Kaffir lime leaves are an essential ingredient in quite a few Thai dishes, though they are quite easily forgotten about when it comes time to stock up. Finding a quality kaffir lime leaf can also be quite tricky depending on where you are. They don’t seem to travel well, with many varieties losing their ‘punch’ on their long journey to your kitchen.
Yet, for the purists, a Thai green curry simply isn’t the same without them. They balance out the flavour of the dish and for the connection between the hot spiciness of the chili and the smooth sweetness of the coconut. Thankfully, finding a substitute is totally achievable with minimal compromise or sacrifice.
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How do I cook with kaffir lime leaves?
There are many ways to use kaffir lime leaves. In some instances, it can be ground up and used as a paste. There are also several recipes out there for marinades that incorporate lime leaves that are mind-blowingly good. The most common usage sees it used in the same way you would a bay leaf – dropped into a recipe to add flavour and aroma.
Where can I find fresh kaffir lime leaves?
Quality lime leaves are notoriously difficult to come across for quite a few of us. For us, the best way to get a high quality product is to shop for it in Thai and Asian specialty markets. If you don’t have one of these in your area, many of the substitutes above will actually work better than a sub-par lime leaf.
Substitutes for Kaffir Lime Leaves
Given that sourcing authentic and high quality kaffir lime leaves is a tough ask, we have decided to compile a list of substitutes that may actually improve the overall recipe. We’ve also decided to focus on solutions that are cheap and readily available. The chances are high that one or more of these may already be in your kitchen.
So, without further ado, here’s our quick rundown of the best substitutes for kaffir lime leaf that money can buy!
1. Bay Leaf
Though bay leaves are more commonly associated with European and Mediterranean styles of cooking, they can also slide into Asian cooking without much fuss. Admittedly, it does seem strange to use an ingredient that is traditionally used for soups and stews in a curry, but one you get over that there are some clear similarities.
For example, the bay leaf is also quite a pungent flavour. Because of this it can tie a recipe together quite well. The one glaringly obvious difference between the two is that bay leaves don’t have any of the citric notes that lime leaves do. Not a problem! Simply combine the bay leaves with some lime zest, or juice, and you should find yourself engulfed by an aroma which is strikingly similar to the real deal. Bay leaves are pretty much everywhere; in your kitchen, in all stores, on a tree in the back garden.
- Incredibly easy to source
- Possesses similar notes to kaffir lime leaves
- Simple to substitute
- Will not trick the more refined palettes out there
2. Lime Zest
Substitutes rarely come as easy as this. The chances are reasonably high that if you are cooking Thai food that you will already have a lime on standby for its juice. Well, don’t discard that rind – put it to work instead!
Simply grab your zester and amass a nice pile of zest. Make sure to avoid getting any pith in there as that will only provide a very unpleasant and bitter flavour. Once you’ve got that covered, the zest can simply be sprinkled into your curry, or directly onto a meat and cooked. You should find that quite a lot of the aroma is replicated by this substitute, with the flavour also being vastly improved. Overall, this is the perfect substitute if you’re stuck in a tight spot.
- Creates that all-important citrus aroma
- Ties Thai curry dishes together perfectly
- Readily available and cheap
- Missing a bit of the pungency that lime leaves supply
3. Lime Juice
We suggested earlier on in this rundown that lime juice can be used in unison with bay leaves to replicate kaffir lime leaves, but their usefulness doesn’t end there! For the purposes of making your own Thai green curry paste, lime juice is a near perfect substitute. In fact, it works so well that most won’t even be able to detect your subtle switch.
Due the fact that citrus is by its nature acidic, it also works amazingly well as part of a marinade. It actively tenderises and penetrates any meat that it comes into contact with, and the flavour really sticks. Perhaps its main strength is the fact that it is so easy to get a hold of. If your local grocery store doesn’t have them, then there is something wrong! It can also be used in unison with bay leaves to round out the flavour of your recipe.
- Readily available and cheap
- Perfect for making curry bases
- Excellent as part of a marinade
- Won’t work in every recipe that calls for kaffir lime leaves
4. Lemon thyme
Lemon thyme, not to be confused with the common thyme plant, comes in at the end of this list. This is not because it isn’t a worthy substitute, or that it should only be used when all other options are exhausted. This is simply not the case. It comes in at the end of the list simply because it isn’t as easily available as the other substitutes. Apart from that, it has some real strengths that are worth noting.
The scent emanating from lemon thyme as it cooks more closely resembles that of kaffir lime leaves than it does thyme. It fills the air with a beautiful citric aroma which also has a slight earthy tone to it. In this sense, it achieves something that lime juice and zest simply could not. Though closely related to thyme, this substitute doesn’t possess any of the bitterness that ordinary thyme does. This herb also has other uses outside of as a substitute for kaffir lime leaves. Use it to season meats, add it into homemade stock, or try it out in fish dishes; you may well be surprised by the results!
- Adds a nice earthiness to the dish
- Relatively inexpensive
- Remarkably versatile ingredient to have at your disposal
- Harder to come by than the other substitutes listed
We hope that you found this guide to substituting for kaffir lime leaves to be a valuable and information source as you embarked on your quest for an alternative option. As you can see, there are several decent substitutes out there – one or more of which may already be lurking in your kitchen as you read this!