Curry leaves are small in size and long, slender, and oval in shape narrowing to a point, averaging 2-4 centimeters in length and 1-2 centimeters in width. The shiny, dark green leaves grow pinnately along a stem, and each branch can hold up to twenty, tightly clustered leaves. Curry leaves are extremely aromatic and have a strong flavor that has been compared to citrus, asafoetida, anise, and lemongrass. When cooked, Curry leaves have a mild and slightly pungent bite with a nutty aroma.
Curry leaves, botanically classified as Murraya koenigii, grow on a deciduous tree that can mature to 2-5 meters in height and are part of the Rutaceae family along with citrus and rue. Also known as Karieppilai, Karivepaaku, Kari Patta, and Sweet neem leaves, Curry leaves thrive in tropical and subtropical climates and should not be confused with curry powder. Curry leaves are a fresh herb that comes from the curry tree, while curry powder is a spice mix of seeds, spices, and herbs that have a different flavor altogether. Curry leaves should also not be mistaken for the curry plant, Helichrysum italicum, as it is unrelated.
Curry leaves are best suited for cooked applications such as boiling, steaming, or saut ing. They are commonly incorporated in southern and western Indian cooking and are used similar to bay leaves, although the leaves are edible after they are cooked and do not need to be removed before eating. Curry leaves add a bright flavor to stews, curries, soups, rice dishes, and dals. The leaves are usually stripped from the stem, fried in hot oil with other spices, and either used as a base for making a dish or poured over an already-made dish for flavor. Curry leaves pair well with lentils, yogurt, coconut milk, aromatics such as onions, garlic, and ginger, mustard seeds, chile peppers, oyster sauce, pea shoots, eggplant,, and fish. They will keep up to two weeks when stored fresh in a sealed container in the refrigerator and up to six weeks in the freezer.