~ not just for Thai green curry
Makrut lime leaves are a familiar ingredient of Asian cooking, most notable in Thai green curry, a favourite in my household. They can be bought frozen or dried, online or from Asian supermarkets. And delicious they are too. But Makrut lime leaves are also a key botanical in the distillation of gin.
Lime is a native citrus of tropical Asia: India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philipines. Shrubby, thorny, evergreen trees, they grow to between 10 to 16 feet tall. The fruit is knobbly, unlike the limes you generally buy in the supermarket. The leaves and fruit are edible, with the 8 to 15 cm long oval leathery leaves having a distinct double shape. A glossy dark green they have to be cut into strips and cooked to be digestible as they cannot be eaten raw.
The main organic compounds in limes leaves are citronellol, a terpene aldehyde with antimicrobial properties. Nerol and limonene are also present. Limonene is also found in juniper. Hence they make a naturally good pairing.
Makrut lime leaves in Gin
It isn’t the fruit peel that is used in gin distillation but the leaves. Lime leaves distilled in gin give off a spicy citrus flavour. Less zingy and upfront than fresh lime it arrives later in the flavour profile with intriguing earthy undertones. A complex citrus that lasts on the tongue. It is one of my favourite botanicals. A grown-up citrus flavour. A powerful botanical though which can dominate if not used with a light hand.
A Word about Wording
Makrut or Thai lime leaves are familiarly known as kaffir lime. The word kaffir is offensive both racially and religiously. There is a growing trend to use alternative names for kaffir limes, although kaffir is still very widely used. So perhaps it is more prudent to use the word Makrut.
Gins that use Lime Leaves
A lot of gins use lime leaves but they tend to play a supporting botanical role. Only one gin that uses lime leaves as a dominant botanical springs to mind: Twisting Spirits Kaffir Lime & Lemongrass Distilled Gin.
If you crave lime leaves in your gin then they are great when bruised and used as a garnish. Or try infusing a bottle of gin, something without too distinctive a style, with a handful of lime leaves for a refreshing summer gin.