Kaffir lime leaves, or daun limau purut in Bahasa Malaysia, comes from the kaffir lime tree, tree native to tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia. The leaves are highly aromatic and suitable for most Asian cuisines, be it spicy, sour or both. They’re easily recognisable by their eight-figure shaped, emerald-green leaf lobes, which makes them appear as if two leaves are joined together.
The leaves have also long been used as a traditional, alternative medicine with proven health benefits. Some of the most important health benefits of kaffir lime include its ability to promote oral health, detoxify the blood, boost skin health, improve digestion, ward off insects, lower inflammation, aid the immune system, reduce stress, and improve the health of the hair.
Health benefits of kaffir lime include its ability to promote oral health, detoxify the blood, boost skin health, improve digestion, ward off insects, lower inflammation, aid the immune system, reduce stress, and improve the health of the hair.
What to look for when buying kaffir lime leaves
The leaves have an unusual, hourglass shape, which almost looks like two leaves joined together at the tip. The kaffir lime leaves are rich with natural oils, so it’s always best to use them fresh if possible. This is tricky for anyone living outside South East Asia though. Luckily, various processing techniques enable kaffir lime leaves to be transported around the world, where they are sold in specialist ingredient shops. It’s possible to buy preserved, frozen or powdered kaffir lime leaves, though they are most widely available in dried, or freeze-dried form.
How to prepare
Kaffir lime leaves add a strong citrus flavour to meals. Here’s how to prepare kaffir lime leaves.
- Remove the thick centre vein from the leaves. This makes them easier to slice, and the tough centres can be too chewy to eat.
- Stack a few leaves, then use a sharp knife to thinly slice lengthways. This is easier and quicker than cutting them individually.
- Freeze shredded lime leaves in a sealable plastic bag. Surprisingly, it can be stored for up to a year.
How to cook with kaffir lime leaves
When cooking with kaffir leaves, it’s best to think of them as a kind of aromatic bay leaf — most commonly used to infuse curries, soups, stir fries or stocks. Cooks ‘bruise’ or crush fresh leaves in their hands to help release their aromas before adding them to a dish. When using dried leaves, the heat and moisture of cooking helps them release their flavour.
Aside from soups and broths, kaffir lime leaves can also be used to infuse anything from a pickling juice to a salt cure or sugar syrup. It’s a little more unusual, but some recipes use fresh kaffir lime leaves as an ingredient in their own right, either pounding them into a pulp, or slicing them finely.
How to use kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are perfect for adding flavour to Asian cuisine. They are highly aromatic and add their own elegant flavour to stir-fry, curry, salad and fish cake dishes. For example, kaffir lime leaves is often used in hot and sour shrimp soup. The leaves are dried under direct sunlight as it brings out more aroma than using fresh leaves. Finally, the leaves are placed in the soup for about a minute before the dish is finally done.
Some examples for kaffir lime leaves use include:
- Thai curry dishes, soups (such as Tom Yum), fish cakes, and steamed dishes
- Indonesian curry dishes
- Asian bouquet garni – a make-up of kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass and ginger as the bouquet garni ingredients and use to flavour stock
- Kroueng – a Cambodian-style paste using kaffir lime leaves as the base
- Flavoured rice. When cooking your rice, especially jasmine rice, throw in a few leaves. The flavour will be imparted to the rice.
- As an additive to marinate chicken, pork or lamb dishes.
- Add a kaffir lime leaf to sugar overnight and use the sugar to make a syrup the next day.