What are Curry Leaves?

Kari (or curry leaves) is grown all over India and has been used for centuries in South India and Sri Lanka as a flavoring for curries, chutneys, vegetables, and beverages. South Indian traders introduced it into Malaysia, Burma, and Singapore. When the British were in India, they called them curry leaves, naming it after the seasoned sauce (called kari in Tamil) that it was added to.

Indigenous to India and cultivated all over India, including the Himalayas, Sri Lanka, Southeast Asia, and the United States (California and Florida). Kari leaf is very fragrant when used fresh, but it loses its flavor intensity when dried.

Fresh or dried curry leaves are used whole, crushed, and chopped. Properties: the fresh leaf has a spicy, strong piney-lemony aroma, and a slightly tangerine peel-like taste.

Chemical Components

The essential oils vary based on different varieties. The fresh leaf has about 0.5% to 2.5% essential oil, mostly monoterpenes. There is a gradual decrease in volatile content with advancing maturity so fresh leaves have more volatiles than the older leaves. The essential oils mainly consist of sabinene (9% to 34%), α-pinene (5% to 27%) and dipentene (6% to 16%) with β-caryophyllene (8% to 20%), β-gurjunene, β-elemene, β-phellandrene, limonene, β thujene, and bisbolene. Curry leaves have a good amount of vitamin A (beta-carotene is 12,600 IU/100 gm), with calcium (810 mg/100 gm), phosphorus (600 mg/100 gm), iron (3.1 mg/100gm), vitamin C (4 mg/100gm), and fiber (6.1%). It also has high levels of oxalates (1.35%).

Cooking with Curry Leaves

It is an essential spice in South Indian, Sri Lankan, and Malaysian curries, dals, samosas, dosai fillings, chutneys, snacks, sambars, soups, breads, and vegetables.

Kari leaf is popularly used in South Indian vegetarian and fish dishes and Sri Lankan meat and chicken curries. Kari leaves par well with mustard seeds, turmeric, ghee, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, dals, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, and yogurt. It provides a certain zest to yogurt-based salad dressings and vegetable dishes, such as fried cabbage, lentils, beans, okra, or eggplant. It is usually removed before the food is eaten.

Kari leaf also provides a distinct spicy flavor to cold dishes and buttermilk. It gives a more intense flavor and crunchiness when it is toasted in oil or ghee, and this mixture is then added to many vegetarian foods. Sometimes it is toasted, ground, or crushed to season or garnish soups, sambars, and curries.

Curry leaves can be kept frozen or refrigerated in a plastic bag for about two weeks. Freezing better retains its flavor, but its color changes to black. To retain fresh flavor, it is best not to remove the leaves from its branches until ready to use.

Spice Blends: curry blends, sambar podi, rasam podi, chutney blends, and fish curry blends.

Health Benefits of Curry Leaves

The leaves, root, and bark are used as medicinal aids in India. The leaves are used to help blood circulation and menstrual problems. The fresh leaves are taken to cure dysentery, and an infusion made of roasted leaves stops vomiting. It is also recommended for relieving kidney pains. Recent studies have shown that it has a hypoglycemic action, thereby a possible treatment for diabetes, as well as found to prevent formation of free radicals. It is shown to prevent rancidity of ghee (or clarified butter).

Other Names

Also called barsunga (Bengali), pindosin (Burmese), gai leu yiph (Cantonese), karry blad (Danish), kerriebladerer (Dutch), feuilles de curry (French), curryblatter (German), kari patta, meetha neem (Hindi), aley kari (Hebrew), curry levelek (Hungarian), fogli di cari (Italian), daun kari (Indonesian/ Malaysian), kore rihu (Japanese), karibue (Kannada), khibe (Laotinan), kareapela (Malayalam), kadhi limbu (Marathi), karriblader (Norwegian), folhas de caril (Portuguese), bowala (Punjabi), listya karri (Russian), karapincha (Singhalese), hojas de curry (Spanish), bizari (Swahili), bignay (Tagalog), kariveppilai (Tamil), karepeku (Telegu), bai karee (Thai), and la cari (Vietnamese).

Scientific Name

Murraya koenigii 
Family: Rutaceae (citrus family).

Image by Tanuj Handa from Pixabay