Kaffir or Makrut, Which Term Do You Use?

In a recent post, it was pointed out to me privately, that the term Kaffir is considered quite derogatory and insulting in certain parts of the world. In my 35 years of ordering and eating Thai food, as well as cooking it, shopping Asian markets for ingredients, and ordering what I can’t find, I’ve always read and referred to the leaves, limes, and plants as Kaffir. I know this isn’t the scientific name, and I now know that in at least one country in the world, the word is in fact a racial slur.

So…I was just wondering how most of you refer to the plants and parts. I don’t want to be politically incorrect, but used in a strict context of food, I don’t see how it could be construed as a slur. Thoughts, anyone?


I agree. Thai lime leaves are consistently prefixed with “Kaffir” in the UK. I can’t recall seeing any suggestion that it is inappropriate.

I’m aware that it was/is used by whites in South Africa, as a perjorative term for blacks. I’m also aware that the word can be used perjoratively by some Muslims referring to non-Muslims.

Also “kaffir” here, just like in cookery books and labels in the Asian shops. How do the PC police explain this then? Have you told the PC police who PM’ed you exactly what you wrote here?

I used to call it Kaffir but now call it Makrut - though I still have to catch myself now and again.

For me, it’s no big deal to change the nomenclature. I don’t fully understand the resistance to evolving how we speak about things.

My grandfather used to call Brazil nuts by a very racially charged name, glad we don’t do that anymore either.


Kaffir too in the cookbooks I owned, combava in French, don’t even know the name Makrut.

Talking about derogatory, in French boudin (various types of saugages) can mean a fat person, a prostitute or an easy woman, but you still use the word. Weird to avoid.

Thanks for the thoughtful replies all; I became curious how most refer to it. I’m not averse to change - old dogs can learn new tricks. I don’t feel scolded by the PM, and learned something new. However, I do feel at times the issue of PC has gone over the top, and there are hidden minefields everywhere. That said, I shudder and am shamed to think what Brazil nuts were called, generations ago.

Boudin will always be boudin to me, but I find humor in the other meanings. I guess I would take offense if someone called me a boudin though :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: And this brings me to jerk seasoning or rub. Jerk doesn’t have the best connotation in English, but I’m certainly not going to start calling it Yank Seasoning, Jolt or whatever, either lol.

So, I guess for me it will be either/or regarding kaffir or makrut.

I’m also aware that the thumbs up gesture, while hugely positive in U.S. culture, is deeply offensive in other parts of the world.

It’s a big world world out there, isn’t it? :earth_americas::earth_africa::earth_asia: Peace to all, and praying we make it through this pandemic, in all ways.


Same here. Sometimes I do forget. I don’t think it is overly “PC” to start referring to these lime leaves as “Makrut” leaves if the older name is as offensive as I have read it to be.


First off, I have to say, I’ve never  seen or heard the word “ka/effir” used by itself (as a noun) for the fruit, rather than an adjective in the “term” “ka/effir lime”, and I can more easily understand someone bristling at the use of the word by itself (as a noun), even when applied to the fruit rather than a person. (Even if the people doing the bristling aren’t, as far as I’ve ever seen, black South Africans, who’re the people whose opinion is the one that really counts in this case…)

But as far as the name “kaffir lime” is concerned, I also think the “political correctification” is overdone in this case, since at least as far as I know, there’s absolutely no connection between its use in the English-language name for Citrus hystrix  and its (one hopes almost completely “former”) use as a racial slur by white South Africans. (And for that matter, considering how very  little most Americans knew about the RSA/apartheid culture at all even at the height of the anti-apartheid movement, I’ve never even really understood how the “anti-kaffir-lime ‘movement’” got such a foothold here in the first place, unless maybe it was a post-Internet adoption from politically-hypercorrect Britons? A sheerly stupid, superficial misunderstanding of the name’s origin of course being the other major possibility…)

On the other hand, people being as prickly as they often are and there being far  more important hills-to-die-on afaic, I’ve also generally switched to either “Thai lime” or makrut (ignoring the culturo-geographically-incorrect overtones of those  usages :wink:), depending on whether I think my audience will have the slightest idea what “makrut” is…

Also, yes, while I know virtually nothing about Arabic in general, it’s my understanding as well that the word’s “actual”/original meaning is “infidel” (or maybe “heathen”), where the faith not accepted is Islam, of course. I don’t know how common its usage is (in general) among Muslims - Arabic-speaking or otherwise - or whether it’s necessarily considered particularly derogatory per se. Nor what nuances of meaning have attached to it in various contexts over time and in different places. (Including not knowing how it came to be used as an English-language name for the fruit or  as a racial slur in European-colonized southern Africa, though I assume the latter had something to do with its use by the Arabs whose presence along the East African coastline pre-dated Europeans’ arrival on the continent…)

There’s no indication of “resistance” here. It is simply not an issue where I live. Frankly, it is so not an issue that I had no idea till this thread that it even might be.

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My brother and I grew up the only Asian kids in a very white New England town. In those days, seemingly innocuous Chinese food items became the language of racism for the many bullies I had to withstand. I remember being called things like “chop suey” and “egg foo young.” And then feeling very small.

I was at a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway some years ago when a man sitting near us starting yelling “chop suey” when Hideki Matsui came up to bat. All those old feelings came flooding back. And damn straight, this time, I didn’t feel helpless and called for security and our section enjoyed the rest of the game without the “un-PC” guy spoiling our good time.

So, I’m probably more sensitive to this than others.


I certainly understand how you felt at that Red Sox game (and can imagine how you must’ve felt as a kid), but having lived for much of my own childhood in a (tiny) eastern Massachusetts town where this “dish” was in the regular rotation at my elementary/middle school, would you have been offended or bothered (as a kid or as an adult) by an, er, “mélange” of elbow macaroni in tomato-beef sauce being called “American chop suey”? It seems to me that’s the more apt comparison here…

And just for the record, I don’t mean to sound like I’m defending arguable racism on the grounds that the speaker “isn’t racist” (in their own view). In many cases, I think/agree it doesn’t matter what the intent behind them is if the words are in fact reasonably perceivable as offensive (or are palpably offensive in and of themselves). But in this case, I really do think that it’s an exaggerated reaction to a word that historically had a much broader meaning and usage than the slur itself, being reacted to - as far as I can tell - by people other than those against whom the slur was actually directly, mostly because they simply don’t understand the differing historical usages/contexts… (It’s not even like Citrus hystrix is native to or common in South Africa, or at least as far as I know, that it got that English-language name there…) I mean, it’s not like “the N word”, or “chink”, or “spic” (greaseball, etc, etc) that never had anything but a derogatory meanin … This strikes me more like a Gentile “instructing” Jews (who refer to themselves as “Jews” no matter who they’re talking to) that “Jew” (versus “Jewish”) is offensive because at various times in history, some groups have used it as a slur…


Yep, I dreaded when those items showed up on the lunch menu at school.


Because calling the dish that seemed offensive itself, or because it reminded you of your asshole classmates using it as a slur toward you?

(I mean, even at six years old, being a transplanted NYer, I thought it was funny-weird that they called something that bore not the slightest resemblance to “real” chop suey by that name, but there truly seemed to be no intent behind the name - ill or otherwise. Even back in 1970, the middle-aged head cook had no idea how it got the name (and yes, I asked, politely, but dumb-founded :wink:). It was just what it was called around there for as long as she could remember… (There was also a totally non-obvious, euphemistic name (not “Chinese”) for the chopped up turkey in gravy over mashed potatoes, but I have no  recollection what that was at this point…)

I don’t yell at people who call it a kaffir lime, but I appreciate when people call it a makrut lime. I grew up being called a “paki” and always responded, “eff you, I’m Indian!” As if it were only a problem of geography. When I went to Uni in Edinburgh, I was shocked that people would refer to to the local Chinese place as the Chink’s place because that’s not the term we used in California. It was very interesting being de-Asianized as other in the LAUSD and put inESL classes when we first moved to California. Growing up in two different countries has made me hyper aware of racial categories such as Oriental, Kaffir, Paki, etc. as I said, I don’t get upset when people call it a kaffir lime, but I really appreciate it when people call it a Makrut Lime because words have history and legacies.


Thanks for posting your point of view, and I’m sorry you grew up with name calling. I remember innocently using the term Jap when I was quite young, as I’d heard it in school. I was sternly corrected to never, under any circumstances, use that word. As well as many others. I’m very happy for that.

So, I’m inferring that kaffir is taken as a derogatory term by Indians, as well as being racially charged in South Africa?

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It was used throughout the British Empire and there are no positive connotations of “kaffir” that I know of. I am not asking you to change your mind in relation to the term, especially as it relates to the citrus. And, m not claiming that one culture is better than another. God only knows how many times I have railed my own ethnic community for the prejudices they retain. All I am saying is that the word Kaffir didn’t come from Thai, so what is it’s entomology? And once we know what that is, is there a better term?

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Just checked wikipedia, makrut is the Thai word for the lime. I guess I will switch, if k-lime is such an offensive word to many people. Don’t like culture stereotype.

Thanks for the reply, just trying to understand. Will change my usage to makrut, but may slip from time to time, as people unwittingly do @Kalivs. :earth_asia::earth_americas::earth_africa:

Same @naf - hope things are improving in your world too.

I found an article that explains why the lime is named in such a way.

Eventually I may get the citrus plant, leaves are very useful for cooking.

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