The south Indian curry leaf is more than just another herb when it comes to cooking

The south Indian curry leaf is more than just another herb when it comes to cooking

UAE chefs and foodies explain how curry leaves have become a must-have in every dish!

Curry leaves: The herb with star power Image Credit: Shutterstock

Within every fiery red south Indian fish curry, lies a collaboration of flavours, all of which emerged from once individual ingredients. The aroma of coconut oil interlaced with dry mustard seeds, gives an earthy, nutty flavour. Shallots, garlic and ginger, which when combined, emit a strong and rustic fragrance….

Not to mention spices, which hold the sole authority to balance. Too less and you can rectify, too much and you’ll need another set of ingredients to get it right.

And among all these ingredients, lies the humble bunch of curry leaves, which permeate into the dish during the process, only to be discarded later when served, as though it had no part. However, each leaf has a tale, a distinct flavour, and a pocketful of benefits.

A global icon

Native to southern India, curry leaves have travelled the world over, due to its popularity in cooking and medicinal properties. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Did you know, apart from India and Sri Lanka, curry leaves are grown in Southeast Asia, Australia, Pacific Islands and Africa? While it is native to southern India, curry leaves have travelled the world over, ever since the early 1 AD, due to its popularity in cooking and medicinal properties.

Mentions of this herb are found in Tamil and Kannada literature, under the title ‘kari’. However, the botanical name of kari is Murraya Koenigii, which translates to spiced sauce, and was described as a flavouring agent whilst cooking vegetables.

Other than flavour, curry leaves are quite distinct in the way they look as well. They have a glossy surface, are pinnate shaped and almond-sized. They have a complex and different citrus fragrance (similar to that of lemongrass), which is the core essence of the leaf itself.

Curry leaves are also known for its medicinal properties. According to, curry leaves are rich in protective plant substances, such as alkaloids, glycosides, and phenolic compounds, which act as antioxidants. Consuming curry leaves may benefit heart health by reducing heart disease risk factors, such as high cholesterol and triglyceride levels. However, more research is needed.

How important are curry leaves?

Curry leaves are a crucial ingredient in south Indian cooking Image Credit: Shutterstock

Food by Gulf News spoke to a few UAE-based chefs and residents who weighed in on their experiences cooking with curry leaves.

Chef Pradeep Khullar, Executive Chef, Mint Leaf of London in Dubai

Chef Pradeep Khullar, Executive Chef, Mint Leaf of London Dubai said: “Most people have a misconception that curry powder and curry leaves are one and the same thing. This could not be further from the truth. Curry Leaves are one of the most versatile ingredients in Indian cuisine. Therefore, they are used to temper, season, flavour and garnish Indian food. The leaves are aromatic and have several health benefits, which add a significant value to the food we cook. It is one of the most readily available herbs and that is another key reason for its popularity.

Chef Mohammed Rahil Aga, Art of Dum of Foodlink in Dubai

Chef Mohammed Rahil Aga, Art of Dum of Foodlink in Dubai, said, “Curry leaves, known as kadi patta in Hindi, is a common cooking ingredient full of health benefits and multiple uses. For a chef, curry leaves are used in three prominent ways: for tadka or tempering, as dried powder, for flavouring cooking oil…. Owing to its aromatic fragrance and taste profile, it adds an aroma of freshness to the dishes. I personally use many curry leaves when cooking rice-based dishes, dal, soup and main courses. Apart from culinary uses, curry leaves are also known for their curative properties. These aromatic leaves have nutrients like vitamins A, B, C, amino acids, calcium, fibre, protein, phosphorous and iron. Hence, curry leaves have the power to elevate a dish’s taste profile along with providing a ton of health benefits.”

Anish Iype, 26

For 26-year-old Dubai-based operations specialist Anish Iype, who is an avid foodie, curry leaves are essential whilst cooking: “I feel curry leaves are very important when it comes to cooking, especially south Indian cooking as I don’t see it being used much in the North. It is quite essential because it adds a different flavour altogether. You will know the difference when you leave it out and when you cook with it. Personally, I do believe that once you get acquainted with the herb, there is no going back, especially when you add it to coconut oil.”

Arsalan Hussain, 25

Arsalan Hussain, a 25-year-old, a marketing executive based in Dubai, said, “I am from Sri Lanka, and I will never eat chutney without curry leaves. Without it, it’s just a sauce or a paste and that’s not how I like to eat my dosa or rice-based pancake. It gives a lot of flavour, and I think it’s such an underrated herb, especially because the true essence of it [the dish] lies in curry leaves.”

Briji Jose, 24

Briji Jose, 24-year-old Abu Dhabi resident, added, “I think, especially being a south Indian, curry leaves form an integral part of our cuisine. I cannot think of a single dish where I do not use these leaves and its absence would simply strike out. It also has a distinguished aroma that adds to the complexity of the curry. Its necessity is marked by how in south Indian households, it was common to see mothers growing this plant in their kitchen garden.”

How can I store it?

Curry leaves are best stored in a refrigerator! Image Credit: Shutterstock

Well, since curry leaves have a flavour of its own, it is quite hard to find a substitute for it that provides the same impact as the herb. It’s best to leave it out altogether than add other substitutes like curry powder, which is a different condiment altogether. Usually curry leaves are added to oil, with mustard seeds, a little turmeric and dry red chilli as well.

When it comes to storing these herbs, it’s best to store them away from heat and moisture, as they tend to ward off easily. Therefore, it’s best to store them wrapped in a paper towel, kept in an airtight container inside a refrigerator. However, do change the paper towel every time you notice moisture formation in the container. This is to keep it fresh at all times.

Here's how you can make Shrimp UlarthiyuthuSabudana KhichdiSindhi KadhiUpma or roasted semolina with vegetables and herbs, Kadhi PakoraOnion pakoras or fritters and Koli Prawn Masala, all of which uses curry leaves!

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