Makrut Lime: The Fragrant and Flavourful Citrus

What is makrut lime?     What does makrut lime look like?     How to grow makrut lime     What does makrut lime smell and taste like?     Culinary uses     Health benefits     Why is the name kaffir lime no longer used?     Is makrut lime the same as bergamot?     Where can I buy makrut lime?

What is makrut lime?

More commonly known as kaffir lime, makrut lime (Citrus hystrix) is a citrus tree native to tropical Southeast Asia. The leaves of the makrut lime tree are a key ingredient in Thai cooking, imparting an aromatic citrus flavour.

Local names for makrut lime:

  • Thailand: Makrūd
  • Indonesia: Jeruk purut
  • India: Kaafir laim
  • Malay: Limau purut

Related: Sudachi citrus

At a glance

Family: Rutaceae
Botanical name: Citrus hystrix DC
Common names: Makrut lime, Kaffir lime, Leech lime, Thai lime, Mauritius papeda, Mauritius bitter orange, Kieffer lime, Limau purut, Combavas, Wild lime, Kabuyaw, La chanh
Lifespan: Evergreen tree
Mature height: 3 – 4 metres
Flower colour: White
Leaf colour: Green
Native to: India, South East Asia, Southern China, Malaysia and Thailand
Soil: Free-draining
Humidity: High
Propagation: Cuttings
Care level: Easy


What does makrut lime look like?

Makrut lime leaves

Makrut is an evergreen tree that reaches a height of 3-5 metres. Its bright green, lobed leaves impart an aromatic citrus fragrance when broken. The subglobose-shaped fruit has a thick and wrinkled surface, which starts out dark green, maturing to a pale yellow/green.

Makrut lime fruit

The botanical name ‘hystrix’ is named after a genus of porcupines and relates to the spiny thorns on the branches of makrut lime trees.

How to grow makrut lime

How to grow makrut

Makrut is an easy-to-grow and rewarding citrus. It is happy in pots or in the ground and is an essential ingredient in Asian cooking. The leaves can be harvested year-round. Due to the difficulty finding makrut leaves and fruit, this is one variety of citrus I highly recommend for the home gardener. There is nothing more rewarding than picking your own makrut leaves straight off the tree.

  • Light: Makrut likes the same conditions as other citrus species. It prefers well-drained soil, in a sunny location with a minimum of 6 hours of full sun.
  • Water: Water when the top 2 cm of soil is dry, and be careful not to over-water which can cause root rot. Citrus trees in pots will require more frequent watering than trees in the ground.
  • Pots: I find makrut grows well in pots on sunny decks, terraces or balconies. The pot should be a minimum of 40 cm in diameter with a good root depth and drainage holes. Terracotta pots are ideal for makrut, their porous nature means that excess water is absorbed by the pot.
  • Fertilising: Use an all-purpose liquid fertiliser once a month during the active growing period for makrut limes in pots and twice a year for trees in the ground.
  • Pruning: Citrus trees don’t need to be pruned unless there is dead growth which should be removed. Makrut trees are grafted onto rootstock, and it is not uncommon for rootstock suckers to develop under the graft (the site where the citrus cutting attaches). Prune suckers back, as they can take over the entire tree and compete for nutrients.

All citrus trees are shallow-rooted and do not like plants growing around the roots, therefore it is important to keep the area clear of weeds. A 5 cm layer of mulch will keep weeds down and help to retain moisture during the warmer months. My preferred mulch is sugarcane.

Makrut flowers in spring and summer, followed by the appearance of small, green fruit. Remove immature fruit for the first two to three years to allow the tree to focus its energy on growth.

What does makrut lime smell and taste like?

The leaves and fruit of makrut lime are rich in aromatic essential oils including limonene, a terpene compound which is responsible for the citrusy aroma. While the leaves are most commonly used, makrut tart fruit is also edible and can be used to flavour cooked dishes.

Culinary uses

Thai green curry

The leaves of makrut lime impart flavour in Thai, Lao and Cambodian curries, soups and salads. The highly acidic fruit is also edible but has a sour taste, which makes it unpalatable when consumed raw. Its juice and zest are used to add flavour to cooked dishes. Makrut is a major ingredient in Cambodian kroeung, a curry paste,  Laab Gai, a Thai minced chicken salad, tom kha gai, a coconut chicken soup, tom yum soup as well as green and red curries.

  • Makrut liqueurs
  • Simple syrup
  • Flavoured gin or vodka
  • Makrutcello (a makrut lime version of the better-known limoncello)
  • Tea
  • Makrut butter
  • Marmalade (fruit)
  • Jelly (fruit)
  • Candied (fruit or leaves)
  • Pickled (fruit)
  • The highly aromatic zest adds flavour to vegetables and fish
  • The dried rind can be ground and used as a spice
  • As a herb or in marinades for seafood and chicken dishes

Makrut leaves can be used fresh or dried Remove the central vein, and roll the leaf into a cigar shape, and finely slice it into strips. Add to your favourite Asian recipes. Store unused makrut leaves in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, or in the freezer for six months.

Health benefits

Makrut leaves contain citronellal, α-pinene, ß-pinene, sabinene, myrcene, trans-ocimene, γ-terpinene, terpinolene, copaene, camphene, limonene, copene, linalool, ß-cubebene, isopulegol, caryophyllene, citronellyl acetate, citronellyl propionate citronellol, nerolidol, isopulegol, caryophyllene and δ-cadinene. One study found the main chemical compounds in oils extracted from the peel contained DLimonene, 3Carene, and γTerpinene. [1]

The juice of makrut lime is said to deter leeches when rubbed on the legs, hence the name ‘leech lime’. Phytochemicals possess antibacterial, antifungal, anticancer, chemopreventive, antioxidant, anticholinesterase, cardio and hepatoprotective effects.

In traditional medicine, makrut lime has been used to treat dental disorders, heart disease, dizziness and indigestion. The fruits have been used in traditional Thai medicine to treat headaches and sore throats.

Makrut lime peel and leaves have antimicrobial activities against Bacillus cereus, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella typhiStaphylococcus aureus ATCC 25923, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 43300, Streptococcus mutans ATCC 25175, Escherichia coli ATCC 8739, Pseudomonas aeruginosa FNCC 9027 and Aspergillus fumigatus TISTR 3180, thought to be due to the major components citronellal sabinene and ß-pinene.

Makrut lime leaves contain flavonoids, which are plant-based compounds that have an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Why is the name kaffir lime no longer used?

Makrut lime

Portuguese traders brought Africans to Sri Lanka between 300 – 500 years ago to work as soldiers, dock hands and slaves. The workers had their own culture and language and became known as Sri Lankan Kaffirs. The Sri Lankan Kaffirs have become assimilated into Sri Lankan society, however, numbers are dwindling.

The origins of the word ‘kaffir’ are unclear, but it is believed to be derived from the Arabic word ‘kafir’ which means ‘unbeliever’ or ‘infidel’. The term was likely introduced to South Africa by Arab traders and was later adopted by European colonisers.

The word ‘kaffir’ has been used as a racial slur against black people in South Africa since at least the 19th century. It was used by white colonisers to refer to black people in a demeaning and dehumanising way. Today, the word ‘kaffir’ is considered to be a deeply offensive and racist term. Its use is considered hate speech and is prohibited in South Africa.

Kaffir lime is still the most common name for the makrut, but the tide is slowly turning as more people become aware that kaffir is offensive to many people. In June 2021, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has announced he will now use the term ‘lime leaves’. The same year, supermarket giant Waitrose announced they will use ‘makrut lime leaves’ in place of kaffir. Unfortunately, Australian supermarkets Coles and Woolworths continue to use the word ‘kaffir’.

Is makrut lime the same as bergamot?

Bergamot is frequently mislabelled as makrut lime, but they are different species of citrus. Bergamot (Citrus bergamia) is a citrus native to southern Italy and is primarily used for its essential oils.


Makrut Bergamot
Green to pale orange fruit with a knobbly, wrinkled rind, 4 cm in diameter Pale orange fruit with a smooth thin rind, 6 – 8 cm in diameter
Hourglass shaped leaves Ovate shaped leaves
The aromatic leaves are used to
flavour Asian dishes
Used for its aromatic essential oils
and as an ingredient in Earl grey tea


Where can I buy makrut lime?

Makrut can be hard to find in supermarkets, however, specialist fruit and vegetable shops will sometimes stock them. Look for fresh, glossy leaves.

The easiest way to use makrut leaves in cooking is to grow your own. Makrut can grow outside in subtropical and tropical areas, however, in cold climates, it will need to grow in a greenhouse or indoors during the cooler months.

Grafted makrut lime trees are available from specialist nurseries such as Daleys Fruit.


[1] Chemical Content Profile of Essential Oil from Kaffir Lime (Citrus hystrix DC.) in Tanah Datar Regency and Antibacterial Activity – Elidahanum Husni, Utari Septiana Putri, and Dachriyanus