Curry leaves are a citrusy, aromatic, flavor-enhancing herb that imparts a distinctive fragrance and a unique allure to your food. These glossy and stately leaves come in a beautiful elongated shape, and a shiny deep green hue, making them one of the most picture-perfect herbs you can find.
With their citrusy aromatic notes, fresh curry leaves are a must-have in South Indian cooking and daals. Add them whole in tadka or coarsely chop so they release more intense flavors and aroma. Often paired with mustard seeds, asafoetida, and/or chilies they are vital, especially in South Indian cooking.
What do curry leaves taste like?
Curry leaves have a characteristic flavor, though it is sort of difficult to define the actual taste it can be compared to citrus, anise, or lemongrass. Once cooked, they impart a sharp bite and a nutty aroma. A host of Indian snacks and entree dishes are tempered with curry leaves.
Unlike bay leaves, you do not need to pick out the curry leaves from your food. Chopping them up helps someone like me who grew up picking them out, to instead eat them as they are packed with vitamins, minerals, and anti-oxidants.
Curry leaves are not the same as curry powder!
While curry leaves are a fresh herb that is obtained from the curry leaf plant, curry powder is a spice blend made by grinding together a select bunch of dried spices and herbs. And while curry powder is added to flavor the entire dish, curry leaves are used to temper the dish and impart a more subtle aroma.
MOC Note: There is really no substitute for curry leaves, so skip them if you do not have them. You cannot substitute curry leaves and curry powder for each other!
A treasure trove of health benefits:
Not only do curry leaves enhance the flavor of the dish, but they pack in a ton of health benefits too:
- Rich in Vitamin A, B, C and B2
- Good source of iron and calcium
- Known to have anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and anti-cancer properties
- Stimulate digestive enzymes and lower blood glucose levels
- Helps keep your skin and hair healthy
Murraya koenigii is the Scientific name for the curry leaf tree and is not the same as Helichrysum italicum sometimes called as the curry plant. So if you are planning to grow your own curry leaf plant make sure to check the name.
Curry leaves are known by different names in various regions of India such as Kadi Patta (Marathi), Karibevu (Kannada), Mitho Limdo (Gujrati), and Karuvepillai (Tamil), among others.
The curry leaves plant needs a warm climate to thrive and grows best in tropical regions. Growing up I remember many of us having curry leaves plants in addition to the Holy basil known as Tulsi in our balconies and home gardens.
Cooking with Curry Leaves
I use curry leaves liberally in my cooking. I love the way it visually enhances my food and lends a subtle aroma to it. Also, I like to chop the leaves finely and add them to the tempering so that, my kids don’t pick them out of the food, and instead end up eating this healthy goodness. Here is my South Indian Ven Pongal Recipe where I use chopped-up curry leaves liberally in the tempering.
Although, in some dishes, like my Malabar Shrimp Curry I prefer adding them whole for a more visually striking plating.
Buying Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are readily available in the Indian grocery stores, and also in some Asian supermarkets. I always stock up on curry leaves whenever I visit my local Indian grocery store. You can also buy air-dried curry leaves as well as fresh curry leaves online from amazon. Also, check with your local Whole Foods too, I was lucky to find them in my neighborhood store.
MOC Pro Tip – When you are buying curry leaves, look for leaves that are fresh green, unbruised, and not too big. Stores sell sprigs of packaged curry leaves, and most recipes will call for individual leaves. So you can discard the stem.
How to store curry leaves
Here are few ways to store curry leaves and extend their shelf life:
- Refrigerate curry leaves in an airtight container, wrapped in paper towels to absorb any excess moisture and they will stay good for 2 weeks
- Air dry – I will usually buy 2 packs at a time and leave one pack in my refrigerator door. They eventually will dry up and get crisp, see photo below. Alternately, you can air dry them in a large tray lined with paper towels and let them sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 days. Then store them in a glass jar in your pantry. Air-dried curry leaves are also available on Amazon and in Indian grocery stores
- Freeze – Keep the bag in your freezer, frozen curry leaves will change the color to darker green, but the taste and benefits will remain the same
Here are some of my favorite Indian recipes to use curry leaves:
- Spinach Dal
- Dill Lentils
- Dal Dhokli
- Cabbage Rice
- Bisi Bele Bhath
- Masale Bhath
- Kadhi Khichdi
- Sprouted Masoor Khichdi
- Curried Batata Bhaji
- Baingan Bharta
- Rava Dhokla
More fun & creative ideas to use curry leaves
- Pop Corn – Next time you pop your corn kernels for popcorn, add curry leaves to the oil. Coconut oil or Homemade ghee also adds great flavors to popcorn
- Roasted Veggies – Add a handful of curry leaves when roasting veggies. You will love the citrusy aromas in your baked fries or crispy cauliflower
- Aromatic Ghee – Add a spring of curry leaves after the ghee is done cooking to add wonderful aromas to homemade ghee
- Hair Oil – I have heard people making homemade oil for hair growth, by boiling curry leaves in coconut oil. Curry Leaves are a rich source of beta-carotene and proteins, which can reduce hair loss and increase hair growth. They also contain amino acids and antioxidants which strengthen the hair follicles and moisturize the scalp. So go ahead and use some warm oil infused with curry leaves to massage your head and hair.