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11 Top Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes

Kaffir lime leaves (a key ingredient in Thai curries) can be difficult to find.

Kaffir lime leaves are not typically served as a standalone dish in Thai cuisine but rather as an aromatic garnish that is usually crushed and mixed with a little fish sauce, sugar, and tamarind water.

Have you ever had your favorite recipe ruined by the fact that you’re out of kaffir lime leaves? If so, you know it’s not a good feeling when the last ingredient is unavailable right before dinner.

Despite the undeniable goodness of kaffir lime leaves, they are not always readily available. Luckily, there’s more than one way to get that distinctive twist on your dish.

You can swap in a number of ingredients to evoke that distinct flavor and style of a kaffir lime leaf.

Here are some of the substitutes you can use when looking for that kaffir lime flavor.

Nutritional Value Table

SubstitutesCalories
Thai Basil310
Lemongrass66
Coriander (Cilantro)23
Zest90
Mint5
Lime Juice25
Orange Peels6
Bay Leaves6
Curry Leaves98
Lemon Balm Leaves48.0
Lemon Thyme220

1. Thai Basil

Thai Basil

Thai basil is perhaps one of the best substitutes for both appearance and flavor. It looks quite similar to kaffir lime leaves, with a little purple flower at the tip of each leaf. But as we say, any herb will do when it comes to cooking.

We also say that basil’s flavor is pretty close—and some would say better—than kaffir lime leaves.

The most popular variety of basil is sweet basil, but there are also varieties like lemon and cinnamon, so try one of those if you’re looking for a flavor twist!

How To Substitute

Use basil in any kaffir lime-based dish, or use 3 sprigs of basil for every 1 kaffir lime leaf.

2. Lemongrass

Lemongrass

A lemongrass stalk looks similar to kaffir lime leaves and is also used as a flavoring in Southeast Asian cooking.

But it’s not going to impress anyone when you serve it as an actual substitute—lemon-infused dishes are quite different from those that are lime-infused.

What you can do is add lemongrass to the butter or oil in which you’re sautéing your vegetables and/or chicken, then remove it before serving. It won’t make your food look like it has lime leaves, but it’ll still have that distinctive flavor.

How To Substitute

Use about 1/4 of a stalk for every 2 leaves. The flavor is much more intense than you’d get from the leaves, so be careful not to overdo it! Eat the stalk itself after taking out the leaves—it’s a super-healthy addition to any meal.

3. Coriander (Cilantro)

Coriander (Cilantro)

Another close relative of the lemongrass, coriander (cilantro in English), has the same unique flavor as lemon and lime. It’s a staple ingredient throughout much of Southeast Asia.

So much so that in Thai cooking, you’ll see a dish called cilantro tom yum goong, which translates roughly to “coriander soup with cilantro. A rather odd name, but an awesomely delicious dish.

You can use fresh coriander leaves in place of kaffir lime leaves or use dried ground coriander in place of the leaves altogether.

How To Substitute

If you’re looking for a visual substitute, you can buy coriander plants and cut just the tops off (you’ll eat the base). These look similar to kaffir limes—though they’re not as bright green—and they have a similar flavor, though milder. Eat them with any lime-based dish. Use at a ratio of 1:1.

4. Zest

Zest

One of the most commonly replaced kaffir lime leaves is zest. This is especially true in western cooking, where people like their food not only delicious but loud too! Our favorite ingredient for this is lemon zest, but you can also use lime zest.

It looks a little different—you don’t have the leaves to add color and texture—but it’ll still taste just like a lime leaf.

Just make sure when you’ve grated or zested your lime that it’s not over-zested! Noodles with too much lemon or lime taste bitter and weak.

How To Substitute

Use lemon or lime zest in any tropical dish. The amount you use will depend on how strong of a flavor you want to achieve. Add about 5 tsp for every 1 kaffir lime leaf.

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5. Mint

Mint

A close relative to the kaffir lime—and another common substitute—mint has a persistent, distinctive flavor. Mint is an entirely different plant from basil or coriander but lasts just as long in the kitchen.

It’s worth looking into if you’re a mint lover. If you can find it, look for spearmint or peppermint leaf instead of kaffir lime leaves if you want to go without any visual hints.

How To Substitute

Use about 3 sprigs for every 1 kaffir lime leaf in any tropical dish.

6. Lime Juice

Lime Juice

Not all cooks use lime leaves, but some do. If you’re making a dish that has no representation of the lime leaves, you’ll have to use lime juice instead.

It’s a little more work than just using actual leaves in a recipe, as you have to extract them from the fruit before using it.

But it doesn’t take much effort—just use one piece of lemongrass at a time and slice them into wedges. Then add the zest of your lemon or lime and run under water until the juice comes out.

You’ll be left with some zest, but we’re assuming you’re not using the zest of your lemon in the dish anyway, right?

How To Substitute

Use lime or lemon juice in any recipes requiring kaffir leaves. The amount will depend on the consistency of your dish. You might need a lot more than you’d think! Use about 5 tbsps for every 1 kaffir leaf.

7. Orange Peels

Orange Peels

The orange peel is another flavoring that we rarely substitute for the true leaves. It has a great flavor and doesn’t take much time to prepare, but it’s not as aromatic as what you use and doesn’t have any texture.

You can add some of the orange juices or even use the zest from an orange fruit in a dish where you’d typically add kaffir lime leaves.

How To Substitute

Use about 2 tsp for every 1 kaffir lime leaf in any dish. But again, be careful not to overdo it! Orange peels have a more orange flavor than lime leaves do, so don’t use them as much if you’re looking to get that “limey” taste.

8. Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves

Bay leaves are one of those rare ingredients that look suspiciously similar to the actual leaves. It’s been used since ancient times in European cooking, and it can get a little expensive.

But it’s worth investing in if you’re looking for a delicious taste close to kaffir lime leaves.

Just make sure you don’t overcook them in your dish, or they’ll turn brown and bitter.

How To Substitute

Use bay leaves in any recipe that calls for kaffir lime leaves. Use about 4 whole ones for every 1 leaf because their flavor is quite strong, but not as strong as lemon or lime. They’re great with fish dishes, as well as sauces like pesto.

9. Curry Leaves

Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are another ingredient that looks like the actual leaves. They’re quite different, though! Curry leaves smell quite strongly—even to non-Indians—they’re used more in Indian and Thai cooking.

But they don’t have a flavor as strong as that of other spices like curry paste and curry powder. If you feel like you’re missing out on that typical curry flavor, then you’ll want to look into substituting for these leaves.

How To Substitute

Use about 6 leaves for every 1 kaffir lime leaf. Make sure you use fresh leaves for the best results.

10. Lemon Balm Leaves

Lemon Balm Leaves

Lemon balm is a prevalent herb in the United States, and it has a lavender-like flavor found in a lot of dishes. It’s commonly used as a lemony substitute for basil or as an aromatic.

It’s easier to find than kaffir lime leaves these days, so it’s worth trying out if you want to find the authentic taste of lemon.

How To Substitute

Use about 1 tbsp for every 1 kaffir lime leaf. They’re great with fish and seafood, as well as desserts.

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11. Lemon Thyme

Lemon Thyme

Lemon thyme is a common substitute for a lemon-lime-flavored herb, although it’s not related to either one.

It is used in many American dishes to mimic the flavor of lemons, which are often omitted in recipes that use lemon thyme instead. If you’re looking for that fresh, lemony taste with a bit of spice, then you might want to give lemon thyme a chance.

How To Substitute

Use about 1 tbsp for every 1 kaffir lime leaf. It’s great with fish and seafood, as well as desserts.

Frequently Asked Questions

What Is The Substitute For Kaffir Lime Leaves?

There are three main types of Kaffir lime substitutes. Most often, the leaves are replaced with lemon, lime, or orange peels – however, keep in mind that the “kaffir” flavor is from a specific species of citrus called “Citrus x aurantifolia.”

The lemon and lime leaves have a relatively mild flavor; orange peel, on the other hand, has a stronger and fruitier flavor.

Not all types of citrus will work in place of kaffir lime leaves. Some cooks will use the leaves from the Key lime (which is called Persian lime in some countries).

This substitute can be used when making a Mexican dish, but as it’s more expensive than other limes, it is not recommended as a general Kaffir lime leaf replacement.

What Is The Substitute For Kaffir Lime Leaves In Thai Food?

If you want to substitute kaffir lime leaves in Thai cooking, you can use either finely chopped lemongrass or lemon zest to add a similar citrus flavor. You can also substitute kaffir lime leaves with lime leaves.

What Is The Substitute For Kaffir Lime Leaves In Indian Food?

If you are looking to substitute kaffir leaves in Indian cooking, then you should use lemon or orange peel to get the flavor you are looking for.

The variety of lemons used in southern Indian cooking is called Chota lemons, whereas those used in North India are called Seedi lemons.

The common substitution replaces lemon or orange peel with orange zest. However, you should be careful as many brands of orange zest contain added artificial flavors as well as colorings.

Where Can I Find Substitutes For Kaffir Lime Leaves?

There are many types of Kaffir lime substitutes available. The leaves are often sold in specialty food stores or Middle Eastern markets, or they can be purchased online.

If you are looking to substitute leaves, it will depend on the dish you are making and what type of replacement is required. For example, a Mexican dish may require lime juice rather than lime peel.

Are Kaffir Lime Leaf Substitutes Safe For Consumption?

Kaffir lime leaves are used by many people for a variety of medicinal purposes, and their leaves do not have any reported negative effects on human health when eaten in small quantities.

However, it is recommended that the consumption of Kaffir lime leaves is limited to one or two leaves per week (1).

As it is not recommended to take large quantities of kaffir limes each day, the question arises as to whether they are safe for consumption. The answer to this is yes, Kaffir limes can be safely consumed in small doses as long as they are organic.

Do Kaffir Lime Leaves Taste Different From The Usual Kaffir Lime Powder?

When fresh Kaffir limes are used, they have a distinct flavor with a more citrus taste than the usual kaffir lime powder.

The difference is not as strong as it is with the dried version and is therefore not readily noticeable when prepared with fresh leaves.

However, if you prefer your curries on the sweeter side, you may choose to leave out the kaffir limes.

If this is something you would like to experiment with, it would be best to try using a pinch of ground turmeric instead to replicate its distinctive flavor and replace it when needed.

11 Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes

5 from 4 votes
Prep time

15

minutes
Cooking time

15

minutes
Total time

30

minutes

Kaffir Lime Leaves can be substituted for lime leaves in recipes and make a noticeable difference in taste.

Ingredients

  • Thai Basil

  • Lemongrass

  • Coriander (Cilantro)

  • Zest

  • Mint

  • Lime Juice

  • Orange Peels

  • Bay Leaves

  • Curry Leaves

  • Lemon Balm Leaves

  • Lemon Thyme

Directions

  • Choose your favorite substitute from the list given above
  • Follow the directions given in the recipe after having substituted the ingredient in the correct ratio

Recipe Video

Jess Smith