Kaffir Lime Leaf

Known as the kaffir lime in western markets it really should be called makrut if you want to be politically correct. The word kaffir has negative connotations in some Asian cultures. However for this profile we stick with the widely recognised name of kaffir lime leaf.

Native to tropical Asia stretching from India to the Philippines, Citrus hystrix (kaffir lime) has become completely associated with South East Asian cuisine. It is said to actually originate in Indonesia but this is disputed as the majority of the citrus family originate from parts of India. Either way it has become widespread in the region. Like other members of the Rutaceae (Citrus family) it is a thorny bush up to 35ft (10m) tall but often much smaller.

It’s characterised by the rough bumpy texture of its double shaped leaves and its small size. They have a distinctive emerald to dark green colour.

Although considered a tropical climate species it can be grown in other more temperate regions as long as it is not exposed to prolonged frosts (much the same way as other citrus species).


Kaffir lime leaf has a very aromatic and citrus flavour profile. It has a slight citrus aroma when dry or recently cut but the essential oils become greatly enhanced when simmered with other ingredients.


What sets kaffir lime leaf apart is its aroma. S-Citronellal is the compound responsible for this with minor amounts of nerol and limonene. The weird thing with this is that R-Citronellal is found in lemon balm but not in kaffir lime.

In the fruit peel of kaffir lime its main components are limonene and β-pinene.


One Kaffir Lime


When possible get the fresh leaves but in reality that is not going to happen unless you live in a region with a large Asian community or are actually in Asia. Go for leaves whether dry or fresh that has at least some aroma. Dry kaffir lime leaves remain slightly aromatic and this is enhanced once put into a soup or stew. The essential oils will be released.


The beauty of kaffir lime is that the whole leaf can be used in the cooking process. Normally in western markets you will find bags of dried kaffir lime on sale. The fresh produce in Asian markets will have a greater flavour and aromatic quality but both are perfectly adequate.

There are exceptions to the rule where kaffir lime is cut extremely fine forming a powder. See cooking ideas below for this.

In almost every dish that calls for kaffir leaf lime the idea is to extract all its essential oils and this contributes to the overall flavour profile of the recipe. It should be used like a bay leaf. Left in during the cooking process then removed before serving.

Very young kaffir lime leaves can be added to salads but to get hold of these would almost certainly mean a trip to South East Asia.


The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.




  • Kaffir lime leaf is an essential ingredient in a number of recipes. Tom Yum soup is one of these. Various Thai and Indonesian curry dishes call upon it too.
  • It appears in shredded form in the Thai fish cakes Tod mun and steamed fish dishes like Haw Moak.
  • A very common paste called Krueng uses kaffir lime as one of its bases. Not only the leaves but also the rind may be used creating an aromatic and astringent flavour.

Creative uses

  • For a citrus kick to a rice dish add a few leaves to jasmine rice.
    Using kaffir lime in a marinade produces a delicious aromatic result. It is best used with chicken, pork or lamb.
  • Kaffir lime added to rum can impart an interesting flavour. This practice occurs in Martinique, Reunion and Madagascar.

Kaffir Lime


Kaffir lime combines well with a huge range of ingredients. Fundamentals to Thai cuisine are lemongrass and ginger. Blended with kaffir lime creates a stereotypically Thai flavour profile. It goes really well with chicken, lamb and pork as well as a large variety of fish and seafood. Asian cuisine relies on the balance of all the taste groups so any food that complements the sharp sour sweet tang of kaffir lime combines perfectly.


  • Getting hold of fresh leaves in the best way to go. A great tip is to dry the leaves under direct sunlight which adds in the release of more aroma than just simply using fresh ones.
  • The intensity of kaffir lime leaf can vary depending on its source, how dried it is and age. Always taste the stew or soup regularly to see if more leaves need to be added.
  • The qualities of kaffir lime leaf are unique among the other citrus species. The same aromatic qualities do not exist in the same way in fruits like orange, lime and lemon. This is what makes kaffir lime so interesting and worth buying.

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