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Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix DC.)


BurmeseShauk-nu, Shauk-waing
酸柑 [syùn gàm]
Syun gam
酸柑 [suān gān]
Suan gan
CzechKaffir citrus
DanishKaffir lime
DutchKaffir limoen, Djeroek poeroet, Indonesische citroenboom
EnglishIndonesian lime leaves, Wild lime
EstonianKaffir laimilehed, Kahvrilaimipuu, Kombaava, Kahvrilaim
FrenchLimettier hérissé, Combava
GermanKaffernlimette, Indische Zitronenblätter, Indonesische Zitronenblätter, Kaffirzitrone, Kaffirlimette
Hebrewעלי קפיר ליים
עֱלֵי קָפִיר לָיִים
Aley kafir laim, Ali qafir laym
HungarianKaffir citrom és levél, Kaffercitrom
IndonesianDaun jeruk purut
HmongMav naus
Japaneseコブミカン, ライムリーフ
Kobumikan, Raimu-rifu
KhmerKraunch soeuth, Slirk-krote sirk
Laoໃບຂີ້ຫູດ, ໝາກ ຂີ້ຫູດ, ກົກໝາກ ຂີ້ຫູດ
Bai kihut, Kok mak khi hout, Mak kihut
LithuanianLaukinis citrinmedis
MalayDaun limau purut (leaf), Limau purut (fruit)
PortugueseCombava, Lima cafre
RussianКафрский лайм
Kafrski lajm
SpanishHojas de Lima Cafre, Hojas de Lima Kaffir
Thaiมะกรูด, ลูกมะกูด, ใบมะกรูด
Makrut, Magrood, Makut, Magood; Bai makrut (leaves); Luk makrut (fruits)
VietnameseTrúc, Chanh sác
Truc, Chanh sac
Citrus hystrix: Wild lime leaf
Kaffir lime leaf
Used plant part

The leaves, which have a charac­ter­istic shape due to their winged petioles, which almost look like leaves them­selves; if avail­able, the fruits, especially the fruit skin, may also be used.

Plant family

Rutaceae (citrus family). Within the genus Citrus, kaffir lime belongs to subgenus Papeda and is, therefore, less closely related to those species yielding the popular citrus fruits.

Sensory quality

Strongly lemon-like. Although many people judge the fragrance crude, dominating and penetrating on first contact, most will find it uniquely refreshing after having grown accustomed to it, especially if blended with other flavours.

Main constituents

The compound responsible for the characteristic aroma was identified as (–)-(S)-citronellal, which is contained in the leaf oil up to 80%; minor components are citronellol (10%), nerol and limonene.

Citrus hystrix: Kaffir limes
Kaffir lime fruits

Form a stereo­chemical point of view, it is remarkable that kaffir lime leaves contain only (–)-(S)-citronellal, whereas the enantiomeric form (+)-(R)-citronellal is found in both lemon balm and (to a lesser degree) lemon grass, (note, however, that citronellal is only a trace component in the latter’s essential oil).

Kaffir lime fruit peel contains an essential oil comparable to lime fruit peel oil; main components are limonene and β-pinene.


South East Asia.

Citrus hystrix: Kaffir limes on a market in Sri Lanka
Kaffir limes on a market

See also lemon and lime.

Frankly, I do not know why the kaffir lime is called so. The word kaffir, in English and many more Euro­pean lan­guages, is used as an of­fen­sive term for Blacks in general; histori­cally, it was parti­cularly a­pplied to the Xhosa, a people indi­genous in South Africa, in a xeno­phobic way. It comes from Arabic kafir [كافر] infidel, non-Muslim, via obsolete Spanish and Portu­guese cafre barbarian. The ultimate source is a Semitic root KPR village, with a de­roga­tory con­nota­tion of back­ward­ness. Ap­parent­ly, the meaning in­fidel arose from an impli­cation of re­tarded or in­complete Islami­zation in remote villages. Distantly related is Turkish gâvur infidel, which was entered English as an exotism giaour. Cf. also the German term Kaff (derogatory for remote place, small village), which might have Yiddish sources, although others derive it from Romany gāw village.

The species name hystrix (Greek hystrix [ὕστριξ] porcupine) refers to the many thorns of the plant.

Selected Links

Sorting Citrus names ( Recipe: Tom Yum [ต้มยำ] ( via Recipe: Tom Kha Kai [ต้มข่าไก่] ( via

Citrus hystrix: Kaffirlime shrub
Kaffir lime shrub bearing unripe fruits

Citrus hystrix: Unripe kaffirlime
Unripe kaffir lime

The kaffir lime leaves are a very popular spice in Thai­land; their charac­teristic flavour ap­pears in soups, stir-fries or curries (see coconut for a list of other in­gre­dients to Thai curries). In Thai cuisine, kaffir lime is frequently combined with garlic, galanga, ginger and fingerroot, together with liberal amount of chiles. Fresh Thai basil is needed for the authentic fragrance.

A Thai dish most popular in Thailand and among foreigners is tom yam (also spelt tom yum [ต้มยำ]), a fiery–hot, sour and very aromatic soup prepared from shrimps (tom yam gung [ต้มยำกุ้ง]), chicken (tom yam gai [ต้มยำไก่]) or fish (tom yam pla [ต้มยำปลา]). The soup is flavoured with loads of chiles, lime juice, fish sauce and fresh spices: galanga, lemon grass and kaffir lime leaves. It is served topped with aromatic greens, usually basil (horapha) or coriander.

A related soup is tom khaa [ต้มข่า], which contains more galanga and is less spicy due to a splash of coconut milk added. Similar soups are prepared in other South East Asian countries; see rice paddy herb for a Vietnamese example.

Kaffir lime leaves are also popular in the West of Cambodia, but less so in Vietnam. Malay and Indonesian (especially, Balinese; see also Indonesian bay leaf) cuisines use them sporadically for chicken and fish.

Kaffir lime has a very strong, characteristic fragrance that cannot easily be substituted by other spices; lemon myrtle leaves or simply lime peel is probably the best substitute. Dried leaves lose their flavour within a year; therefore, they are better kept frozen.

The fruit juice, which is very sour and has the same fragrance as the leaves, is sometimes added to fish or poultry dishes in Malaysia or Thailand. Less commonly, it is also used in Indonesia. For a summary of sour spices, see mango.

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