How to Make Sweet Kaffir Lime Liqueur

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Here’s how to make an exotic kaffir lime based variation on Limoncello.  Limoncello is a sweet Italian liqueur made with lemon-peel infused vodka (or grain alcohol) and simple syrup.  Our variation adds a exotic twist to a fantastic summer treat.

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Kaffir lime leaves are one of the signature flavors of Thai food. They’re often available at asian grocery stores in small bunches, but the trees are also available at some nurseries. When they first leaf out, the young double-lobed leaves are purplish, tender, and very spicy. The flavor of kaffir lime is a distinct citrus flavor, as different from lime as lemon, orange, and grapefruit are from one another. The kaffir lime tree also produces fruit (wrinkly little spherical green lime), and the zest of that fruit contains the same flavor as the leaves.  However, it’s generally easier to obtain the leaves, as they are found more commonly in Thai cooking.

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As the leaves mature to green, they mellow in flavor and begin to toughen. We usually pick them when they’ve just turned bright green, but are still tender.

Making Limoncello is a straightforward (but slightly lengthy) process of adding lemon zest to vodka or other neutral strong spirits, waiting several weeks, and then adding simple syrup and waiting a bit more. Our favorite Limoncello recipe served as a starting point of this variation. We also found a forum discussing the idea of using Kaffir limes, which gave us a starting point in terms of the number of leaves to use.

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Step 1: Add 20 washed and dried leaves in a one-liter bottle of good quality vodka. (Our favorites are Polish or Austrian potato vodkas like Monopolowa and Luksosawa.)

A common and traditional variation is to use straight grain alcohol that allows you to use a shorter infusing period. However, following the GIGO principle, we’ve generally found that starting with a drinkable input results in a more drinkable output.

Set the bottle it in the back of a cupboard and forget about it for about a month. If you happen to see it on occasion, shake it a bit and open it to see how it smells. You’ll want to make Thai food.

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After a few weeks, the leaves will have leached their favor (and a hint of their color) into the vodka.

Step 2: Dissolve 1 3/4 cups sugar completely in 2 1/2 cups water. Microwaving it in a glass measuring cup for a couple of minutes will typically get it warm enough to dissolve.

Step 3: Thoroughly cool the simple syrup, to at least room temperature. (It’s okay to leave it in the fridge overnight.) If it is not fully cooled, it can result in an opaque final product.

Step 4: Pour the infused vodka and the simple syrup into a larger bottle (or multiple small ones), discarding the leaves.

Most variations on this kind of recipe suggest waiting a few days after making it “for it to mellow,” although you may not be able to resist trying it first.

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Cheers!

 

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7 thoughts on “How to Make Sweet Kaffir Lime Liqueur

  1. I love Thai food, and I love booze, so this is golden. (And I particularly love the recommendation to use a more traditional potato vodka like Luksosawa, rather than what slyly passes for “premium” vodka lately.)

    But . . . may I suggest using the alternate name “makrut lime” for your recipe? Depending on where you’re from, “kaffir” has bad racial connotations and can really set your teeth on edge. (If I’m not mistaken, there’s an actual, direct etymological relationship here, rather than it just being a linguistic coincidence.)

    • Thanks for your comment. We are certainly not intending to give offense– kaffir is the only name we have seen for it locally and in recipes.

  2. I do something similar…in addition to kaffir lime leaves, I bruise several stalks of lemongrass and a few “coins” of sliced ginger. This gives it even more of a “Thai” vibe.

  3. No worries — “kaffir lime” is by far the most common name that they are sold under where I live as well (western Canada). But I’ve seen “makrut lime” pop up more often, along with the more prosaic name “Thai lime.”

  4. I usually make non-alcoholic syrups by using mint added into boiled water and sugar mixture, and leave it for 24 hours. Next day I strain it, and mix in citric acid. It’s delicious and can be used for teas or just simply added to water. Your recipe inspired me to try it out with Keffir Lime leaves. It’s a wonderful summer refreshment.

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