Curry Leaves vs Bay Leaves: What’s the Difference?

Although they are both leaves, the similarities between curry leaves and bay leaves end there. They are entirely different ingredients. But can they be used in place of each other? Or are the differences too vast?

The main difference between curry leaves and bay leaves is the flavour. As the name suggests, curry leaves add a subtle curry tone to dishes. However, bay leaves add a perfumed citrus-like flavour to stews, soups and casseroles.

What are Curry Leaves?

Curry leaves are a popular herb across India and South East Asia. They come from the neem tree. They are fairly slim with an oval shape and quite small at around 3cm in length.

Fresh curry leaves have a glossy shine, but they can also be purchased dried, which tend to last longer. You can freeze fresh curry leaves, though.

In terms of flavour, they have a subtle curry flavour with hints of citrus. They can be compared to a combination of cumin, lemongrass and kaffir lime leaves – another staple in Asian cooking.

How I Use Curry Leaves

As for curry leaves, I enjoy flash-frying them in hot oil until they’re crispy and using them as a garnish on roasted potatoes. This provides a citrusy crunch that adds a surprising flavour and texture, transforming a simple side dish into something extraordinary.

What are Bay Leaves?

Bay leaves are a herb from the laurel tree added to stews, soups, sauces and casseroles to slowly impart their subtle, floral and perfumed flavour into dishes. The leaves are removed before serving as they are too tough to eat.

How I Use Bay Leaves

For bay leaves, I love to infuse them in my homemade custard for a unique, herbaceous twist that complements the creamy sweetness brilliantly. I simply steep a couple of leaves in the warm milk before adding it to the egg mixture, creating a subtly aromatic dessert that’s a delight to the senses.

Laurel Bush for Bay Leaves

Differences Between Curry Leaves and Bay Leaves

Although they might both be leaves, there is an extensive list of differences between the two ingredients:


If you’re seeking a flavour showdown, these two contenders won’t disappoint. Curry leaves have this magical ability to lend a nuanced curry-like aroma and flavour, especially to South Asian dishes.

Bay leaves, on the other hand, march to a different drum, imparting a somewhat sweet, balsamic, and slightly floral note to dishes. This makes them a favourite in many European cuisines.


When it comes to their origins, curry leaves hail from the Murraya Koenigii tree, which is part of the citrus family, giving them their signature lemony-anise flavour.

Bay leaves, however, come from the bay laurel tree and are more related to the cinnamon, avocado, and camphor laurel trees.


Cuisine preferences for these leaves are pretty distinct.

Curry leaves are an absolute staple in Indian, Sri Lankan, and Southeast Asian cooking. Meanwhile, bay leaves are synonymous with European cuisines, especially in the Mediterranean region, featuring heavily in Italian, French, and Greek recipes.


In terms of availability, curry leaves are often found fresh and vibrant at Asian grocery stores. Bay leaves, however, are typically sold dried, and their glossy, deep green leaves are a common sight in most spice racks.

Quantity Required

When it comes to quantity, bay leaves are like that guest at a party who quietly elevates the mood – just one or two leaves will impart plenty of aroma and depth.

Curry leaves, however, are the life of the party – you’ll usually need a sprig or two, around 10 to 20 leaves, to get the flavour party started.


Bay leaves are generally removed before serving, as they can be a bit tough to digest.

On the other hand, fresh curry leaves are perfectly edible and are often fried until crispy and served as a garnish. This is not the case for dried leaves though!

Dried Curry Leaves

Use in Desserts

Unlikely as it may sound, bay leaves do have a sweet side. They’ve been known to play a unique supporting role in desserts like custard, panna cotta, rice pudding, and even ice cream.

Curry leaves, though, might make you raise an eyebrow if you tried to sneak them into a dessert – curry-flavoured ice cream is still a bit of a frontier!

Can You Substitute Curry Leaves for Bay Leaves?

No, you cannot directly substitute bay leaves for curry leaves or vice versa, as they have distinctly different flavour profiles. Bay leaves have a sweet, balsamic note, while curry leaves have a more robust, citrusy and anise flavour.

Similarities Between Curry Leaves and Bay Leaves

They might have several differences, but that doesn’t mean they don’t possess a few similarities:


At first glance, they both share that unmistakable leafy look – green, glossy, and quite easy on the eyes.

To an untrained eye or a casual observer, the differences might not be stark, but chefs and foodies can spot the distinction from a mile away.

Ability to Impart Flavour

When it comes to flavour prowess, both leaves reign supreme in their unique ways. A single leaf or two added to a simmering pot can work wonders in transforming a dish from bland to grand.

It’s this slow-release flavour magic that makes both these leaves a treasured part of slow-cooked dishes.

Curry Leaves vs Bay Leaves: Which Wins?

It’s hard to compare these two. They add a different flavour to your cooking and are used in different dishes. Deciding which one is better is impossible.

But which of these two do you find yourself using more often than not?

Do You Prefer Curry Leaves or Bay Leaves?


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