Kaffir Lime Leaves : Aromatic & Flavor-Rich

One never seems to forget encountering a Kaffir Lime Leaf for the first time. Its scent and taste is incredible-there’s nothing quite like it. In fact, this leaf is so aromatic that when you’re served a Thai dish containing it (such as Tom Kha Soup), you may not be able to tell what is stronger-the scent or the taste. Both combine in a powerful sensory experience that is one of the unique joys of Thai food.

Kaffir Lime Leaf has been known to clear the mind and cleanse the body. In fact, this Thai herb has recently been touted for use in spa treatments by celebrities such as Martha Stewart, plus many Hollywood stars. But what exactly is Kaffir Lime Leaf, and what is its role in Thai cooking?

What is Kaffir Lime Leaf? : If you were to look up “Kaffir Lime Leaf” in the Oxford Companion to Food, you would find a warning of sorts concerning the name of this leaf. This is because “Kaffir” is considered to be a bad word in certain cultures, while in others it is simply a word with negative connotations, meaning anything from “backward” to “infidel” and other terms used in “name-calling” (much of it racial). For this reason, this world-renown dictionary recommends referring to the leaf by its Thai name: “Makrut” (pronounced more like “Ma-groot”). But for now, at least, the leaf is still popularly known as Kaffir.  fresh kaffir lime leaves thaifood and kaffir lime leaves

At first glance, it would be easy to confuse Kaffir limes with our own Western limes; however, there are some marked differences. Kaffir lime fruit isn’t quite round, but has a small peek at its top. But the most noticeable difference is its skin-unlike Western limes, Kaffir Lime is severely wrinkled and course, not smooth. Zest from this “old-looking skin” is often used by cooks in Thailand, as it is very pungent and lemony tasting. But it is the leaf accompanying this fruit that is most highly prized in the Thai kitchen.

Kaffir lime leaf actually looks like 2 leaves joined together: the lower leaf is oval, while the upper leaf attached to it is more heart-shaped. Together, the leaves are several inches long (though they can come in various sizes). When fresh, these leaves are shiny and bright green, rich with natural oils. Today, Kaffir Lime Leaf is harvested in Thailand by hardy pickers (the branches of the tree are very thorny), and shipped around the world. While sometimes you can find Kaffir Lime Leaves being sold fresh in the produce section of Asian/Chinese stores and markets, it is more likely to be found in the freezer section. Frozen Kaffir Lime Leaves keep anywhere from several months to a year, and do not require thawing before use (so this is a great way to keep them handy and available in your kitchen!).

More Interesting Tidbits about Kaffir Lime : If you were to visit rural Thailand, you would find that nearly every family has a Kaffir Lime tree growing in their backyard. And if you were to approach and ask about the tree, they would tell you it helps keep the whole family clean-both inside and out! Kaffir Lime Leaf is thought to be very healthy, and excellent as a digestive aid. Thais also believe it cleanses the blood, maintains healthy teeth and gums (when rubbed or brushed on), cleans hair and scalp, and even prevents hair loss. It is used as a personal deodorant and cleanser for the body, but also as a cleanser for the mind, clearing away negative thoughts as well as helping to ward off evil spirits!

A little of the natural Kaffir Lime oil makes an excellent household cleaner, and is often used to get stubborn stains out of clothing. The scent of Kaffir Lime also cleans the air, and can be used in an atomizer as a natural scent-spray in and around the home.  chopped kaffir lime leaves thaifood and kaffir lime leaves

How is Kaffir Lime Leaf Used in Thai Cooking? : Together with lemongrass, Kaffir Lime Leaves help create that quintessential Thai aroma and taste that is so special in dishes such as Thai Soups (like our own CurrySimple Coconut Soup) and Thai Curries. Sometimes the leaf is left whole and simply added for extra flavor, like a bay leaf would be added to Western soups and stews, while other times it is chopped or ground up as part of the curry or soup paste. Either way, you won’t be able to escape the unique taste, scent, and flavor of this most marvelous of leaves!

Tips for Using Kaffir Lime Leaf : When cooking Thai curries, try adding 1-2 Kaffir Lime Leaves to the pot for extra flavor. Add them at the same time as the meat, fish or seafood, tofu or wheat gluten and just mix in.

Note that whole lime leaves are not meant to be eaten, but merely added for extra flavor-be sure to warn your guests about this, or there will be a lot of chewing going on!       To chop up Kaffir Lime Leaf : separate the “twin leaves” into single leaflets and place on top of each other. Then roll them up tightly and slice thinly with a sharp serrated knife. Another easy way to cut Kaffir Lime Leaf is with scissors. In Asia, scissors are a common kitchen utensil, and they do work extremely well for cutting this leaf. Simply snip the leaves into small pieces and add to your paste or curry pot.

Kaffir Lime Leaf can also be pounded with pestle & mortar to create a pulpy kind of paste that is then easily added to curries (it’s also easier to digest when prepared in this way).       Larger Kaffir Lime Leaves contain a hard, central stem-be sure to discard this (cutting or slicing the leaf around it), and it will be easier to eat. For soups, simply add the leaf whole and then enjoy the additional aroma and flavor as you slurp your way to a “clean” mind and body!

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