Use Of Curry Leaves In Indian Cooking
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 food is in the soul of South Indian cuisine permeating to other regional parts because of its unique distinctive freshness and flavour. This native Indian curry plant also known as ‘kari patta’ or ‘curry patta’ in Hindi, when added to a dish triggers a sense of homecoming.
And before you jump into one 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.
In this post you will read about how to use curry leaves, the difference between curry leaves and other Indian herbs, the taste, benefits and uses of curry leaves.
What Are Curry Leaves
Curry leaves or as some write as ‘Kari leaves’ is an Indian herb that come from the evergreen perennial 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.
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 Curry leave called in English, or other languages then it is fairly simple as they are called ‘Curry Leaves’, or kari leaves in English, unless you want to call it ‘Murraya koenigii’ by the botanical name . 🙂
Curry leaves in hindi – kari patta, curry patta
In German – curry Blätter
In Spanish – hojas de curry
In French – feuilles de curry
What Do Curry Leaves Look Like
A point to note is that curry leaves come in different forms. It may be helpful to know how they look in each form. The use of curry leaf depending of the type you have will require different quantities to be used for cooking purposes.
Indian curry leaves can be found in 3 different types :
- Fresh curry leaves are the leaf of the curry plant. They are bright green in colour and grow along a single stalk and are the most popular type used.
2. Dry curry leaves are the sun dried leaves of the plant. They are much paler with very mild aroma.
3. Curry leaves powder is made from grounded dry leaves and is like any other powdered spice or herb and used least for cooking purposes compared to the other 3 types.
What Do Curry Leaves Taste Like
It is very hard to describe and do justice to the taste of curry leaves.
Although it may not have a dominant taste , but the presence of fresh curry leaves in a dish is unmistakable.
The closest the aroma and flavour comes 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.
How To Use Curry Leaves For Cooking
If you are an Indian food lover and enjoy cooking Indian food at home, I would highly recommend sourcing some curry leaves. You surely will not be disappointed by the multiple ways you can use them. The foods that pair well with curry leaf flavour are : coconut milk, onions, garlic, ginger, tomatoes, rice, fish, chicken, lentils, eggplant, potatoes, and orange and red foods.
But how do you use curry patta in cooking?
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 :
1. 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 the tempering method for using fresh curry leaves as well as the dried version.
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. Other uses:
- Use curry leaves to add fresh and a distinctive flavour to curries, stews, soups, rice dishes, and lentils.
- You can also add few sprigs of fresh curry leaves to yoghurt and dips.
- The combination of curry leaves with coconut milk based savoury dishes go really well. Try this easy Indian pumpkin curry in coconut milk recipe
How Many Curry Leaves To Put In A Dish
Since curry leaves have a subtle yet distinctive flavour, it is best to add at least 10 – 15 of fresh leaves when making a serving of 4 people. You can also add more if needed to get the best of flavour.
For dry curry leaves the you will need at least 20 – 25 leaves and a tsp for curry leaf powder.
Can You Eat Curry Leaves
Although a herb but are curry leaves edible?
Curry leaves are safe to consume.
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 as some people may not like the feel of a whole small leaf in their mouth.
How To Store Curry leaves
Fresh curry will loose it’s aroma and freshness if not stored properly. However they can be kept fresher for longer compared to fresh coriander leaves. .
Below are the steps you should follow to keep curry leaves fresh for longer. :
Storing Fresh Curry Leaves
Step 1 – Wipe clean or wash the leaves in cold water.
Step 2 – Leave them out to air dry on a kitchen towel until it is no longer wet. Ensure that they are completely dry before you store curry leaves.
Step 3 – Once they do not have any moisture on them wrap fresh curry leaves with or without the stalk in a 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.
Storing Dry Curry Leaves
You also have the option of air drying the leaves completely to store them for upto 6 months.
Step 1 – Wipe clean or wash the leaves in cold water.
Step 2 – Spread the leaves without the stalk on a kitchen towel and leave them for upto 3-4 days in a cool dry place on in sun for 2-3 days until completely dry and crispy. You need to to ensure that the place you leave them in is not humid.
Alternatively you can also oven dry the leaves in low temperature (50 degrees) for 10 – 20 minutes until completely dry.
Step 3 – Once dry store them in an air tight container away from direct light.
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.
Difference Between Curry Leaves Vs Curry Powder
Some people get confused ‘ If curry powder and curry leaves are the same?‘
They are 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
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.
Indian Curry Leaf VS Other Leaf Herbs
The use of curry leaves in Indian cuisine is pretty obvious to most Indian cooks. Having said that few do get confused between this Indian cooking herb with other spices.
The infograph below visually shows the different forms and the difference between curry leaves and other ingredients.
Watch this short video on What is curry leaves, how to use them for cooking and more.
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.