Kaffir Lime Leaves, now known by the more politically correct name Makrut Lime Leaves can be difficult to find. Here are my favourite simple Makrut / Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes…
What are Makrut / Kaffir Lime Leaves?
I didn’t realize that the term Kaffir Lime Leaves was offensive to some people until recently. If you’re curious to know why there’s an excellent explanation over here. I did consider not including the k-word in this guide, but if you are looking at an older recipe, you still might be looking for substitutes under the old name.
Anyway back to these gorgeous leaves. Used in Thai and Vietnamese cooking, they are leaves from the tree of the same name. They add an intense fragrant lime flavour wherever they are used. Mostly they are simmered in sauces to impart their magic. However the leaves can be finely sliced and used directly in things like fish cakes, curry pastes or salads.
The Best Makrut / Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes
1. Lime Zest
While the fragrance isn’t as intense and complex, lime zest is the closest common ingredient to lime leaves. Substitute about 1/4 teaspoon lime zest for 2 makrut lime leaves.
2. Lemon Zest
As with lime zest, lemon won’t be as intense but it will give some fragrance to your dish, so a better choice than just leaving the lime leaves out. Start with substituting 1/4 teaspoon zest for each 2 leaves.
If you don’t have access to Makrut lime leaves, you probably won’t happen to be growing lemongrass in the garden. But if you have some of these aromatic stalks, they can be finely chopped then used wherever your recipe calls for lime leaves. As a start use 1 stalk of lemongrass for about 3-4 Makrut leaves.
4. Basil, Mint or Coriander (Cilantro)
Another option is to skip the Makrut lime leaves but serve your finished dish with extra fresh herbs like basil, mint or coriander (cilantro). If you have Thai basil, even better. Again the flavour will be different but the extra aromatics from the herbs will mean you’re not missing the lime leaves.
5. Preserved Lemon
This is a bit left-field, but the Moroccan preserved lemons do have a fragrance that is vaguely similar to lime leaves. Preserved lemons are a LOT more salty though, so be prepared to use less seasoning. I’d start with 1/4 teaspoon chopped preserved lemon for each stalk Makrut lime leaf.
6. Leave it Out
If there are a lot of other highly flavoured ingredients in your recipe, like is often the case in Thai cooking, omitting the leaves will be fine.
What about using regular lime leaves?
I have both a regular lime and makrut lime trees and comparing the two, you just don’t get much flavour from lime leaves. So while they wouldn’t hurt, you’re better of using one of the suggestions above.
How to Store Makrut / Kaffir Lime Leaves
Will keep for weeks (if not months) in a plastic bag in the crisper section of your fridge. Can be frozen.
How to Prepare Makrut / Kaffir Lime Leaves
You can either use the leaves whole or finely slice with scissors or a sharp knife. While they can be eaten, the tend to be difficult to chew so I generally leave them aside and just enjoy the fragrance they add to my dish indirectly.
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Also see see the Simple Ingredients Substitutes Index.
Have fun in the kitchen!