What’s this nobbly, bumpy, craggly looking lime, you ask? Well, chances are it’s a makrut lime, the less smooth but sure-as-heck punchy citrus cousin to your ‘regular’ lean green juice machines. That said juice? Not used so much. The peel? You’ll find it in the odd curry paste. But it’s those makrut lime leaves (also known as kaffir lime leaves), with their intense fragrance, that lend themselves perfectly in Thai cuisine and many southeast Asian dishes. Here’s everything you need to know about this famous ingredient.
Makrut lime leaves: Marion’s ultimate explainer guide
What is makrut lime?
You can tell a makrut lime from its bumpy appearance compared to regular limes. The leaves are hourglass-shaped ‘double’ leaves, so each stem has two leaves at the end of it (this counts as two leaves if you are cooking with them!). You’ll notice the leaves are a lovely dark, glossy colour on one side, and paler and more porous on the other.
What do makrut lime leaves taste like?
Makrut lime leaves are distinctly citrus. The flavour they provide is quite bold, bright and fresh with more of a lemony taste. While they have a citrus taste, they don’t have the same sharpness as standard citrus fruits.
Makrut lime leaves have an hourglass-shaped “double” leaf structure.
Where can I buy makrut lime leaves?
Head to the fresh herb section of your supermarket or Asian grocer to get your hands on them. You can typically also find dried makrut lime leaves in many major supermarkets, although they won’t provide as intense a flavour as fresh ones. If you’re struggling to source either variety near you, you could even consider growing your own.
Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass and galangal are called the ‘holy trinity’ of Thai cuisine.
How to use them in your cooking
You might like to add whole leaves to things like curries to infuse a lovely citrussy flavour to the dish. However, remove and discard them before you tuck in! Otherwise I like to finely shred leaves and use them as a fresh garnish to get more intensity. As the aroma can lose freshness in the heat, add the leaves at the end.
If you’re slicing them, be sure to remove the centre vein from the leaves first – it’s pretty tough, so best to get rid of that bit. I like to roll up the leaves into a cylinder shape and finely slice with a kitchen knife, otherwise you can stack them flat and do that way instead.
The dried variety won’t be as bold or bright a flavour, so you may want to increase the amount you use.
Use fresh makrut lime leaves in your curries to add a beautiful, unique aroma.
Can I use the juice or the zest?
The juice itself is very bitter, so it’s not used in cooking. However, if you have fresh makrut limes to hand, you could always use them in a traditional Thai way. Cut them in half to release the intense aroma, then place in a bathroom or kitchen as a natural air freshener.
Storing fresh makrut lime leaves
If you’re lucky enough to find fresh makrut lime leaves in your area, the good news is that they store really well in the freezer. Keep them whole in a snaplock bag, then they should be good for up to a year.
Thai Panang curry uses both makrut lime zest and leaves to give flavour and depth.
What is a substitute for makrut lime leaves?
Sometimes it’s not always easy to get your hands on particular ingredients. As makrut lime leaves have quite a distinctive flavour, there isn’t a close match you can substitute them for. You can try to add extra lime zest to your dishes if you have regular limes on hand, but unfortunately nothing is going to give the same intensity or citrus flavour as makrut lime leaves. Either leave them out entirely, or you could try adding some regular lime zest to bring some fresh, citrus notes to your dish.