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8 BEST Curry Leaves Substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of curry leaf substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.

Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.

You can easily substitute fresh curry leaves for dried ones and vice versa. Other substitutes like kaffir lime leaves and bay leaves are a departure from curry leaves’ flavor, but will still add depth and complexity to your dishes. If you prefer a fresh substitute, try basil, lemon balm, or cilantro.

Ready? Let’s jump right in.

The experiment

Curry leaves are a staple in Indian cuisine, and despite their name, they taste nothing like regular curry powder. 

Instead, the leaves boast a unique and complex citrus flavor with hints of nuttiness and a subtle bitterness.

Looking for an exact flavor match proved challenging because of the unique flavor, but I managed to find a few decent replacements.

Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts: 

SubstitutesSubstitute DirectionsVerdict
Dried curry leavesReplace 10 curry leaves with 20 dried curry leaves. 10/10
Kaffir lime leavesReplace 10 curry leaves with 5 fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves. 9/10
Bay leavesReplace 10 curry leaves with 5 bay leaves. 9/10
BasilReplace in a 1:1 ratio8/10
Lemon balmReplace in a 1:1 ratio8/10
Fresh cilantroReplace 10 curry leaves with 1 tbsp of freshly chopped cilantro7/10
Lime/lemon zestReplace in a 1:1 ratio7/10
Leave it outOmit the curry leaves from your recipe6/10

Common uses of curry leaves

Here are some popular ways to use curry leaves and the best substitutes for those situations:

  • For tempering (tadka): Try using dried curry leaves or kaffir lime leaves.
  • For soups, stews, and curries: Try using dried curry leaves, kaffir lime leaves, or bay leaves. Fresh herbs like basil, lemon balm, and cilantro also works, but add them towards the end of cooking.
  • For chutneys: Try using dried curry leaves or kaffir lime leaves.
  • For frying as a garnish: Try flash-frying fresh herbs like basil and cilantro. Freshly grated lime/lemon zest also works as a finishing touch if you’d like to skip the frying.

Dried curry leaves

Fresh curry leaves are hard to source but you can also buy them in dried form. 

The dried leaves are easier to find in well-stocked groceries or neighborhood Indian stores and have a longer shelf-life. 

The downside with dried curry leaves is they have a weaker flavor, so you’ll need to use more to match the intense aroma and taste of fresh curry leaves. 

I used twice as much in my curry, but you can adjust this to suit your preference.  

How to substitute: replace fresh curry leaves with twice the amount of dried curry leaves. 

Kaffir lime leaves

Want a more refreshing kick to your dish? Consider swapping curry leaves for kaffir lime leaves instead. 

These bright green leaves have a spiced-citrus flavor, making them zestier than curry leaves. 

Again, sourcing fresh Kaffir lime leaves can be challenging but dried ones are pretty easy to find.

Add them at the start of the cooking process so the heat and moisture rehydrates them and allow all their bold flavor to infuse into your dish.

Pro tip: got fresh kaffir lime leaves? Remember to bruise or tear the leaves (like in the video below) before you add them to your dish to release their aroma.

How to substitute: replace curry leaves with half the amount of dried kaffir lime leaves. 

Bay leaves

Dried bay leaves may not be an exact flavor match for curry leaves, but they’re an easily accessible substitute that works in a pinch. 

They have an almost minty flavor and subtle hints of pepper that add depth and complexity to your dishes. 

But remember to remove them before serving because unlike curry leaves, they won’t soften during cooking. 

Pro-tip: make sure you get dried and not fresh bay leaves. The dried ones are typically made from the Turkish bay variety, which is less potent than fresh California bay leaves. 

I’ve used the fresh ones before, and they made my dish taste like medicine!

How to substitute: replace curry leaves with half the amount of dried bay leaves. 


Basil has a sweeter flavor compared to the robust and citrusy curry leaves, but it also presents hints of anise, mint, and pepper that brought an exciting twist to my fish curry. 

Unlike curry leaves, you need to add fresh basil towards the end of cooking to keep its flavors intense and vibrant. You wouldn’t want to lose its charm, right?

And you can also flash-fry basil like you would curry leaves if you want to use them for garnish. 

Pro tip: get a basil plant for you kitchen so you can always have some nearby.

How to substitute: replace curry leaves in a 1:1 ratio with fresh basil leaves.

Lemon balm

Lemon balm is another fresh herb substitute for curry leaves you can consider.

True to its name, it boasts a bright, citrusy flavor with a hint of mint, making it a decent addition to rich dishes like curries and stews. 

Pro-tip: like other fresh herbs, it’s best to add lemon balm towards the end of the cooking process to retain its bright aroma and flavor.

How to substitute: replace curry leaves in your recipe in a 1:1 ratio with lemon balm.

Fresh cilantro

Fresh cilantro is moving away from the taste of curry leaves, but it will still bring a unique taste to your dishes.

It offers a refreshing, citrusy twist with subtle grassy notes that can cut through the richness of dishes like fish curry. 

And you can find it anywhere!

The only downside with cilantro?

It’s a polarizing herb because researchers found that some people have a smell receptor gene cluster called OR6A2, which causes them to associate a soapy taste with cilantro. 

If you’re cooking for guests, it’s best to check how they feel about cilantro before using it as a substitute.

How to substitute: replace 10 curry leaves with 1 tbsp of freshly chopped cilantro.

Lime/lemon zest

Can’t go on an emergency grocery trip? That lemon or lime sitting in your fridge will save your dish. 

While lime or lemon zest may not have the depth of flavor of curry leaves, they do bring a bright, citrusy kick to your dish. 

Just remember the golden rule when zesting – only grate the green or yellow part of the peel, not the white pith. That’s where you introduce a stark bitterness.

How to substitute: replace 10 curry leaves with 1 tbsp of lime/lemon zest.

Leave it out

If none of the previous substitutes fit the bill and you’re preparing something inherently flavorful like curry, consider leaving out the curry leaves. 

Curry leaves are delicious, but they’re quite subtle so it won’t be a total disaster if you don’t include them.

As long as you stick to the rest of the recipe, you’ll still be serving a tasty dish!

How to substitute: omit the curry leaves from your recipe.

Substitutes to avoid

None of the suggestions above are an exact replacement, but I think the following options stray too far from the essence of curry leaes:

  • Allspice leaves – these leaves mainly add warmth to your dishes and don’t have any of the freshness of curry leaves.
  • Mint leaves – these have a sweet, menthol taste that can easily get lost with bolder spices.
  • Roast almonds or nuts a great way to add texture to your dish, but they don’t have the complex flavor of curry leaves.

8 Best Curry Leaves Substitutes + 3 To Avoid

I tested loads of curry leaves substitutes to find the best one.
5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Ingredient
Cuisine: Indian
Keyword: curry leaves substitutes, substitutes for curry leaves
Prep Time: 7 minutes
Total Time: 7 minutes
Servings: 1 person
Calories: 5kcal


  • 10 dried curry leaves
  • 5 kaffir lime leaves
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 10 basil leaves
  • 10 lemon balm leaves
  • 1 tbsp freshly chopped cilantro
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon/lime zest
  • Leave it out


  • Cook your meal according to the recipe.
  • Add your chosen curry leaves substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
  • Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.


Serving: 10leaves | Calories: 5kcal

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