Curry Leaves Vs. Bay Leaves: How Do They Compare?

Curry leaves and bay leaves are both staples of Indian and Sri Lankan cooking. Bay leaves come from the bay laurel tree while curry leaves come from the sweet neem or Neeme tree, which is a relative of the cinnamon tree. It is possible to confuse the two since curry leaves look a lot like bay leaves. The resemblance may cause some cooks to believe that they are related; they are not. How do these two herbs compare to each other? Do they have a similar flavor? Read on for answers to these and other questions.

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Do curry leaves and bay leaves look the same?

Both leaves are a dull olive green and are almond-shaped with a point at the end. Curry leaves tend to be somewhat smaller and are less glossy than most bay leaves. They also have a darker green on top with a paler green underside.

Another difference is the fact that curry leaves are often sold fresh and still attached to their branch, while dried bay leaves are removed from their branches and packaged. To use the fresh curry leaves, cooks strip off the amount they need.

Do curry leaves and bay leaves taste the same?

Bay leaves have a strong, lemony aroma with mildly earthy and slightly bitter notes. This means that when using bay leaves, you must take care to keep your dish from becoming bitter. On the other hand, curry leaves are sweeter with a mild citrus fragrance that is accompanied by slightly peppery notes.

When using bay leaves, it is best to remove them before serving; while they are edible (contrary to popular belief) they can become very bitter and can actually cause choking. On the other hand, fresh curry leaves are more subtle in flavor and pliable, making them perfectly fine to serve with the dish.

Note that it is possible to find dried curry leaves, though these are not recommended as you would have to use too many to provide the same level of flavor as the fresh leaves. If you do use dried curry leaves, you should remove these before serving as well due to the choking hazard caused by the dried leaves.

Can you use curry leaves in place of bay leaves? And vice versa?

Despite their differences, curry leaves and bay leaves can be substitutes for each other in many Indian and Sri Lankan recipes as long as you do not expect identical results. The two do have some flavor notes in common and they both work well with the most widely used spices used by cooks in those two cultures.

The two herbs are not quite as interchangeable when it comes to Mediterranean cuisine, as curry leaves will not produce the desired flavor in pasta sauces and other Southern European dishes that require bay leaves. When you are using bay leaves in place of curry leaves, remember to remove the leaf before you serve the dish.

What are the best ways to use curry leaves and bay leaves?

You can find curry leaves in many dishes throughout Southeast Asia. They pair well with other aromatics like ginger, garlic and onions. Dried curry leaves show up in Sri Lankan-style curry powders, which are popular in the Caribbean. In both Indian and Sri Lankan cuisines, they are used to cook vegetarian dishes and various curries as well as meat and seafood. Cooks will often fry the fresh leaves along with whole spices before adding them to the other ingredients.

You can also find bay leaves in Indian curries; however, they are more popular in Europe where they are a major component of stocks and sauces as well as preserves and pickles.

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