Curry leaves are a common ingredient of Indian cooking and those living outside the Indian Subcontinent often use it in their culinary creations but find it difficult to source and obtain it.
The internet has a wealth of information on this plant but it is widely scattered with lot of contradicting information, especially for those who are looking to own and grow their own plant and are looking for botanical information on plant characteristics to care for it adequately.
This post is an attempt to serve as a single source of truth for others.
Curry leaves are extensively used in Southern India and Sri Lanka (and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour), but are also of some importance in Northern India. Together with South Indian immigrants, curry leaves reached Malaysia, South Africa and Réunion island.
Outside the Indian sphere of influence, they are rarely found, especially when they are grown outdoors. The only notable exception are areas of the world with tropical climates or those resembling their native habitat.
Plant parts used
The leaves. Since they lose their delicate fragrance when dried, you should try to obtain them fresh; don’t waste your time with the dried stuff. It is quite easy to grow or get hold of a plant through the Internet.
Rutaceae (citrus family).
Fresh and pleasant, remotely reminiscent of tangerines.
Fresh leaves are rich in an essential oil, but the exact amount depends besides freshness and genetic strain also on the extraction technique. Typical figures run from 0.5 to 2.7%.
The following aroma components have been identified in curry leaves of Sri Lanka (in parentheses, the content in mg/kg fresh leaves): β-caryophyllene (2.6 ppm), β-gurjunene (1.9), β-elemene (0.6), β-phellandrene (0.5), β-thujene (0.4), α-selinene (0.3), β-bisabolene (0.3), furthermore limonene, β-trans-ocimene and β-cadinene (0.2 ppm). (Phytochemistry,
Newer work has shown a large variability of the composition of the essential oil of curry leaves. In North Indian plants, monoterpenes prevail (β-phellandrene, α-pinene, β-pinene), whereas South Indian samples yielded sesquiterpenes: β-caryophyllene, aromadendrene, α-selinene.(Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 17, 144, 2002).
The curry tree is native to India; today, it is found wild or become wild again, almost everywhere in the Indian subcontinent excluding the higher levels of the Himalayas. In the East, its range extends into Burma.
The English term curry is of Indian origin. In Tamil, the most important South Indian language, the word kari [கறி] means “soup” or “sauce”; this is also the basis of the Tamil name for curry-leaves, kariveppilai [கறிவேப்பிலை] which contains ilai [இலை] “leaf”. In English usage, curry has a wider meaning encompassing not only spicy foods of various kinds, but also Indian-style spice mixtures (“curry powder”).
In North Indian (Aryan) languages, curry leaves are usually denoted by their Tamil name, or an adaptation thereof, for example Hindi karipatta [कारीपत्ता] and or Bengali karhi-pat [কাঢ়িপাত] “Curry-leaf”, or Sinhala karapincha [කරපිංඡා]. The same first element is also found in Marathi kadhi-limb [कढीलिंब] (from limbu [लिंबू] “lemon”) and Kannada kari-bevu [ಕರಿಬೇವು], where second element bevu [ಬೇವು] designates the neem tree (Azadirachta indica), which has similar foliage.
Other mentions of Curry Leaf and what they mean
The name curry plant is often mistaken for Helichrysum italicum (Asteraceae), a relative of immortelle; several subspecies grow in the European Mediterranean.
This “curry herb” is occasionally used for culinary purposes, but its fragrance is not alike to curry leaves at all. It reminds me more of sage and mugwort. It can go, together with other Mediterranean herbs, for Italian or French food.
It is important to also take a moment to differentiate “Curry powder” from Curry leaves. Curry powder is a British invention to imitate the flavour of Indian cooking with minimal effort. Some curry powders, or so the books tell, indeed contain curry leaves, but probably only for historic or linguistic reasons, since dried curry leaves lose their fragrance within days.
A typical curry powder should derive its taste mainly from roasted cumin, roasted coriander, black pepper, chiles and roasted fenugreek. Other typical Indian spices often contained in curry powders are dried ginger, ajwain and celery (as a substitute for Indian radhuni), furthermore salt, flour from lightly toasted lentils and aromatic Moghul spices in variable amounts (cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, Indian bay-leaves). The yellow colour stems from turmeric.
I think it is pretty unreasonable to put spices with absolutely no tradition in India into a spice blend that claims to have an “Indian flavour”, but nevertheless galangale, caraway, allspice, and zedoary are occasionally listed as ingredients in curry powders. Remember that since curry powder is not a traditional recipe, there is little consensus about what should go into it, and anyone is free to sell his own creation.
Growth and Care Instructions
Tips on growing a curry leaf plant and care instructions for it will be covered in a follow up post on this blog.
Other names for Curry Leaves
|Burmese||Pindosin, Pyim daw thein|
|咖哩葉 [ga lēi yihp]|
|Ga lei yihp|
|调料九里香 [diào liào jǐu lǐ xiāng]|
|Diao liao jiu li xiang|
|Estonian||Feuilles de Cari, Feuilles de Curry, Caloupilé (Réunion), Carripoulé (Ile Maurice)|
|French||Follas de Curry|
|Hebrew||Aley kari, Ali qari|
|Meetha neem, Kari patta, Katneem, Bursunga|
|Indonesian||Fogli di Cari|
|Japanese||Kare-rihu, Nanyōzansiyō, Nanyozansiyo|
|커리, 커리 리프|
|Korean||Keori, Kori, Keori ripu|
|Lithuanian||Daun kari pla, Karupillam|
|Oriya||Folhas de Caril|
|Punjabi||Karipata, Karipatta, Bowala|
|Slovak||Hoja, Hojas de Curry|
|Thai||Bai karee, Hom khaek|
|Lá cà ri|
|Vietnamese||La ca ri|