When it comes to ingredients and extra flavorings in Thai cuisine, few can add that little extra flavor in the same way that kaffir lime leaves do.
When you’re looking for a little extra zest in your meal, this humble little herb is there to punch up your recipe to something that will light up anyone’s taste buds.
However, with Thai not being the most popular cuisine in every corner of the world, it can sometimes be quite difficult to source all the ingredients you need to make your favorite dishes.
And the same can be said for the herbs and seasonings you need too.
So, when your pantry has run dry of kaffir lime leaves, and your nearest store doesn’t stock them, what do you do then?
Well, ideally, a magical shipment of leaves would be put on the shelf.
However, more realistically, you’re going to need to find an alternative.
Fortunately, there are quite a few herbs and ingredients that you can use to get the same or a similar result in your Thai cooking. And this list will show you what those ingredients are!
Qualities Of Kaffir Lime Leaves
Before we start discussing what ingredients you can start using instead of kaffir lime leaves, we should probably first define a few of the key qualities that kaffir leaves have.
After all, you need to know what qualities you’ll be replacing in your substitute!
Kaffir lime leaves, also known more commonly as Makrut lime leaves, are exactly what they say they are: They come from the Makrut lime tree!
These are popular ingredients to use in many Southeast Asian dishes, although they are most popular in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.
These leaves carry that same distinct citrus lime flavor that the fruit of the tree carries, making them a great ingredient to add when you want to add a little sourness and sweetness to a recipe.
They are particularly potent when added to a sauce early on so that the flavors of the leaves can diffuse into a broth or mix. They’re ideal for a variety of curries and soups too!
Generally speaking, makrut leaves can both be taken out of a recipe when they have been mixed for a long enough period, or simply left in a dish to allow them to release even more of their flavors.
Alternatively, these leaves can be finely sliced and thrown into a recipe to allow even better coverage and spreading of a delicious lime flavor.
Substitutes For Kaffir Makrut Lime Leaves
So, when it comes to finding a good substitute for makrut lime leaves in your recipe, the key detail that you need to be looking for is the citrus lime flavor, and how easily it diffuses into a recipe.
A substitute that can be diced will also be a great quality to look for.
So, with that out of the way, let’s take a look at some of the best substitutes for makrut lime leaves that you’ll find today
1. Lime Zest
Starting with the zestiest option on this list, we have… well, lime zest!
Grating or grinding the zest off of lime, or simply buying lime zest in a store, is probably one of the easiest options that you’ll find when it comes to finding a decent makrut lime leaf substitute.
After all, limes themselves are incredibly easy to find in virtually any store with a decently stocked fruit and veg section, and grating the zest is a simple process to follow too.
However, how does lemon zest compare to makrut lime leaves in terms of flavor?
Well, lime zest will certainly cover you when it comes to getting a sour citrus flavor into your recipe.
The zest mixes well into a dish, too, so you won’t have to worry about taking the leaves out eventually when you are ready to serve the dish.
If you need a substitute for your favorite Thai or Vietnamese dish, this is one of the best options that you can go with for a substitute!
2. Bay Leaves
Following up not far behind lime zest, we have another favorite herb that is used in a variety of recipes across Asia.
Bay leaves are a very popular ingredient to use in many Indian and other South Asian dishes.
They are used very similarly to makrut lime leaves too, as they are added into the mixture to help add flavors to pastes for curries, so not much will need to be changed about a recipe.
They’re also pretty easy to get a hold of. No section of a supermarket that has dedicated herbs and spices shelves would be complete without bay leaves.
However, when discussing flavor, bay leaves and muskrat lime leaves are quite different.
Whereas the latter has a very citrus-sweet and sour flavor, the former has a more flowery flavor to it, meaning that your flavors may not be exactly what you expect.
However, when combined with lime or lemon zest, you’ll find that you’ll have an excellent substitute for bay leaves.
3. Lemon Zest
Speaking of lemon zest, let’s discuss its uses as a makrut lime leaf substitute!
Generally speaking, lemon and lime are often used interchangeably when it comes to many recipes in different cuisines, and the same applies to many dishes that you would typically use makrut lime leaves in.
Lemons are arguably even easier to get a hold of than limes in some places, so getting the lemon to zest for a recipe will be easy if you cannot find kaffir lime leaves.
When it comes to cooking, like lime zest, lemon zest will produce a similar effect in terms of flavor, albeit perhaps slightly less strong.
However, you will get a sour and sweet aroma from mixing this dish, which goes very well in many Thai and Vietnamese foods.
4. Traditional Lime Leaves
You may want to consider using traditional lime leaves if you cannot find any kaffir lime leaves in your local stores.
After all, if makrut lime leaves are simply leaves of a regional variant of standard limes, then why not use traditional lime leaves instead?
This certainly can work, at least with a lot of prep work. Normal lime leaves are not typically used as cooking ingredients in themselves, so normally aren’t added to dishes.
However, in a pinch, you’ll find that you will get a somewhat zesty flavor when adding them to a recipe instead.
However, you will probably also notice that the flavor you do get is somewhat more muted, as well as carrying some bitter notes to it.
However, they are easily available, so don’t count this ingredient out immediately!
5. Lime Juice
If the lime flavor is the aim with makrut leaves. Why not just use lime or lemon juice instead?
Well, you’ll certainly get the flavor that you’re looking for, that’s for sure!
However, the high water content could accidentally throw off the consistency you are looking for in a paste, becoming too runny.
However, finding lime or lemon juice is a very easy option, so feel free to add them to a stew or soup!
Okay, this option is probably a stretch. After all, if you’re struggling to get a hold of kaffir lime leaves, then finding lemongrass may also be a struggle for you from your local stores.
However, if you’re looking something that offers a little sourness to help balance your paste or dish, lemongrass can be finely chopped up and thrown in your recipe, and will work very nicely.
As a general rule, you should only use 1 lemongrass piece for every 3 to 4 kaffir lime leaves you would traditionally use.
As you can see, it’s hard to exactly replicate every quality that kaffir lime leaves have.
However, it isn’t impossible, if you have the right substitutes!