Can you eat kaffir lime leaves?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, “Can you eat kaffir lime leaves?”. 

Read on to know how to use and store the kaffir lime leaves, as well as the health benefits and side effects of eating kaffir lime leaves. 

Can you eat kaffir lime leaves?

Kaffir lime leaves are extremely hard to eat as it is, so the only time they are eaten is when they are cut into very thin slices and added to different recipes like raw salads and other fresh dishes. 

Several Thai, Cambodian and Indonesian recipes demand the addition of kaffir lime leaves. The leaves are loaded with natural oils, therefore it is always healthy to use them fresh if feasible. 

The leaves are used whole to impart a citrusy flavor to a recipe, such as in curry, stir-fries, stocks or in soup, though many people do not eat the leaf and move it to the side of their plate as they are too bitter to be eaten directly. They can also be used to infuse pickling juice or a salt cure or sugar syrup.

Kaffir lime leaves play an important role in Thailand, Indonesian and Malaysian cooking. The lime fruits and leaves are mainly used as flavoring in both savory and sweet food besides having a pleasant lemon smell. The aroma and flavor from the leaves give a distinctive taste to chicken and fish dishes. In Thai dishes, the leaves are used for imparting aroma in soups, salads, curries and stir-fried dishes. Furthermore, Malays used it as tonics, medicine and hair shampoo. In Thailand, citrus juices have also been included in ointments and as natural bleach (1).

Kaffir lime leaves 

Kaffir lime leaves are thick porous leaves, dark green in color with a bright front, and a somewhat pale rear side usually grow in pairs and look like a figure of eight. It has two joined leaves, which when torn apart gives a distinct aroma. 

The lime fruit is wrinkled, pear shaped and dark green turning to yellow on ripening. Usually, both fresh and dried kaffir lime fruits and leaves are rich with strong, pungent and lime lemon aroma and contain 0.08% essential oil (1).

Fresh kaffir lime leaves are easily available at supermarkets. They can be stored well in a fridge for a minimum of 2 weeks. They can also be kept in a freezer or dried to be used later. When frozen, kaffir lime leaves can last up to one year. When using dried kaffir lime leaves, the heat and moisture during cooking help them impart their flavor. 

How to slice the kaffir lime leaves?

To slice the kaffir lime leaves, roll several leaves together to form a cigar shape. Place the cigar on a chopping board, then use a sharpened knife to cut the leaves into strips as thin as possible. This method is great for adding the leaves flavor to salads, or rice dishes, or using the leaves as a topping.

Another useful way is to crush the kaffir lime leaves either by your hands or in a masher. Both methods make the kaffir lime leaves odorous and flavourful.

How to store kaffir lime leaves?

As with many fresh herbs, you will have to keep the fresh kaffir lime leaves in a refrigerator to help them preserve their color and flavor. 

However, prolonged storage might cause a chilling injury in the leaves and thus, accelerate the physiological and biochemical changes within the plants causing the loss of cellular integrity and leading to cell death. Studies showed that kaffir lime leaves exposed to prolonged storage at 8°C cause chilling induced quality loss. Packaging is one of the proven postharvest techniques that could increase the shelf life of perishable plant produce by limiting the gaseous environment and control the metabolic activity and water loss in plants under storage at various temperature conditions (2).

Keep them in a sealed plastic case or an airtight container, then place them in your fridge for 2 weeks, or more if they still maintain a hard texture and dark green color.

If you do not think you will use the leaves soon, you can freeze them for up to one year. Simply place them in a sealed plastic bag and compress out as sufficient air as you can without breaking the leaves. 

Next, mark the bag and store it in the freezer till required. The lime leaves can then be defrosted by keeping them at room temperature for twenty to thirty minutes.

Kaffir lime leaves can also be preserved by drying techniques. A study showed that by air drying the overall optimum conditions that resulted in desirable dried kaffir lime leaves, were achieved when the drying time was 4.9 h, the drying temperature, 60°C and loading capacity 1.4 kg/m2 (1).

The health benefits of kaffir lime leaves

Beneficial for skin

Kaffir lime leaves are rich in antioxidants that work to renew skin cells and improve moisture. Antioxidants also protect the skin against UV rays and improve cell turnover when used directly.

In addition, kaffir lime oil is a compound which possesses antibacterial activity, anti-inflammatory activity, and antioxidant activity which can control acne and prevent the acne and scar formation (3).

Good for oral health

Kaffir limes leaves have been found to release antibacterial properties when chewed which help to flourish the normal microbiota of the mouth, improving the growth of healthy bacteria. 

Kaffir lime oil can also be used as an alternative in place of Chlorhexidine gluconate, an antiseptic agent that can kill the bacteria effectively by penetrating the cytoplasm resulting in cell death. Terpineol and citronellal are the active ingredients in kaffir lime with antibacterial property (3).

Good nutritional value

The extracted kaffir lime oil which possess biological activity was reviewed for its potential commercial application namely, antibacterial oral spray, formulation in mouthwash, aromatherapy massage, acne control, synthesis of benzimidazole derivatives, and decontamination of Streptococcus mutans on children’s toothbrushes. Kaffir lime is one of the important sources of herbal medicine with many health benefits such as curing indigestion, heart conditions, dizziness, detoxification of blood, skin care, reducing stress and inflammation, promoting oral health, and boosts immune response (3).

Kaffir lime leaves have a good nutritional profile and add value to the diet. In 6 g of leaves, there are, approximately: 

  • Calories: 20
  • Carbohydrates: 5 g
  • Protein: 0.7 g
  • Fat: 0.7 g
  • Fiber: 1.9 g
  • Calcium: 4 percent of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI)
  • Vitamin C: 622 percent of the RDI
  • Iron: 16 percent of the RDI
  • Potassium: 1 percent of the RDI

The side effects of kaffir lime leaves

Some people are found to be allergic to kaffir lime leaves, but the severe cases are very rare. 

More commonly people experience moderate symptoms ranging from rashes to dry mouth. 

Due to the potency of the extracted oil of kaffir limes, it is not recommended for direct consumption, as it can result in nausea, vomiting, dizziness, lightheadedness, and other unpleasant side effects. Always mix the extracted essential oil with water or another diluting agent. Other than that, there are no reported side effects of kaffir lime use. As with any herbal remedy, always consult a medical professional before taking any herbal supplements (4).

Other side effects of eating kaffir lime leaves can include

  • Digestive problems
  • Tooth erosion
  • Hives
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Heartburn

Other FAQs about Lime that you may be interested in.

What are the benefits of lime water?

How to preserve limes

Can you eat lime leaves?

What is the difference between lime and lemon tree?

Conclusion 

In this brief guide, we have provided an answer to the question, “Can you eat kaffir lime leaves?”. We have also elaborated on how to use the kaffir lime leaves, and how to store kaffir lime leaves along with the health benefits and side effects of eating kaffir lime leaves. 

References

  1. Juhari, Nurul Hanisah, et al. Effect of hot-air drying on the physicochemical properties of kaffir lime leaves (Citrus hystrix). J Food Agri Environ, 2013, 11, 203-211.
  2. Venkatachalam, Karthikeyan. Changes in Phytochemicals and Antioxidant Properties of Kaffir Lime Leaves under Chilling Storage. Kaen Kaset= Khon Kaen Agri J, 2019, 47, 531-536.
  3. Suresh, Anuja, et al. Techniques for essential oil extraction from kaffir lime and its application in health care products—A review. Flav Fragr J, 2021, 36, 5-21.
  4. Health Benefits of Kaffir Lime. Thailand Medical News, 2019.

Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.