.


    Kevin Richard - a couple of years ago

    Hi Ajwan,

    Yes, you can do it. But honestly the flavor will be changed a lot.

Julia Selwood - a couple of years ago

Just to let you know that you certainly can eat curry leaves. Your source article is referring to a particular problem in Southern India. Make sure you know the source of your curry leaves and all will be well, I am glad to say, because they are absolutely delicious!


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