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Curry Leaf: Understanding This South Indian Spice

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Curry Leaf: Understanding This South Indian Spice

Curry leaves seem to suffer an identity problem. They are often confused with curry powder, which does not contain curry leaf at all. Curry powder is a spice mix made to resemble the flavor of curry leaves, which are a seasoning in South Indian curries.

That brings us to that other word curry, which is a generic term for describing Indian stews. Curry dishes got their name from the South Indian word kari, which is what curry leaf is called. 

Now that we've gotten our curry facts straightened out, let's take a closer look at this fragrant and splendid leaf.

Curry Leaf: A Little Background

Kari or curry leaves come from a curry tree related to the citrus family and native to South India and Sri Lanka. Its botanical name is murraya koenigi.


Glen MacLarty/Flickr

Curry leaves are high in antioxidants and have been used in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine, for thousands of years. They have been used to treat heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, infections and inflammation.

An old remedy for combating morning sickness involves mixing the juice of curry leaves with fresh lime juice and sugar.

How Is The Curry Leaf Used?

South Indian curries get their unique flavor from curry leaves, which are also very popular in the cuisines of Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Singapore and Burma. Curry leaves are added to stews, South Indian soups rasam and sambar,  lentil dishes, chutney and even the famed appetizer samosas.

How Do I Cook with Curry Leaves?

To cook with curry leaves, use them at the beginning of the cooking process.

Pull each leaf off its stem and fry in hot oil. This releases its essential oils into the cooking oil, which will add plenty of flavor to your dishes. Curry leaves are great in vegetable, bean, seafood or meat dishes such as lamb curry (pictured below).

How To Buy Curry Leaves

Buy fresh curry leaves that are still on their stem and have a deep green color. Look for healthy unbruised leaves.

While nothing compares to fresh curry leaves you can also buy them dried. Dried curry leaves keep well but are less flavorful than fresh ones. If using dried curry leaves remember to compensate for the loss of flavor by adding more leaves to your pot. You can find curry leaves at Indian shops or Asian grocery stores.

Best Way To Store Curry Leaves 

Fresh curry leaves will keep for about a week in the refrigerator. Keep them on their stems and wrap in plastic. You can also freeze curry leaves, just be sure to keep them on the stem and wrap in plastic before placing in the freezer.

Store dry curry leaves in an airtight container away from light and moisture.

What are the benefits of the curry leaf?

As with many other dark leafy greens, curry leaves are high in vitamin C and beta-carotene.

Modern medical research has found curry leaves to be effective in treating diabetes, colon cancer and memory loss, according to studies cited in Healing Spices, a book written by Bharat B. Aggarwal, PhD and Debora Yost.

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