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Curry leaves (Murraya koenigii Spreng.)


botanicalChalcas koenigii
Arabicورق الكاري
وَرَق الْكَارِي
Waraq al-kari
Assameseনৰসিংহ পাত
Noroximh pat, Noroxingho pat
BulgarianЛиста от къри
Lista ot kuri
BurmesePindosin, Pyim daw thein, Kyaung-thwe
咖哩葉 [ga lēi yihp]
Ga lei yihp
调料九里香 [diào liào jiǔ lǐ xiāng]
Diao liao jiu li xiang
CzechKarí lístky
DanishKarry blad
Dhivehiހިކަނދި ގަސް, ހިކަނދިފަތް
Hikan'dhi gas, Hikan'dhifat
EnglishCurry leaves
FrenchFeuilles de Cari, Feuilles de Curry, Caloupilé (Réunion), Carripoulé (Ile Maurice)
GalicianFollas de Curry
Gujaratiમીઠો લીમડો
Mitho limado
Hebrewעלי קרי
עֱלֵי קָרִי
Aley kari, Ali qari
Hindiकरीपत्ता, मीथ णीम, मीथ नीम पत्ता
Karipatta, Mitha nim, Mitha neem patta
HungarianCurry levelek
IndonesianDaun kari, Salam koja
ItalianFogli di Cari
Japaneseカレー・リーフ, ナンヨウザンショウ
Kare-rifu, Nanyōzanshō, Nanyo-zansho
Kannadaಕರಿ ಬೇವು, ಕರಿಬೇವು ಸೊಪ್ಪು
Karibevu, Karibevu soppu
Korean커리, 커리 리프
Keori, Kori, Keori ripu
LaoKhi be, Dok kibi
LithuanianKvapioji murėja, Karis
MalayDaun kari pla, Karupillam, Garupillai, Karwa pale, Kerupulai
Malayalamകറിവേപ്പില, കറിവേപ്പ്, കരിവേപ്പില, വേപ്പില
Kariveppila, Kariveppu, Veppila
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)করি পতা
ꯛꯔꯤ ꯄꯇꯥ
Kari pata
Kadhilimb, Karhilimb
Nepaliअसारे, देसी नीम, मचिमेर, मेचिया साग
Asare; possibly also Desi Nim, Machimer, Mechiya sag
Oriyaମେରିସିଙ୍ଗା ପତ୍ର
Merisinga potro
PortugueseFolhas de Caril
Punjabiਕਰੀਪਤਾ, ਕਰੀਪੱਤਾ
Karipata, Karipatta, Bowala
RussianЛистья карри
Listya karri
SanskritGirinimba, Suravi
SlovakKarí list
SpanishHoja, Hojas de Curry
SwahiliBizari, Mchuzi
Tamilகறூவேப்பிலை, கறிவேப்பிலை
Kariveppilai, Karuveppilai
Karepeku, Karivepaku
Thaiหอมแขก, โสม, สมัด, หมอน้อย, ใบกะหรี่
Hom khaek, Som, Samat, Bai kari
Urduکری پتہ, کریاپات
Kari patah, Kariapat
VietnameseCà ri, Lá cà ri, Chùm hôi trắng, Xan tróc, Cơm nguội, Ngệt quới koenig
Cari, La ca ri, Chum hoi trang, Xan troc, Com nguoi, Nget quoi koenig
Helichrysum italicum: Curry herb
This has nothing to do with curry leaves!
The so-called curry plant of South European origin
Murraya koenigii: Curry leaf
Curry leaf

© Liz Thomas


The name curry plant is often used for Heli­chrysum italicum (Aster­aceae), a relative of im­mortelle; several sub­species grow in the Euro­pean Medi­terranean countries. The essential oil shows consider­able infra­specific variation; its main com­ponents are mono­terpene hydro­carbons (pinene, cam­phene, myrcene, limonene) and mono­terpene-derived alcohols (linalool, ter­pinene-4‑ol, nerol, geraniol, also their ac­etates); further important aroma com­ponents are non­terpenoid acyclic β‑ketones, which give rise to a somewhat dis­agreeable flavour (e. g., 2,5,7‑trimethyl­dec-2‑en-6,8‑dione, 2,5,7,9‑tetramethyl­dec-2‑en-6,8‑dione, 2,5,7,9‑tetramethyl­hendec-2‑en-6,8‑dione, 3,5‑dimethyl­octan-4,6‑dione, 2,4‑dimethyl­heptan-3,5‑dione).

This curry herb is occasionally used for culinary purposes, but its fragrance is not alike to curry leaves at all. For me, it reminds more of sage and mugwort. It can go, together with other Medi­terranean herbs, for Italian or French food, but it should not be tried for Indian recipes.

Murraya koenigii: Fruits of the curry tree
Fresh fruits of the Curry tree

© Liz Thomas

Used plant part

The leaves. A curry leaf is compound and consists of up to 20 leaflets arranged in pairs along the middle rib. For cooking purposes, the leaflets are usually torn from the rib to facilitate eating; in recipes, ten curry leaves more often than not refers to ten leaflets, or about one half to one full leaf.

Since curry leaves lose their delicate fragrance soon after drying, you should try to obtain them fresh; don’t waste your time with the dried stuff!

Plant family

Rutaceae (citrus family).

Murraya koenigii: Curry flower
Curry flower, close-up   © Gerald Carr

Murraya koenigii: Curry tree branch with fruits close to ripeness
Curry tree twig with ripening berries
Sensory qual­ity

Fresh and pleasant, remotely remi­niscent of tan­gerines.

Main constituents

Fresh leaves are rich in an es­sen­tial oil, but the exact amount depends besides fresh­ness and genetic strain also on the ex­traction technique. Typical figures run from 0.5 to 2.7%.

The following aroma com­ponents, mostly sesqui­terpene hydro­carbons, have been identi­fied in curry leaves of Sri Lanka (in paren­theses, the content in mg/kg fresh leaves): β‑caryo­phyllene (2.6 ppm), β‑gurjun­ene (1.9 ppm), β‑elemene (0.6 ppm), β‑phel­landrene (0.5 ppm), β‑thujene (0.4 ppm), α‑selinene (0.3 ppm), β‑bisa­bolene (0.3 ppm), further­more limonene, β‑trans‑ocimene and β‑cadinene (0.2 ppm). (Phytochemistry, 21, 1653, 1982)

Newer work has shown a large variability of the composition of the essential oil of curry leaves. In North Indian plants, mono­terpenes prevail (β‑phel­landrene, α‑pinene, β‑pinene), whereas South Indian samples yielded sesquiterpenes: β‑caryo­phyllene, aroma­dendrene, α‑selinene. (Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 17, 144, 2002)


The curry tree is native to India; today, it is found wild or culti­vated almost every­where in the Indian sub­continent excluding the higher levels of the Hima­layas, though it reaches the Inner Terai valleys in Nepal. In the East, its range extends into Burma.


The botani­cal name Murraya koenigii refers to two century botanists: the Swede Jo­hann Andreas Murray (1740–1791) and the German Jo­hann Ger­hard König (1728–1785).

Murraya koenigii: Curry trees (asare) with flowers, growing wild in Nepal
Flowering curry trees growing wild in Nepal
Murraya koenigii: Curry tree
Sterile curry tree growing in a greenhouse

The English term curry is of Indian origin: In Tamil, the most im­por­tant South Indian lan­guage, the word kari [கறி] means soup or sauce; this is also the basis of the Tamil name for curry-leaves, kari­veppilai [கறிவேப்பிலை] which contains ilai [இலை] leaf. In English usage, curry has a wider meaning encom­passing not only spicy foods of various kinds, but also Indian-style spice mixtures (curry powder).

In North In­dian (Ar­yan) lan­guages, curry leaves are usu­ally de­noted by their Tamil name, or an adap­tation there­of, for example Hindi kari­patta [करीपत्ता] and or Bengali karhi-pat [কাঢ়িপাত] Curry-leaf, or Sinhala karapincha [කරපිංචා]. The same first element is also found in Marathi kadhi-limb [कढीलिंब] (from limbu [लिंबू] lemon) and Kannada kari-bevu [ಕರಿಬೇವು], where second ele­ment bevu [ಬೇವು] desig­nates the nim tree (often spelled neem, Azadirachta indica), which has similar foliage. Cf. also the Sanskrit name girinimba [गिरिनिंब] mountain-neem. There is also the Hindi name mitha nim [मीथ णीम] sweet nim, where the adjective sweet refers to edibility in general.

The famous term curry was basi­cally in­vented by the British as an um­brella term for all kinds of spicy main courses, and is based on a local South Indian name; never­the­less, it is now in use all over the Indian sub­continent. I guess that its wide accep­tance among Indians of very dif­ferent languages is due to a lucky co­inci­dence: Some Northern Indian lan­guages have culinary terms that sound similar, easing the adopton of the new word. In Nepali, veget­ables are called tarkari [तरकारी] (e. g., in the name of the common food dal bhat tarkari [दाल भात तरकारी] lentils, rice and vegetables), and in the North West, a flat heavy pan similar to a Chinese Wok is known as karhai [कड़ाई].
Selected Links

Indian Spices: Curry Leaves ( Curry Leaf Tree ( Plant Cultures: Curry Leaf Bhatiya Nurseries: Curry Leaf Tree Rezept von Curry-Pulver Sorting Murraya names ( Dave Woodward on Curry ( Cooking with Kurma: Curry Leaf Heaven (

Murraya koenigii: Flowering wild curry tree (Nepal)
Flowering wild curry tree
Murraya koenigii: Curry tree
Curry tree with fruits

© Liz Thomas

Curry leaves are extensively used in Southern India and Sri Lanka (and are absolutely necessary for the authentic flavour), but are also of some impor­tance in Northern India. Together with South Indian immigrants, curry leaves reached Malaysia, South Africa and Réunion island. Outside the Indian sphere of influence, they are rarely found.

Curry pow­der is a British in­ven­tion to im­itate the flavour of Indian cooking with minimal effort. Some curry pow­ders, or so the books tell, in­deed con­tain curry leaves, but pro­bably only for histo­ric or lin­guistic reasons, since dried curry leaves lose their fragrance within days. A typical curry powder should derive its taste mainly from toasted cumin, toasted coriander, black pepper, chiles and toasted fenu­greek. Other typical Indian spices often contained in curry powders are dried ginger, ajwain and celery (as a sub­stitute for Indian radhuni), further­more salt, flour from lightly toasted lentils and aromatic Moghul spices in variable amounts (cinnamon, cloves, green cardamom, Indian bay-leaves). The yellow colour stems from turmeric. I think it’s pretty unreasonable to put spices with absolutely no tradition in India into a spice blend that claims to have an Indian flavour, but nevertheless galangale, caraway, allspice, and zedoary are occasionally listed as ingredients in curry powders. Remember that since curry powder is not a traditional recipe, there is little consensus about what should go into it, and anyone is free to sell his own creation.

Murraya koenigii: Curry tree flower
Curry tree flower
Murraya koenigii: Flowering Curry tree
Curry tree in full flower

© Liz Thomas

Observant readers will notice that the recipe for curry powder out­lined in the previous para­graph appears like a com­pro­mise of the Northern Indian garam masala and the Southern Indian sambar podi (see cumin and coriander, re­spec­tively). Anyway, you cannot represent the large spectrum of Indian cooking styles in one single spice mixture; Indians prepare their mixtures separately for each dish and usually do not store them, thus guaran­teeing the unique flavour of each recipe. Curry powder, therefore, belongs more to British or inter­national cuisine than to India; anyone trying to cook authentic Indian recipes should stick to traditional Indian spice mixtures or, even better, single spices. Western-style curry powder has been introduced to some Far Eastern countries in the past, and today plays but a minor rôle as a flavouring in China, Indonesia and, above all, Vietnam.

While there is no curry powder in India, Sri Lanka has a common spice mix some­what similarto the Western pro­duct, though i lacks turmeric and is therefore of brown colour. The blend is refer­red to as curry powder in Sri Lankan English, as tunapaha kudu [තුනපහ කුඩු] in Sinhala and as karittul [கறித்தூள்] or masala tul [மசால தூள்]) in Tamil language. A version with maximum degree of toasting is known as baedapu tunapaha kudu [බැදපු තුනපහ කුඩු] or varutta karittul [வறுத்த கறித்தூள்] roasted curry powder and contains also some toasted rice grains as an additional source of roast flavour. In any case, Sri Lankan curry powder consists of various spices like cumin, coriander, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, black pepper and chiles which have been toasted prior to grinding; these powders do contain turmeric, but not enough to reach the same bright yellow colour as a typical Western curry powder. Also, the toasted legume component is absent from Sri Lankan curry powder. This blend has been introduced to the Caribbean where it is known as Colombo powder or Poudre de Colombo. All these powders may contain small amounts of curry leaves (less likely in the Caribbean), but the taste will be dominated by the other spices.

Murraya koenigii: Curry Tree (asare) with fruits, wild plant from Nepal
Fruit-bearing Curry Tree (growing wild in Nepal)
Murraya koenigii: Curry flowers
Curry tree flowers
Murraya koenigii: Unripe curry tree infrutescence
Unripe curry fruits

In Indian cuisines, curry leaves are used fresh. They develop their flavour best after a short heating; thus, they are often fried in butter or oil as a part of the spice mix that marks the beginning of a preparation and gives a unique flavour to the food (baghar, see onion); in South India, they are often employed in tarka-like preparation that flavour foods after cooking and just before serving (see ajwain). Since South Indian cuisine is dominantly vegetarian, curry leaves seldom appear in non-vegetarian food; the main applications are thin lentil or vegetable curries (sambaar [சாம்பார்]), the typically South Indian dry curries, which consist just of vegetable pieces sautéed with spices, and also in some rice dishes like bisi bele (see coconut). In the North, they are mostly found in the stuffings for the crispy samosa [समोसा]. Because of their soft texture, they are never removed before serving, but can be eaten without any hazard.

Although cur­ry leaves real­ly must be fresh, they can be dried in a hot pan or deep-fried in fat im­media­tely be­fore usage; then, they will not only retain their fra­grance and dark green colour, but also ac­quire a very pleasant, crispy tex­ture. I’ll never forget a South Indian beef fry which was pre­pared by Muslim cooks in Kar­nataka: Lean beef cubes were mari­nated with joghurt and a spice mix quite similar to the blends used for North Indian tandoori foods; then, they were deep-fried and mixed with crispy curry leaves. This type of usage is, however, mostly found in Sri Lanka, for example in the national rice dish buriyani [බුරියානි], a mild rice flavoured with turmeric and other spices and usually served with chicken pieces. Hot-dried or deep-fried curry leavs can also be ground to a fragrant powder and may appear in spice blends, but their fragrance will not last very long.

In Sri Lanka, the delicious chicken and beef curries are flavoured with curry leaves; the leaves are further­more used for kottu roti [කොත්තු රොටී], vegetables and sliced bread which are quickly fried together. Sri Lankan cooking is very hot and pungent due to almost excessive use of chiles, but also very aromatic. Compared to Indians, Sri Lankans eat more meats and less dairy products; meats and vegetables are often cooked in gravies based on water or thin coconut milk instead of yoghurt.

Murraya koenigii: Young curry tree
Curry tree sapling
Murraya koenigii: Flowering curry tree
Flowering curry tree

The typical Sri Lankan flavour is due to heavy toasting some spices (cumin, coriander, black mustard, fenu­greek) until they reach a rather dark colour; it is often said that Sri Lankan curries have a darker or browner flavour than Indian curries. Sri Lankan cooks often use aromatic spices native to the island (cinnamon, cardamom) and fresh leaves (curry leaves, Pandanus leaves and lemon grass; the latter two are not in common use in India).

Curry leaves may be kept in the refrigerator for some time, but are better kept frozen; do not tear them from their stems before usage!

The term curry is ap­plied in­flatio­nari­ly to many dishes of Far Eastern ori­gin. As shown above, in its true home South India it means a thin, spicy veg­etable stew. In Thai­land, though, any food cooked in coco­nut milk is called a curry (gaeng [แกง]); the term is simi­larly used in Viet­nam, where cur­ries (ca ri [ca ri], see rice paddy herb) are in­deed often fla­voured with Anglo–Indian curry powder. Laksa, a soupy noodle dish from Malaysia and Singa­pore, is often referred to as curried noodles or the like, probably, because it contains coconut and derives the familiar yellow colour from turmeric (see Viet­namese coriander for details about laksa).

In Burma, how­ever, a com­plete­ly dif­ferent de­fini­tion of curry is in use: Bur­mese curries owe their fla­vour to a fried paste of ground onions and other spices (see onion for details). Lastly, in Indo­nesia, any spicy food may be termed a curry (kari in Indo­nesian). Some­times, one even hears about Ethiopian (see long pepper) or Caribbean curries, whatever this may mean (except, perhaps, the least common denomi­nator of all those: Spiciness).

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