Popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, lemongrass is an herb that adds a rich citrus flavor to a wide range of dishes. However, if you are about to embark on your favorite Thai curry and can’t find this key ingredient, we have several great alternatives that will give you the flavors you are looking for in your dish.
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What is Lemongrass?
Known for its complex herbal and citrusy flavors with hints of ginger, lemongrass is a thick grassy herb native to the tropical climates of Southeast Asia. It is used in a wide range of dishes in Southeast Asian cuisine. I personally love the complexity it adds to meat dishes such as lemongrass chicken.
While research is mixed, many of people also believe that lemongrass has several health benefits including reducing cholesterol, helping to moderate blood sugar, helping to soothe stomach aches and cramps, reducing inflammation, helping achy joints, and reducing blood pressure among other things. One thing that is certain is lemongrass is high in vitamins and antioxidants.
How is Lemongrass used?
Lemongrass can be used fresh, dried, or in powdered form. One teaspoon of dried or powdered lemongrass is the equivalent of two teaspoons, or one stalk, of fresh lemongrass. Like most herbs, I think fresh lemongrass provides the best flavors.
As I mentioned before, lemongrass is widely used in Southeast Asian dishes such as curries, salads, soups, stir-fries, sauces and as a seasoning for meat and fish dishes. Some people also like to use lemongrass to provide a lemon flavor of their herbal teas. I love the fresh, citrusy contrast it adds to savory or spicy dishes.
Substitutes for Lemongrass
1. Arugula Mixed with Lemon Zest and Ginger
This is my favorite substitute because I think this combination most closely matches flavor of lemongrass. You get the herbal taste from the arugula and ginger where the lemon zest provides the citrus.
I would substitute one arugula leaf, 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest and 1/4 teaspoon of fresh ground ginger for each lemongrass stalk. If you don’t have ginger, arugula and lemon zest can be substituted on their own using the same measurements.
2. Lemon Zest
Lemon zest is also a great substitute as it provides the citrusy lemon flavor that people look for when using lemongrass. In addition, this is one of the more convenient alternatives listed as you only need one ingredient and it is readily available year round.
I would use 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest for each stalk of lemongrass called for in your recipe.
3. Kreung (Lemongrass Paste)
Kreung is a mixture of crushed lemongrass, shallots and other herbs and spices that are ground together to form a paste. Although it is mainly popular in Cambodian cuisine, it can be found in Asian grocery stores or on Amazon.
Because lemongrass is one of the main ingredients, this paste captures its flavor well and will work as a good substitute. I would one tablespoon of kreung for one stalk of lemongrass called for in the recipe.
4. Kaffir Lime Leaves
Like lemongrass, kaffir lime trees are native to tropical Southeast Asia. Also like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves have a citrus flavor and are used in a wide range of dishes from soups to curries.
Unfortunately, lime leaves common to the United States have a very different flavor than kaffir lime leaves and don’t make very good lemongrass substitutes. Kaffir leaves are also not very common in Western grocery stores so this may not be the most convenient option.
If you are able to get a hold of some kaffir lime leafs, I would substitute one leaf for one stalk of lemongrass. However, unlike the other alternatives discussed, Kaffir lime leaves are NOT INTENDED TO BE EATEN and should instead be added to the dish without chopping and strained out before consuming.
5. Fresh Coriander and Ginger
Fresh coriander and ginger combined brings an herbal and fresh flavor that work well as a lemongrass substitute. While fresh herbs are usually preferred, in this case I strongly encourage using fresh ingredients as it makes a big difference in this combination. I would also use the stalk of the coriander as it has a stronger flavor than the leaves.
Since this combination has a more subtle flavor than lemongrass, I would substitute two tablespoons of minced ginger and two tablespoons of ground coriander stalks for each stalk of lemongrass.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is an herb that is known for its mild and slightly sweet citrus flavor. It is a great substitute for lemongrass as it provides both the citrus and fresh taste most recipes seek from lemongrass.
Because it is a more mild herb, I would substitute 3 or 4 leaves for each stalk of lemongrass.
7. Lime Zest
Lime zest is also a great substitute as it provides the fresh, citrusy flavor prevalent in lemongrass. In addition, like lemons, limes are readily available year round.
While lime zest does provide a punch of citrus, it does lack the herbal and ginger flavor depth found in lemongrass. Depending on the recipe, I would consider combining with ginger and other herbs.
I would use 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest for each stalk of lemongrass called for in the recipe.
8. Lemon Juice
Lemon juice is another easy and effective way to add citrus flavor to any dish. Like lemon and lime zest, by itself it may lack some of the herbal flavors found in lemongrass. If this is an important component to your dish, I would consider combining with ginger, cilantro or other herbs.
I would substitute two tablespoons of lemon juice for one stalk of lemongrass.
9. Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena is an herb native to South America and is known for its intense lemon taste. In fact, it has a stronger lemon flavor than lemongrass so be careful when using as a substitute as a little goes a long way.
I would substitute two lemon verbena leaves for one stalk of lemongrass.
10. Combination of Mint, Lime Juice and Ginger
While lemongrass is commonly associated with its citrusy flavor, the subtle ginger and herbal flavors are also an important component to its flavor profile. As such when you use citrus substitutes such as lemon or lime juice/zests, the herbal and ginger flavors go missing from your dish.
Combining mint, lime juice and ginger is a great way to capture the more complete flavor profile found in lemongrass.
I would substitute two tablespoons of lime juice, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger and 6 mint leaves for one stalk of lemongrass.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best substitute for lemongrass?
While opinions vary, I think the best substitute for lemongrass is a combination of arugula, lemon zest and ginger as I think it comes closest to matching the complete flavor profile of lemongrass. The ginger and arugula capture the subtle herbal taste while the lemon zest captures the citrus flavor well. When using this combination as a substitute I would use 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest, 1/4 teaspoon of ginger and one arugula leaf.
How is lemongrass used in cooking?
Especially popular in Southeast Asian cuisine, lemongrass is used to add an herbal, citrusy flavor to a wide range of dishes including salads, soups, sauces, curries, stir-fries, and meat dishes.
Final Thoughts on Lemongrass Substitutes
While lemongrass is an important component in many dishes, hopefully the above alternatives will be able to provide the flavors you are looking for if you find yourself without this ingredient. If none of the above options matches exactly what you need, I would encourage you to experiment with different combinations of the above ingredients until you have the flavors you need for your dish. Happy cooking!
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