Spice support: curry leaves

The first time I encountered curry leaves as an ingredient in a recipe, I wondered how they were different than the curry powder that I purchased at a spice store. I assumed that curry leaves must be one of the components of curry powder, but I later discovered that they had nothing to do with the spice blend as I knew it. If you have also wondered what curry leaves are and how they are used, Food52 has put together a primer on this interesting ingredient.

First things first: Curry leaves are an herb, and they are almost never found in a curry powder. To make things even more confusing, curry plants are not the same as the tropical evergreen where curry leaves are sourced, so if you want to grow your own be careful to get the right plant. According to The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs, the curry tree is in the citrus family and is native to southern India and Sri Lanka. It produces deep green leaves that are a little smaller than bay leaves, with a herbaceous flavor that is difficult to describe. Some people say it reminds them of curry powder with a citrus undertone, while others remark that in addition to citrus they pick up asafoetida or anise flavors.

Curry leaves are commonly used in the southern Indian cooking, but have made their way into other cuisines as well. While the herb is not commonplace, you can probably find it if you have a well-stocked Asian market and like everything, you can order it online. Fresh leaves are optimal, but frozen leaves also work and good quality dried leaves will do in a pinch.

Photo of Ducksoup’s spring vegetable fritters, cucumber yogurt & curry leaves from Food52

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  • MarciK  on  October 28, 2019

    I’m not a huge fan of curry leaves, personally, although I have cooked with them.

  • sir_ken_g  on  November 2, 2019

    Sigh. I tried to grow it – the bugs ate it.
    Bought it “fresh” – no flavor
    Bought it dried – even less flavor 🙁

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