Curry leaves (also known as sweet neem leaves) are added to dishes near the beginning of cooking, and are fried in ghee, which may turn then from their usual green colour to black, but this is normal. They release a nutty aroma when fried.
Curry leaves do not taste like the curry we are used to. They are similar to asafoetida (garlic taste) but more herbal like basil or kafir lime leaves. They have a slight lemon scent.
They are a common ingredient in South Indian cooking and, like bay leaves in Western cooking, do not dominate the taste of a dish.
The fresh leaves are bright green and shiny. However, they can be bought and used dried, but these are less flavoursome than fresh leaves, and you will need more leaves to achieve the same level of taste as fresh leaves.
Curry Leaves Background
The curry leaf tree is native to India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Andaman Islands. However, they grow throughout the Indian subcontinent up to the Himalayas and across to Pakistan.
They were exported by Indian migrants to other areas of the world where they settled.
Curry leaves were used as a flavouring for vegetable dishes as early as the first century AD.
The word curry originates from ‘kari’ from the Tamil language, meaning spiced sauces.
Uses for Curry Leaves
Curry leaves are used very much in the way bay leaves are. To gently impart subtle flavour when steeped in curries, dals and soups. However, unlike bay leaves, which are removed prior to eating due to their hard consistency, curry leaves are left in and eaten.
Sauté curry leaves on a high heat in ghee to get them to release their flavour, stirring for three or four minutes, then add the ghee and the leaves to your dish at the start of the cooking process.
The sauté leaves and oil can be used to rub over flatbreads or fish before cooking.
Bay leaves, kaffir leaves or shaved lime zest can be used when fried in ghee to provide an alternative. However, unlike curry leaves, remember to remove them before eating your dish.
Curry leaves are sometimes used (eaten) to aid weight loss and to help regulate cholesterol.
They are rich in vitamin A, B, C and B2 and are a good source of iron and calcium.
There is evidence that they can help to settle an upset stomach by grinding the leaves and adding them to buttermilk. Drunk on an empty stomach it can settle symptoms of diarrhoea and constipation.
Curry leaves are sometimes used to treat morning sickness and nausea.
Curry leaves have been found to reduce blood glucose levels in diabetics and protect insulin producing cells in the body, due to the presence of copper, zinc and iron in the leaves.
It is thought that due to the high vitamin A content they are also good for eyesight and can help to prevent the early onset of cataracts.
The scent of curry leaves is believed to help to promote a calming effect and to relieve stress.
When curry leaves are ground up into a paste with a little water they can be spread on wounds and burns to speed the healing process. They can also promote hair growth by stimulating hair follicles and extracts can assist in treating dandruff and flaky scalp.