Kaffir lime_tom yum

Kaffir lime: the tree and usage as Thai ingredients

In the previous article, we have discussed Thai herbs in general. In this post, we would deep-dive into kaffir lime, which is often used in Thai food. Let’s find out more about kaffir lime as a herb and cooking ingredient, a common recipe that uses this herb, and also the tree!

Table of Contents

Getting to know Thai kaffir lime tree

Kaffir lime is a native plant in Southeast Asia, and many parts of the plant can be found in both cooking and traditional Thai cuisine. 

If you have seen or grown a lime tree, you must be able to easily visualize the Thai kaffir lime tree because the trees share some similarities. Two stark differences, which are also unique features of kaffir limes, are, 1) uniquely shaped leaf that looks like there are two leaves attached together 2) dark green fruits with rough/bumpy surfaces.

The trees can grow up to 4-5 meters tall and you can harvest them regularly for many years. The tree will start to produce edible leaves after 6 months and will bear fruits after 1-2 years. You can find kaffir lime growing in the yards of many Thai households.

Kaffir lime as Thai ingredients

Unlike regular lime, the fruits do not produce plenty of juice and the juice isn’t widely used outside of herbal & traditional medicine applications. The parts that Thai people commonly use as Thai ingredients are 1) the fresh leaves and 2) the fruit’s skin. 

You can use the fresh leaves as a whole or cut-up for cooking purposes. People often use whole leaves when cooking soups (including tom yum soup!). On the other hand, they often use cut-up leaves to add fragrance to dry curry or stir fry dishes. 

The fruit’s skin is a common ingredient (among many other spices) within many Thai curry pastes (including Thai green curry).

Kaffir lime_fruit

Simple cooking recipe using the herb

kaffir lime_leaf

If you come across some kaffir lime leaves and want to try cooking with them, here is a very simple recipe you can try cooking with.

We are amateurs when it comes to cooking, so as long as you can gather these ingredients, you will be able to cook this dish too!

Here is a recipe for a simplified clear broth tom yum

  • Herbs: kaffir lime leaves (3-5 whole leaves), lemongrass (1 stick), and few slices of galangal
  • Ingredients: fresh shrimps, mushrooms, water
  • Seasoning: chili (~3-5) , lime (2 whole fruits for the juice), sugar (1 tablespoon), and fish sauce (2 tablespoons)

Depending on where you live, sometimes you will find all the herbs available as a bundle in supermarkets or shops in Thai towns as well. 

  1. Peel and clean shrimps as well as other ingredients and herbs
  2. Boil water and add all the herbs for a few minutes to bring out their fragrance and flavor
  3. Add mushrooms and seasonings (all seasoning except lime juice)
  4. Add shrimps and wait until the shrimp is cooked (do not wait too long otherwise, the shrimp will be overcooked)
  5. Turn off the heat, add lime juice and finetune the flavor by adding fish sauce or sugar

Should you use kaffir lime in your cooking?

Kaffir lime may not be a commonly known herb and ingredient, but it is full of health benefits as well as fragrance/flavor. When added to a dish, it can be a total gamechanger. The fragrance of this herb is very refreshing and appetizing! 

If you are thinking of using this herb often in your dishes, you might want to consider growing your own tree. The process might be a long one, but once grown – you will be able to harvest its leaves and fruits regularly for many years. You will be self-sufficient and also can save money!

Learn more about Thailand from our other posts