Curry leaves, an inevitable part of spicing up dishes, are not a part of mere garnishing. They are rich in medicinal, nutraceutical properties and even have cosmetic uses. Curry leaves and their distinct taste are well-known to Indians.
Originated in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh and later spread by Indian migrants, they are now grown across the globe. Like mustard seeds or turmeric, these leaves find their use daily in West and South Indian cuisines. Hence, curry leaves are an integral part of the food culture in the country.
Many Indian names for curry leaves translate to ‘sweet neem’ with a resemblance to neem leaves. Some of them are Kadi Patta or Meetha Neem in Hindi, Kariveppilai in Tamil and Karivempu in Malayalam.
They can elevate the flavour of simple curries and vegetables by the mere addition of tempering. While the aroma is enticing, the taste of these leaves is mildly bitter, flavourful, and edgy.
Apart from its culinary use, curry leaves hold a special place in Ayurvedic recipes and medicines.
Are Curry Powder and Curry Leaves Same?
Curry powder is not the same as curry leaves.
While the leaves have a distinct flavour that is unmatched by any other plant or spice.
The powder is a spice mix, while the curry leaf is a herb. Curry powder is a broad term that represents Indian cooking principles and the result is a spice mix. Curry powder comprises a variety of spices, like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cardamom, black pepper, etc.
Ways to Incorporate Curry Leaves in Indian Cuisine
This herb is used in various forms in Indian cuisine. These leaves give flavor, aroma, and unique taste to the food.
1. Tadka or Tempering
Sauté the leaves in ghee, vegetable oil, or coconut oil to bring out their distinctive flavour.
Tempering/tadkaa is the term for this cooking procedure. Curry leaves infuse the oil with its fragrance when used in tadkaa and enhance the taste of Indian staples like dal, sabzi, sambhar, curd rice, chutney, etc.
Both fresh and dried leaves can be used for tempering purposes. For tadkaa, toss them with additional spices like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, asafoetida, and green chillies in hot oil or ghee, and your simple meal will get a facelift.
2. Use it to Garnish
You can directly add curry leaves to your dish to garnish it. You can even use dried leaves for garnishing. The dried version has a faint aroma. It takes longer to infuse flavour into the dish.
Curry leaves are used in making curries, soups, rice dishes, and lentils, both as tadkaa and garnish. When making chutney, include these aromatic leaves. They go very well with coconut, coriander, and mint.
Nutritional Facts of Curry Leaves
- The leaves contain around 108 calories per 100 grams. Carbohydrates, energy, fibre, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins are the key nutrients present in these leaves
- They are high in minerals including calcium, phosphorus, zinc, iron, potassium, and magnesium, which are beneficial to your health
- The presence of essential oils gives curry leaves their distinct flavour
- They contain Vitamin B1, Vitamin B2, Vitamin B3, Vitamin B9, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E
- Vitamin C, Chlorophyll, Zinc, Vitamin E, and Carotene work as antioxidants
- They are also low in fat (0.1 g per 100 g)
Importance in Terms of Nutrition
- Fibre – Fibre is beneficial to gut health and important for regular bowel movements.
- Protein – They are rich in protein that is the building block of our body.
- Calcium – They are high in calcium, which is necessary for strong bones and teeth.
- Phosphorus – Phosphorus is found in abundance in these leaves. It helps to cleanse our kidneys and relieve muscle cramps.
- Essential oils – They have many essential oils. It has anti-diabetic, anti-inflammation, and anti-bacterial properties. It also aids in the maintenance of healthy hair, skin, and gums.
Where Can You Get Curry Leaves from?
Curry leaves are easily available with every local vegetable vendor.
In certain parts of India, where the plants grow abundantly, the vendors do not even charge you if you want a handful. You can even plant your curry leaf plant at home for fresh leaves every time.
How to Store Curry Leaves?
Curry leaves are aromatic when they are fresh. They lose a lot of their flavor when they are dried. The best way to preserve them is to freeze them.
- Pluck the leaves
- Throw away the rotten leaves
- Rinse thoroughly
- Dry the leaves
- Preserve it in a zip-lock bag/airtight container
Choose leaves that are dark green and not brown. Fresh leaves can be kept in the fridge for up to two weeks. The color of frozen leaves may change to a darker green, but it will not affect the taste.
Health Benefits of Curry Leaves
1. Helps reduce cholesterol
Increased cholesterol levels raise the risk of heart diseases. Curry leaves are also good for lowering cholesterol.
They are high in antioxidants. They keep us healthy by flushing out all the harmful toxins from our bodies.
3. Oral health
Curry leaves prevent bacteria from growing inside our mouths. They help to maintain oral hygiene by keeping our gums and teeth strong. Chew 2-3 leaves daily to improve oral health.
4. Good for our eyes
This aromatic herb is high in vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight. It also prevents the formation of cataracts in the eye.
5. Heals Wounds
Wounds, rashes, boils, and light burns can be cured by applying curry leaf paste. They also aid in the prevention of harmful infections.
6. Prevents Anaemia
They are loaded with iron and folic acid, which helps maintain the body’s red blood cell count.
7. Helps you lose weight
Curry leaves act as detoxifying agents and cleanses our body. Detoxification is one of the most effective ways to get rid of accumulated body fat.
This herb is quite good at lowering blood glucose levels. Copper, iron, and zinc are minerals that help to keep glucose levels in check.
These fragrant leaves are anti-bacterial and help to fight various infections in the body.
10. Good for the liver
Its antioxidant properties are extremely efficient. When paired with vitamin A and C, it performs more efficiently.
11. Reduces morning sickness
Curry leaves can help pregnant women to get relief during the first trimester by reducing nausea and morning sickness.
12. Reduces stress
The calming aroma of this herb and the essential oils help to soothe your tired nerves, thereby reducing overall stress.
Beauty Benefits of Curry Leaves
For Skin and Hair Care:
- Grind curry leaves, turmeric, and curd to form a paste. Apply to the skin to soothe irritations, rashes, and improve the texture of the skin.
- To increase the quality of your hair, combine the leaves with coconut oil and apply it.
- To strengthen hair roots, use a paste of curry leaves and lemon juice.
- Curry leaves can treat the following:
- Premature greying
- Acne and pimples
- Gum strengthening
- Tooth cleaning
- Bites of poisonous animals
Using Curry Leaves with a Twist
1. Curry Leaf Oil
Curry leaf oil is used in cooking, as well as in medicine and cosmetics.
2. Medicinal Uses:
- Hair oil – These Leaves are a rich source of proteins, which can reduce hair loss and increase hair growth
- Soaps- They contain antibacterial properties. Therefore, many herbal soaps use these leaves as one of the key ingredients
- Deodorants– These leaves also contain cooling agents. So, during summer using deodorants containing this herb help you to feel refreshed and fragrant
- Creams- In addition, curry leaves have potent antifungal, antiseptic and antibacterial properties. Hence, these leaves are added to many face creams and body lotions
Recipes Using Curry Leaves
1. Curry Leaf Juice Recipe
This juice is amazing to boost your immunity. Simple to make, this juice can improve your health significantly.
- Curry leaves – 2/3 sprigs
- Lemon – 1
- Ginger – 1-inch
- Organic turmeric powder – ¼ tablespoon or 1 slice of fresh turmeric
- Gooseberries – 2
- A pinch of black salt or Himalayan pink salt
- Wash all the ingredients
- Make a smooth paste using turmeric, ginger, gooseberries and curry leaves
- To dilute, add more water and filter it
- Toss in few drops of lemon
- Add salt and pepper to taste
2. Curry Leaves Chutney Recipe
Curry leaves are widely used in South India to make chutneys. This chutney recipe goes perfectly with idli, dosa, and even roti. Refrigerate this chutney to use for up to 2 weeks.
- Fresh curry leaves -2 cups
- Chana dal – 3 tbsp
- Methi seeds – 1 tsp
- Black paper – 2 tsp
- Cumin seeds – 1 tbsp
- Tamarind pulp – 1 tbsp
- A pinch of salt
- A pinch of Asafoetida (Hing)
- Ghee or oil – 1 tbsp
- Heat oil in a pan. Once hot add Chana dal, Black pepper, Methi seeds, and cumin seeds
- Roast for a minute or two and add curry leaves
- Roast for a couple of minutes and add asafoetida
- Take off the flame and allow it to cool down a little
- Add mixture to a blender jar along with salt and tamarind pulp
- Blend it to a smooth paste and store it in an airtight container
In India’s western, southern and central parts, almost every other house has a curry leaf plant, yet the herb is so underrated. These leaves are flavourful and highly nutritious. They have plenty of health benefits as well. They might taste bitter initially, but once you develop a taste for them, you will love them.
Add curry leaves to your meals for that extra punch. They go perfectly well with Indian meals as tempering. You can even try them with your snacks.
Next time, while making popcorn, add a few of these leaves to your oil or ghee for a new and refreshing flavour. When roasting vegetables, toss in a few curry leaves. The fresh fragrances of these aromatic leaves will make your jaw drop.
Curry Leaves – Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. Is it true that curry leaves help with eyesight?
A. Yes. They are high in vitamin A, which is essential for good eyesight. It also prevents the formation of cataracts in the eye.
Q. Is it okay to eat curry leaves every day?
A. Yes. Every day one can have 10-15 leaves.
Q. Is growing curry leaf plants difficult?
A. No. Not at all. It can grow in any season, requires a medium pot, full sunlight, and moderate watering. So, it is a must-have in your kitchen garden.
Q. How often should we water the curry leaf plant?
A. One should water it once a week in winters and rainy days. When the soil dries out i.e. in summers it requires more water. 2-3 days a week in summer should be adequate. Over-watering curry leaf plants may kill the plants fast so check the soil every time. Allow soil to dry out completely between watering.
Q. Is there a variety of curry leaves?
A. There are three types of curry leaf trees.
1)The regular type grows fast and is tall. The leaves from this plant are commonly sold in grocery stores.
2)The dwarf type does not grow as tall, but it does spread out more. It has light green leaves that are longer than the regular tree’s leaves. Some dwarf curry leaf plants, however, aren’t the ideal plant for culinary use because they have leaves with a less impressive flavor profile.
3)The gamthi/miniature plant type grows thick leaves, but it grows very slowly. This variety has the strongest aroma and best flavor.