5 Best Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

Knowing good kaffir lime leaves substitutes is essential for certain types of Asian cooking, particularly in places where these ingredients are not commonly available.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves come from a citrus tree, bearing the scientific name Citrus hystrix, which is native to southeast Asia. These leaves are a common herb in many of the cuisines of that region, most commonly in Thai dishes, and also in Vietnamese and Indonesian cooking as per a paper published by S.Wongpornchai from the Chiang Mai University, Thailand. This intense herb has a distinctive citrusy aroma and flavor. [1]

They are usually placed whole in a soup, stew, or curry during cooking and then removed before eating, similar to a bay leaf. In some recipes, such as salads, these tough leaves are sliced very thinly and eaten. Kaffir lime leaves can be purchased fresh or frozen in certain Asian and specialty markets, but since they are not widely available outside of their native region, a substitute may be necessary for recipes from those cuisines.

Close up of fresh green whole and halved kaffir limes with leaves on a wooden table

Kaffir lime fruits and leaves are used in Southeast Asian cuisine and its essential oil is used in perfumery. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Best Kaffir Lime Leaves Substitutes

There are many different substitutes for kaffir lime leaves’ including dried kaffir lime leaves, kaffir lime leaf essential oil, citrus, lime/lemon zest, and shredded lemongrass among others. Let us take a look at them in detail below!

Dried Kaffir Lime Leaves

If a recipe calls for fresh leaves that will be removed prior to eating, frozen or even dried leaves can be substituted. However, dried kaffir lime leaves have a much less intense flavor than either the fresh or frozen forms. [2]

Kaffir Lime Leaf Essential Oil

This oil is made from kaffir lime leaves. A drop or two of this potent oil in a recipe is usually enough to replace one leaf.


Leaves from other citrus plants can be substituted on a one-to-one basis, although they will impart a somewhat different citrusy flavor to the recipe.

Lime/Lemon Zest

These shredded pieces of the outer skin of a regular lime, or a combination of zest from a lemon and lime, will also give a different citrus taste, but it can be substituted. Use approximately one and a half teaspoons of zest per leaf.

Shredded Lemongrass

Especially in recipes where the leaves are to be eaten, you can replace the shredded kaffir lime leaves with an equal amount of shredded lemongrass. [3]

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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