The Aromatic Kaffir Leaf: What is It and How to Use It
Kaffir lime leaves are a beautifully aromatic herb used in many East Asian dishes. We discuss the kaffir leaf and how to incorporate it into your home cooking.
If you've ever visited Southeast-Asia or you're a fan of the cuisine, you may be familiar with the kaffir lime leaf.
If there's any punchy flavor to characterize this style of cuisine, the kaffir leaf would be it. It's a beautifully aromatic herb and can bring a bland dish to life, no matter what you're cooking.
That being said, the kaffir leaf should be used sparingly as it can overpower other flavors. Learn more about this wonderfully diverse herb below!
The Kaffir Leaf: Origins, Flavors, Cooking and Growing
If you've never cooked with the kaffir lime leaf before, there's no time like the present to experiment with its pungent flavor. But where does this herb originate from and how do you spot it in the supermarket?
Kaffir leaves are dark green in color and relatively thick and waxy. They are dark green and shiny on one side, and pale and porous on the other.
Botanically known as Citrus Hystrix, this herb originates from the kaffir lime tree, which also bears the kaffir lime fruit. What's important to note is that kaffir limes are not usually consumed, but rather used to produce household cleaning products! This, alone, speaks to how pungent the flavor of kaffir lime leaf really is.
The leaves, on the other hand, are used in both cooking and baking but only sparingly.
The Flavors of Kaffir Leaf
So what exactly does kaffir lime leaf add to the dishes you cook if its flavor is so punchy? Basically, the kaffir leaf is the Asian equivalent to bay leaves in Indian cooking. And you only really need two to three decent-sized bay leaves to experience flavor.
Kaffir leaves can be added recipes including Thai-inspired curries, soups, noodle dishes, and stir-fries. They are usually added whole, then removed just before eating. Alternatively, they can be sliced up into very fine slivers and added as a garnish on top of curries and soups, or incorporated into spice pastes.
The flavor and aroma of the kaffir leaf are citrus in nature, imparting a distinctive, fresh and zingy lemon-lime taste to all dishes.
Some top tips on how to use kaffir leaves according to certain dishes:
- Use the leaves whole when simmering in soups and curries
- Shred the leaves to use in Thai-inspired fish cakes and similar recipes
- Go for the fresh and tender kaffir leaves to use in salads - stay away from dried kaffir leaves as these can be bitter
- Be wary of the mid-rib of the leaf as this can add bitterness to your curries, soups and other dishes. Remove this part before cooking if you prefer.
- Frozen kaffir lime leaves can be used right away, otherwise, briefly rinse under hot water to awaken their fragrance
Some popular dishes to incorporate kaffir leaf into include: Thai green curry, chicken fried rice, Thai steamed mussels, Thai crab papaya salad, and more.
If you come across a recipe which calls for kaffir lime leaves, leave them out if you cannot find them. There really is no replacement for their unique flavor!
Growing or Buying Kaffir Lime
Kaffir lime trees are known as a dwarf citrus tree and can be grown either outdoors or indoors. They reach a maximum height of around 5-feet tall and thrive in potted environments. The perfect place to grow your own would be on a patio, deck or even in your front yard. Just make sure the container provides adequate drainage.
Otherwise, kaffir lime leaves themselves can be bought fresh or frozen from Thai or Vietnamese specialty food stores. You can generally find them in the fresh produce section beside other fresh herbs and spices.
Today, many regular supermarket chains across the U.S. also stock lime leaves, just head to the fresh herb section to find them.