It’s unique and irreplaceable ingredient for many authentic Indian dish and surprisingly very versatile. Learn everything you wanted to know about what are curry leaves , how to use them, substitutes and much more.
The use of curry leaves in Indian cooking especially in Southern Indian cuisine is integral.
And before you jump into of of the most common misconception about Indian food, curry leaves and curry powder IS NOT the same.
There is no similarity between curry leaves and curry powder and we discuss this in one of the sections below.
So let us find our what are curry leaves, and how to use curry leaves for cooking.
What Are Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are an Indian herb that come from the curry plant. The glossy, dark green, small, tear-shaped leaves grow pinnately along a single stalk .
Many Indian household grow their own curry leaves plant, but it is difficult to grow the plants outside tropical countries.
Each stalk can contain, 15-20 leaves.
So when a recipe calls for using curry leaves in a dish, you need to use individual leaves and not the whole stalk.
The use of fresh curry leaves is dominant and indispensable is Southern and Western Indian cuisine.
Although native to India,they are also used in South-Asian cuisines such as Sri-Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand.
It is a must have spice/Indian herb without which some popular Indian dishes such as sambar, upma, chettinad curry to name just a few, taste incomplete.
Other Names of Curry Leaves
Curry leaves in English – If you were wondering what is this Indian herb called in English, or other languages then it is fairly simple as they are called ‘Curry Leaves’, in English, unless you want to call it ‘Murraya koenigii’ by the botanical name . 🙂
Curry leaves in hindi – kari patta
in German – curry Blätter
in Spanish – hojas de curry
in French – feuilles de curry
What Do Curry Leaves Look Like
As mentioned before are primarily fresh leaves of a curry plant.
The most common forms of curry leaves used for cooking purpose are fresh, dried and powdered.
The fresh curry leaves are bright green in colour and grow along a single stalk.
Dry curry leaves are much paler with very mild aroma. Curry leaves powder is made from grounded dry leaves and is like any other powdered spice or herb.
A point to note is that curry leaves come in different forms. It may be helpful to know how they look in all those forms so that you are clear.
The infograph below visually shows the different forms and the difference between curry leaves and other ingredients.
Difference Between Curry Leaves Vs Curry Powder
A common confusion and a question asked is ‘ If curry powder and curry leaves are the same?‘
They are completely two different types of ingredients. Below are the main difference between curry leaves and curry powder:
- Curry powder is a spice blend made with different types of spices such as cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper etc. You can make curry powder at home or buy a pre-blended spice mix.
- Curry leaves is a herb and curry powder is a spice.
- Curry leaves are a native Indian herb while curry powder is a British invention.
- Curry leaves add freshness and a distinct flavour, while curry powder adds taste to a dish.
Having highlighted the difference between the two there are some curry powder which may include dried curry leaves powder but most do not.
Difference Between Curry Leaves and Bay Leaves
Apart from fresh coriander leaves, dried fenugreek leaves and curry leaves, another type of edible Indian leaf extensively used in Indian food is Bay Leaves.
So what is the difference ?
- Bay leaves have long, elongated and bigger leaves. They are light yellowish green in colour.
- The taste of bay leaves is very subtle, while curry leaves have a strong aroma.
What Do Curry Leaves Taste Like
It is very hard to describe and do justice to the taste of curry leaves.
The closest the aroma and taste it can be compared to is a cross between kafir lime leaves and basil.
Curry leaves are not spicy. It is an aromatic spice which means you get a strong flavour while the taste is predominantly citrusy.
The taste is comparable to lemon grass or lemon rind.
When roasted or cooked, the taste of curry leaves tend to become slightly bitter, pungent with a nutty aroma.
Can You Eat Curry Leaves
Although a herb but are curry leaves edible?
The answer is both a yes and a no.
Raw or fresh curry leaves straight from the plant are not best to taste if bitten into raw. It will be rather tasteless and pungent, although they will give a robust aromatic smell.
However you can eat curry leaves when cooked or added to a dish. You can choose to chew curry leaves or remove from the dish before serving.
Some people may not like the feel of a whole small leaf in their mouth so you can discard the leaves in that case.
How To Use Curry Leaves For Cooking
Hopefully, you are edging towards buying curry leaves and give it a try, but how do you use them?
Using curry leaves for cooking does not require any special knowledge or skill. It is like using any other herb.
They are added to a dish for flavour, aroma and taste.
Here are few cooking tips on how and when to use curry leaves in cooking :
If using the fresh variety, it is good to know when to use fresh curry leaves in the dish.
- Saute in oil – To get the best flavour out of the leaves, saute them in oil such as ghee, vegetable oil, coconut oil or any type of oil for a minute of so. This cooking method is called tempering.
This will infuse the oil with the curry leaves flavour. You can continue to follow any recipe after.
You can follow this method for using fresh and dried curry leaves.
- Add to broth or liquid – Another way to cook with curry leaves is to add them directly in the hot liquid or sauce you are cooking.
I suggest doing this especially if you are using dried or powdered curry leaves , as the dried version have subtle aroma and needs more time to infuse the dish with flavour.
- Use as a finishing touch – Another easy and a flavour-packed way to use curry leaves is to combine them with other spices such as mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida, green chillies in hot oil and add it to a dish both as a garnish and/or instant flavour enhancer.
This is similar to tempering.
- Other uses – Use curry leaves to add fresh and a distinctive flavour to curries, stews, soups, rice dishes, and lentils.
The other food combinations that go well with curry leaves are coconut milk, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, rice, fish, chicken, lentils, egg -plant, potatoes, and orange and red foods.
How To Store and Keep Curry Leaves Fresh
It is tricky to keep curry leaves fresh for longer if not stored properly. Although because of the robust leaves , curry leaves keep fresh for longer compared to say coriander leaves. .
For longer freshness wrap fresh curry leaves in paper towel, ensure that they are not wet, store it in an airtight container and keep them in the fridge.
They should keep well for 2 weeks.
You can also dry curry leaves in sun or in the oven on low heat and store them in an air tight container for upto 6 months.
Can You Freeze Curry Leaves
Yes, fresh curry leaves can be cleaned dry so that there is no moisture on the leaves and easily frozen with or without stalk.
The unusual and strong aromatic flavour of curry leaves makes finding a suitable replacement difficult.
The closest curry leaves alternative are using either a mix of fresh basil, lemon rind or kafir lime leaves or just use one of them.
Where To Buy Curry Leaves
I highly recommend buying the real thing than go for an alternative when it comes to fresh curry leaves.
Recent times have made buying fresh curry leaves rather difficult due to many European and Western countries banning the import of curry leaves.
As mentioned earlier you can buy them in different forms that is dried or powdered however nothing beats the fresh version.
Fresh curry leaves can be bought from a local Indian grocery store (if you are lucky to find any).
You can mostly buy dried curry leaves or curry leaf powder from most online stores.
Here are some recommended brands:
Organic Curry leaf powder from Pride of India
Organic Ceylon Dried Curry Leaves
Benefits of Curry Leaves
Curry leaves contain many different vitamins and minerals. Some of the most important are vitamin A, vitamin B, B2, amino acids, and alkaloids.
Adding them to your meals will do good to your health and taste.
Here is why:
Helps to keep cholesterol in check
Packed with antioxidants, curry leaves prevent the formation of bad cholesterol and keep the levels low. They help to reduce high cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Helps beat anaemia
Curry leaves are a rich source of iron, calcium and folic acid. The compounds helps the body absorb calcium and keep anaemia at bay.
Aids in weight loss
Studies suggest that curry leaves help in weight loss. The carbazole present in the leaves work against weight gain and rid the body of toxin substances and accumulated fat.
Curry leaves is also known to lower blood sugar levels . The presence of minerals like copper, iron and zinc protect insulin producing cells in the pancreas and keep the glucose levels down.
If you already haven’t done so I highly recommend you to try cooking with curry leaves.
They are packed with flavour and heath benefits that will do you ample good.
It is not complicated to use curry leaves. If unsure just throw in a few leaves in a boiling broth or while you make a base sauce.
Although fresh curry leaves are best, you can use the dried version like any other herb.
There are different ways to use curry leaves so do not limit yourself to Indian food only.
Explore with cooking ideas and add them to soup or stews. You wont be disappointed.