What are Curry Leaves?
Curry leaves are the dried leaves of Curry trees, a relative of lime trees and other citrus plants. They have a sharp citrus aroma with a hint of spice and a bitterness which helps balance the other pungent flavours found in many curries. They are particularly common in Sri Lankan cuisine.
What do Curry Leaves Taste like?
Contrary to what you might think, curry leaves don’t taste like curry. They actually have a flavour similar to kaffir lime leaves, a herbal bitterness and a citrus kick. When cooked they can impart a nutty or even anise like flavour.
What are Curry Leaves used for?
As their name suggests curry leaves are used to flavour curries all across Asia but primarily in India, Sri Lanka and Pakistani cuisine. They are typically used in much the same way as bay leaves, being added towards the end of the cooking process and allowed to impart flavour while simmering. You can remove the curry leaves from your dish if preferred but they are edible and packed with nutrients so we recommend cutting them into fine strips to release the flavour and allow them to easily disperse into a dish. Fresh curry leaves can be used to make flavourful chutneys which are perfect accompaniment to poppadoms. The flavour they impart is versatile and can be used to elevate a number of dishes from South Asia like the spicy soup rasam or the fried street snack Vada.
Curry Leaves recipes
We’ve put together a few of our favourite recipes using curry leaves that we’ve found over the years:
- Curry leaves chutney
- Vegetarian Indian curry with Falafel
- Smashed Potato Salad with Turmeric and Curry Leaf Dressing
Names and Origins
It turns out that curry, the spicy sauce dishes eaten across Asia, is not named after the curry leaf, in fact the opposite is true, they are named for their use in many traditional curries in India and South Asia. The flavour they impart is closer to that of Kaffir Lime or other citrus than one would think based on its name. Curry leaves come from the curry tree Murraya koenigii , a member of the family Rutacea which also contains citrus trees and the sichuan pepper plant. In Hindi it is referred to as meetha neem meaning “sweet neem”, neem being another local tree with significantly more bitter leaves. The word “Curry'' is derived from the Tamil word kari meaning a spiced sauce.
Curry leaves have been used in the Indian subcontinent for millennia, with records going back to the 1st century AD. The tree itself grows roughly 4-5m in height and with small green leaves. The leaves are a deep shiny green on the top surface and a paler, lighter green on the underside.
Curry leaves are believed to hold medicinal properties in Ayurvedic and Siddha traditions where they are considered to be a powerful antioxidant with anti-inflammatory properties.