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Top 11 Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes in Thai Cuisine

Kaffir lime leaves are an essential aromatic leaf to infuse your soups, curries, stocks, and stir-fries.

Dieticians associate kaffir lime leaves with detoxification, improved oral health, and better digestion.

So what happens when you don’t have kaffir lime leaves and need a similar citric flavor? What kaffir lime leaves substitute can serve the purpose?

Check out our list to choose an excellent substitute for kaffir lime leaves that works for you.

Where to Buy Kaffir Lime Leaves Near You

Kaffir lime leaves are a common food ingredient in Thailand. They’re a reasonably traditional spice and may not be found in some stores.

Luckily, most Asian and Vietnamese food stores sell original kaffir lime leaves.

Some Chinese food stores also sell leaves. These stores sell both dried and fresh kaffir lime leaves. Likewise, credible online stores like Amazon.com also sell dried kaffir lime leaves.

However, before you purchase any kaffir lime leaves, ensure the leaves are not yellowing or brownish. They should be dark green.

What Can You Substitute for Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves are shrubs from the citric family. Therefore, most citrus-flavored spices can substitute these leaves. These are the 11 best substitutes.

1. Bay Leaves

red bay leaves

Bay leaves are an excellent substitute for kaffir lime leaves. They taste similar and have a slightly bitter and pungent smell. The only difference is that bay leaves have less of a citric taste.

In addition, you can use bay leaves as you would use kaffir lime leaves. You can use them to season:

  • Soups
  • Sauces
  • Stews
  • Seafood
  • Rice dishes

Like kaffir lime leaves, you can also dry bay leaves and use them as a herb to spice up your dishes.

It’s also a good idea to look for some bay leaves substitutes for your recipe.

2. Lemon Zest

lemon zest

Lemon zest has a slightly similar taste to lime leaves. In addition, both kaffir lime leaves and lemon zest have a sharp citrus flavor and pungent smell.

Therefore, you can use the lemon zest as an alternative to kaffir lime leaves, although lemon zest will give your dishes some sweet taste besides the citrous taste.

3. Lemon Thyme

lemon thyme

Pink peppercorn lemon thyme is a perfect kaffir lime leaves substitute. Its deep lemon fragrance makes it similar to kaffir lime leaves.

You can use lemon thyme for soups, salads, fishes and seasoned meat.

Furthermore, lemon thyme gives your dishes a citrus flavor without the bitterness you would get from kaffir lime leaves.

Hence, you can use the same amount of lemon thyme for your dishes as you would use kaffir lime leaves.

4. Lime Juice

lime juice

The distinctiveness of kaffir lime leaves comes from their citrus flavor [1]. 

To get this flavor when you don’t have kaffir lime leaves, you can use lime juice to add some acidity and lime traces to your curry or soup.

5. Lemongrass


Lemongrass is a good kaffir lime leaves replacement. It tastes like lemon, but its lemon flavor is more crusty, feeling like lemon mint.

This crustiness adds some bitterness to your dishes the same way kaffir lime leaves would.

Lemongrass is hence suitable for all the recipes that need kaffir lime leaves. Finely chop them and cook them when your recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves.

Its light aroma and taste allow you to add an extra stalk to your curries and stews without affecting the taste of your dishes.

6. Curry Leaves

curry leaves

While curry leaves and kaffir lime leaves can be replaced with each other, they’re only suitable for more substantial dishes.

Initially used in Indian cuisine, the curry leaf is a potent leaf with health properties [2]. Curry leaves, like kaffir lime leaves, give your dishes some citrus flavor.

7. Persian Limes

persian limes

Persian Limes are ubiquitous in countries like the United States of America.

They’re readily available in grocery stores, and this availability makes them an excellent replacement for kaffir lime leaves. This lime has a similar citrus flavor note that kaffir lime leaves have.

Besides, Persian limes also have some juice with a similar fragrance as that of kaffir lime leaves juice. This spice is also easy to use; cut your lime fruit into halves and squeeze the juice into your soups or curries.

In addition, the Persian lime is seedless, making it straightforward to use. With it, you’ll not bother removing seeds from your dishes before you serve them. You can use fresh Persian limes or dried Persian limes.

8. Thai Basil

thai basil

Thai basil is as native to the Asian continent as kaffir lime leaves. Like kaffir lime leaves, Thai basil is perfect for your:

  1. Noodles
  2. Curries
  3. Soups

Additionally, Thai basil has a sweet, savory flavor. It also has some pepper, mint, and anise hints to add some bitterness to your dishes.

This ingredient also gives your dish a hint of sweetness the same way kaffir lime leaves would.

9. Mexican Key Limes

mexican key limes

Mexican key limes are perfect for desserts such as:

  1. Cakes
  2. Sorbets
  3. Sherbets
  4. Ice creams
  5. Pies

You can also use them to replace kaffir lime leaves. When cooking it, add it to tacos, ceviche, chicken soup, and curries.

The Mexican Key limes have a tart flavor and are juicier than other lime fruits.

In addition, the key limes are more vibrant and bright and add to your dishes some unique zesty sour flavor like that you would get from kaffir lime leaves.

Besides, they have some mouth-puckering bitterness like that of kaffir lime leaves, making them quite challenging to eat raw. They also add a citric flavor to your dishes and desserts.

10. Coriander


When out of substitutes, you can use coriander instead. Some chops or dices of coriander can give your dishes a pungent smell like that you would get from kaffir lime leaves.

Even more, coriander intensifies the fragrance of your dishes with its citric and slightly peppery taste. Coriander is suitable for:

  1. Tacos
  2. Homemade salsa
  3. Marinades
  4. Carne asada

11. Mint Leaves

mint leaves

Mint has a sweet and lingering effect on your tongue.

In particular, peppermint has a strong menthol taste giving your dishes some hidden bitterness like that of kaffir lime leaves.

Mint not only adds versatility to your dishes but also adds some sweetness and savory taste, making it a good substitute for kaffir lime leaves.

FAQs About Kaffir Lime Leaves

What is kaffir lime leaves?

Kaffir lime leaves are a type of herb that is often used in Thai and Malaysian cooking.

It has an intense citrus flavor and can be found fresh or dried for use as a seasoning.

Kaffir lime leaves are most often added to soups or curries for their refreshing taste and aroma.

Kaffir lime leaves vs lime leaves, what’s the difference?

A common misunderstanding is that kaffir lime leaves and lime leaves is the same thing. The truth is, they both have different uses and purposes in cooking.

Kaffir lime leaves are used as a food flavoring agent, usually found in Thai cuisine. They can be eaten raw or cooked and added to salads, curries, soups and other dishes for an extra zing of flavor.

Lime leaves on the other hand can only be used as a garnish or decoration; it has no culinary purpose whatsoever!

If you’re looking for some zest in your cooking then try adding some kaffir lime leaves to your dish today!

Curry leaves vs kaffir lime leaves, what’s the difference?

Both kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves are used in Southeast Asian cooking.

Curry leaves are more often used to flavor curries, while kaffir lime leaves are typically added to Thai dishes.

They can be hard to find, but they have a distinct flavor that makes them worth the effort!

What’s the best substitute for kaffir lime leaves in Thai curry?

Kaffir lime leaves are an essential ingredient in Thai curry. They give the dish its distinctive flavor and aroma. What if you can’t find it?

Luckily, you can use about 1 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger together with 2 tablespoons of freshly squeezed lime juice instead.

Can I substitute dried kaffir lime leaves for fresh?

Yes, you can! Both dried and fresh kaffir lime leaves will bring you an amazing flavor.

To make the best meal, you need to use a 1:1 ratio when replace fresh kaffir lime leaves with dried.


Above are 11 best kaffir lime leaves substitutes. Choose your most accessible replacement or one that has the most similarities with kaffir lime leaves.

Some of these substitutes, like Thai basil and Curry leaves, work best with specific dishes, so choose your replacements based on the dishes you desire to make.

I’m Jennifer Schlette, a Registered Dietitian and Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. I love cooking, reading, and my kids! Here you’ll find the healthiest recipes & substitutions for your cooking. Enjoy, and be well, friends!

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