Curry Leaves, also called Karipatta, are a must-have in South Indian cooking. You'll even find these leaves being used in Sri Lankan, Cambodian, and Malaysian cooking. These wonderful leaves have a discernible nutty aroma, with slight notes of anise and citrus, and numerous health benefits. Keep reading to learn all about how to use, store, and enjoy curry leaves!
If you have ever found a green leaf in your Indian food, other than cilantro, it was probably a curry leaf! This is because Fresh Curry Leaves are a must-have in South Indian cooking. They are most often added into tempering (tadka) whole or chopped, to release their natural flavors and aromas. You can learn more about tempering below, in "How to Use Curry Leaves".
A host of Indian snacks and entree dishes are tempered with curry leaves. Growing up, we used to pick them out upon finding them in our food... but now after learning the health benefits, I eat them. For kids, I chop them into smaller pieces, so they are not as inclined to pick them out.
Curry leaves are also commonly used in other cuisines, such as Malaysian, Cambodian and Sri Lankan. They are also used in a similar way as with indian dishes, first fried in oil, to extract their flavor and aroma.
What are Curry Leaves?
Curry Leaves are a fresh herb that is obtained from the curry leaf plant. It is hard to describe the taste of curry leaves; they have a bitter-ish taste, yet a sweet pungent aroma. When you add them into your cooking, they will give off a nutty aroma, and slight notes of anise and citrus. If you bite directly into one, it will have a sharp taste. The only way to truly discover the taste would be to cook with it!
The scientific name for Curry Leaves is Murraya Koenigii. Of course, no one calls it this everyday! In fact, curry leaves go by many different names:
- Hindi name: Kari patta
- Tamil name: Kariveppilai
- Gujarati name: Mitho Limdo
- Malay name: Daun kari
- Chinese name: Gālí yè (Mandarin)/ Ka lei yip (Cantonese) 咖喱叶
The Curry Leaf Plant needs a warm climate to thrive and grows best in tropical regions. However, they can easily be planted and grown in your backyard, so that you can have fresh curry leaves year round! If you live in an area with a colder climate, I would recommend putting it in a pot so that you can bring the plant indoors during cold seasons.
Curry Leaves are shiny and have a dark green color. Curry powder and curry leaves are absolutely not the same, and cannot be substituted for each other! Curry leaves are so important in the South/Southeast Asian dishes which call for them, that every cook who enjoys these cuisines is sure to keep them on hand.
Benefits of Eating Curry Leaves
- They can help you lose weight. The carbazole alkaloids in curry leaves regulates cholesterol, and fights weight gain. Some people swear by curry leaves for weight loss, even suggesting to eat them raw or drink a boiled water-leaf mixture every morning.
- The calming scent of curry leaves, both raw and in cooking, can alleviate symptoms of anxiety and stress.
- They can ward off nausea. Some doctors recommend that pregnant women eat curry leaves, as it lowers their risk for infection, and helps fight pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness.
- They help fight anemia, since curry leaves are full of iron and folic acid.
How to use Curry Leaves?
The most popular way to use curry leaves is by adding them to your cooking, specifically when tempering for dals or curries. They are typically added along with mustard seeds, and green chilies initially, before adding other ingredients.
They can also be added to chutneys and salads, chopped finely or left whole. I find that chopped leaves are much easier for my kids to eat.
Below is my peanut chutney where I use curry leaves liberally when making the chutney and also to garnish it.
Where to buy Curry Leaves?
You'll find curry leaves in Indian grocery stores, and even some Asian food stores. They're very cheap, typically less than a dollar per packet. When you buy them, there will be a few small sprigs; most recipes only call for individual leaves, so take these off and discard the stems. I would suggest looking for fresh green leaves, as you would with any produce.
How to store Curry Leaves?
The first step after buying curry leaves, is to remove them from the stem and wash them. Then spread them on a kitchen towel in a single layer and gently pat dry. You can also leave them for a couple of hours on the kitchen towel to air dry.
Now, follow one of the methods below to preserve them for longer. Choose whichever one works best for you- you can even choose to divide up the leaves, keeping some in the fridge and storing the rest in the freezer or as dried leaves.
In the Refrigerator
When storing curry leaves in the fridge, wrap them in a paper towel to absorb extra moisture, and then put them in an airtight container.
Check on them whenever you use them in your cooking. If any leaves are turning black, then remove them. If water droplets form in the container, wipe them away and change the paper towel. Doing this ensures that the moisture does not rot the leaves quicker than usual, and the leaves will stay good for over 2 weeks.
In the Freezer
You can store the leaves in a box or Ziploc bag in the freezer. The leaves may change color, but the taste remains the same. Whenever you need them, you can just take out of the freezer and use as is.
Dried Curry Leaves
If you have an abundance of curry leaves and don't plan on using all of them within the time they are fresh, you can dry them- dried curry leaves stay good for 2-3 months!
Spread the curry leaves in a plate or baking tray. Let them air dry for 2-3 days on the counter or in the refrigerator. Once they are dried, they will look wilted and feel crispy. Now these can be stored in an air tight container or glass jar as is.
They can also be crumbled to a coarse or fine powder, and then stored in a glass jar. Either way, you can use them in the same way you use fresh curry leaves.
I also enjoy adding these dried curry leaves to my tea sometimes. It instantly enhances the flavors & aromas. Fresh chai with curry leaves tastes so good!
Substitute for Curry Leaves
People will often try to find substitutes for curry leaves, but I personally feel there is no good substitute for them. So if you can't find them, it is totally fine to leave them out in a recipe.
Once again, curry powder and curry leaves are absolutely not the same, and cannot be substituted!
Recipes Where I use Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are used most in South Indian cooking, but you will find them used in Western and Northern Indian recipes as well.
Here are some recipes where I use them:
I hope these tips & tricks help you in storing and using curry leaves. Try adding them into your favorite Indian recipes for wonderful, authentic flavors!
How to Store Curry Leaves
- Curry Leaves
- Remove the curry leaves from the main stem.
- Wash the leaves and then dry them. Spread on a kitchen towel in a single layer and gently pat them dry before using one of the following methods for storage. You can also leave them on the kitchen towel to air dry.
Store in refrigerator
- Wrap the leaves in a paper towel and then put in an airtight container or mason jar. Then keep it in the fridge. Whenever you notice moisture droplets inside the container, wipe them away and change the paper towel, to ensure the leaves stay fresh for as long as possible.
Store in freezer
- Put the leaves into a box or Ziploc bag, and place it in the freezer. Whenever you want to use them, just take them out of the freezer and use as is.
Dried Curry Leaves
- Spread the leaves out on a plate or tray. Let them air dry for 2-3 days on the counter or in the refrigerator.
- Once they are dried, they will have a wilted appearance and feel crispy.
- You can keep them as is, or crumble them into a coarse or fine powder. Whether you prefer the leaves whole or crushed, store them in an airtight container or jar to preserve the flavor.
Note: Nutrition values are my best estimates. If you rely on them for your diet, use your preferred nutrition calculator.
Check out more Cooking 101 posts: