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Kaffir lime

Kaffir lime

Kaffir lime ( มะกรูด ) is a citrus fruit from the “makrut” lime plant, which is very common and widely used in Southeast Asia. It grows on a shrubby thorny bush, which can be cultivated both in a pot or in the open. It is such a key ingredient in Thai cooking that nearly every family living in the countryside has kaffir lime as a fixed part of their backyard.

Kaffir lime bushKaffir lime is easy to recognize by its distinctly hourglass shaped double leaves. You pick the darkest leaves on the bush first, and leave the lighter ones to mature a bit longer. The thick leaves are dark green and shiny on the front, and a paler green, matt on the back. The fruit itself is green and ripens to yellow, with an exterior that is bumpy and rough with brain-like looking textures. The fruit is about the size of a regular lime, but the surface makes it easy to distinguish from regular lime, which has a much more smooth peel.

The aromatic leaves are the most frequently used part of the plant and can be used fresh, dried or frozen. I highly recommend using fresh or frozen leaves, as the dried ones tend to be less aromatic and flavorful. The leaves freeze very well and can be stored for up to a year. Just place them in a zip-lock bag, take out a few leaves as you need them, and leave the rest in the freezer for next time.

The stem is not used, so to prepare the leaves for cooking, fold them in half and tear the stem off. Depending on the use, you then either leave them as is or slice them very thin. The whole leaves are used in soups and curries, and the sliced leaves as topping on dishes such as curries and salads. If you are using frozen leaves, you can thaw and soften the leaves by rinsing them in hot water. This also helps to bring out the flavor.preparing kaffir lime for cookingNote that the leaves are used as a taste giver, similar to bay leaves. This means you do not eat it unless it is very finely chopped. If added to a soup or curry, just remove the leaf before serving. Or leave it in for the sake of appearance, and remove the leaves before eating.

Kaffir lime leaves can be purchased at any local market in Thailand, or at Asian food stores or larger supermarkets abroad. But you can also order them online.

If you are unable to find kaffir lime leaves for your cooking, I think, it is better to leave it out, than to substitute with another ingredient. There is really no other herb that has the wonderful aromatic citrus fragrance that kaffir lime leaves do.

How about the fruit itself? In Thailand, the kaffir lime is not consumed due to its bitter and tart juice. The zest is sometimes used in cooking, for example in curry pastes. But the fruits are mainly used to produce essential oils, household cleaning products, shampoo or for cleaning your feet before a massage. I have enjoyed this pleasure for years at my local massage place – they say it is good for your digestion and helps detoxify your blood….

2 thoughts on “Kaffir lime”

  • I am a huge fan of Thai food and an even bigger fan of bold citrusy flavors. The first time I knew that I had kaffir lime fruit was when a friend of mine made these amazing tarts. She had snagged a recipe from Rachel Ray I think. That used the zest of the fruit. It was so strong and bold.I really enjoyed the flavor.
    Until then I had not realized that kaffir lime fruit was even edible.
    Kaffir lime leaves are hard to find here and I am so grateful when I do. Do you know if drying them is a good way to preserve them like you can do with bay leaves? I really enjoy what they add to curry and I always feel like it is missing if I can not find them.
    I love the site and I am enjoying all the great information and recipes available. I will be trying the Nam Prik Pao recipe!

    • Hi Christina, thank you for your nice comment. Yes, you can preserve kaffir lime leaves by drying them. However, if you intend to use them for cooking, I recommend freezing them instead, as too much of the good characteristic flavour is compromised by using dried leaves. If you can’t get them, where you live, it is possible to buy them online. I will post a link for that on the web-site. Good luck with trying the Nam Prik Pao recipe. I hope it turns out good, and that you will enjoy using it in your cooking.

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