Lemongrass Substitutes – 6 Easy Swaps With Citrusy Flavor

Lemongrass is a herb that is native to Sri Lanka and South India but currently, many countries across the world grow it. In the West, it’s not easily available. When you don’t have it, you can always use a lemongrass substitute for your recipe.

What is Lemongrass?

Cymbopogon citratus, commonly known as lemongrass, is a genus of Asian, Australian, African, and tropical island plants in the grass family. It’s also known by other names like Cochin grass, silky grass, barbed wire grass, fever grass, oily head, or Malabar grass.

This grass plant is easily recognizable by its pale yellow-green stalks. It has some resemblance to green onions, with a bulbous bottom but has tough, woody stalks.

Despite having similar names lemongrass and lemon are not related at all. Even so, both of them have similar health benefits and uses.

Flavor and Aroma

Lemongrass has a permeating aromatic citrus scent that is detectable even from a good distance. This citrusy herb has a flavor similar to a unique blend of tart lemon with the brightness of mint.

Oil and essence extracts from the leaves and stalks of this grass plant also have a powerful citrus scent.

It transmits a flavor of lemon with hints of ginger. A floral and minty note is sensationally present in fresh lemongrass.

How is lemongrass used in cooking?

Lemongrass is used in various forms such as fresh, dried, powder, extract, or oil.

The distinct citrus flavor of lemongrass is a wonderful addition to dressings, curries, soups, sauces, soups, marinades, and tea.

In cooking, use only the bottom 4 inches or so of the stalks. Peel off any tough or dry other layers before finely chopping and mincing. Remove the pieces before eating (they tend to be woody) or eat around them.

Similarly, lemongrass essence (extract) and oil are used for flavoring tea, sweet and savory dishes, and baked goods.

For its therapeutic scent, lemongrass oil is popularly used in aromatherapy to help relieve stress, anxiety, and depression. Also, this grass is a constituent ingredient in several traditional medicines across the world.

Substitutes for Lemongrass

Finding a replacement for lemongrass becomes necessary as this herb is not easily available in many parts of the world. Obviously, it is difficult to mimic the natural and unique flavor of a herb with another one. Still, you can trace out a few herbs that somewhat match its flavor and aroma.

Dried lemongrass is the perfect substitute for fresh lemongrass and vice versa.

Here are a few other possible substitutions for you:

1. Lemon zest

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, lemon zest is the best substitute for lemongrass. It’s relatively easy to find and use.

Simply just grate some lemon zest into your dish and you have almost the same magical flavor of lemongrass.

Some chefs advocate using a mixed blend of arugula and lemon zest to achieve the exact flavor and aroma of Malabar grass.

One average-sized lemon can provide zest equal to two stalks of lemongrass.

2. Kreung – Lemongrass Paste

Another wonderful alternative to lemongrass is Kreung, a type of lemongrass paste from Cambodia.

The key ingredients in Kreung are lemongrass, galangal, and shallots.  If you cannot get it in local stores, then buy it online from Amazon or others.

As a substitution, use one tablespoon of Kreung paste in place of a tablespoon of minced fresh lemongrass.

3. Kaffir lime leaves

Kaffir lime leaves are an essential part of Thai cuisine, as well as other Southeast Asian dishes. It’s loved for its citrusy aroma and flavor akin to lemongrass.

Note, “Kaffir” is a derogatory term in Arabic. As a result, they will sometimes be referred to in recipes simply as ‘K-Leaves’ or ‘makrut.’

One kaffir leaf is equal to one stalk of lemongrass in a recipe.

Some chefs prefer to use kaffir leaf with a teaspoon of each lime juice and lime zest for a bigger citrusy punch.

This leaf is used in dishes like the bay leaf; leaves are removed before serving the dish.

4. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is a lemon-scented herb that comes from the same family as mint. It has a bright, citrusy taste that brings together the acidity of lemon with subtle hints of mint; with an overall taste profile similar to lemongrass.

In a pinch, lemon balm could be used to replace the lemongrass needed for your recipe.

Use its chopped or minced leaves in your recipe; add it towards the end of cooking to protect its flavor.

While substituting, use 3 fresh lemon balm leaves for one stalk of lemongrass.

5. Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena is a perennial shrub native to South America. Its leaves emit a powerful lemon scent when bruised. When added to recipes, it provides citrus and herby flavors like lemongrass.

A point to be noted, the strong flavors of lemon verbena can easily overpower your recipe if used in excess. One or two verbena leaves are enough to replace one stalk of lemongrass.

Just like the lemongrass stalks, you have to remove the verbena leaves before serving the dish.

6. Ginger and Coriander

When you don’t have any of the alternatives to lemongrass like lemon zest, Kreung, or Kaffir lime, use a combination of coriander and ginger instead. This combination can provide a citrusy aroma and flavor somewhat similar to lemongrass though not perfect. This substitute option works best for soups and broths.

Use 2 tablespoons of crushed coriander stalks and one tablespoon of crushed fresh ginger root in place of one stalk of lemongrass.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is lemon balm the same as lemon grass?

No, they're not. Lemon balm, part of the mint family, has a gentle sweet flavor. Lemongrass, from the grass family, offers a bolder, citrus zest. They're unique in taste and type.

How much lemon zest to substitute for lemongrass?

Use 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest per lemongrass stalk. This swap is great for recipes needing a citrus touch, like soups and stir-fries.

How much lemongrass paste equals one stalk?

One tablespoon of lemongrass paste typically replaces one stalk, but flavors can differ among brands. Start small and adjust as needed for taste.

What is the difference between lemongrass and lemon verbena?

Lemongrass, with its sharp citrus taste, is often found in Southeast Asian dishes, while lemon verbena, flaunting a gentle, floral lemon flavor, is popular in teas and sweets. They're both lemon-scented but vary in use and taste.

What is lemongrass tincture?

Lemongrass tincture is lemongrass soaked in alcohol or glycerin, making a strong extract. It's valued in herbal remedies for digestion, reducing inflammation, and its antioxidant benefits.

What are the magical properties of lemongrass?

Lemongrass in folklore is known for cleansing, protection, and removing bad energy. It's said to boost psychic skills, improve communication, and is tied to air and Mercury, representing clear thinking and intellect.

What is a good lemongrass paste substitute?

Out of lemongrass paste? Try these:
1. Lemon zest: 1/2 teaspoon equals one lemongrass stalk.
2. Lemon balm: 4 chopped leaves replace one stalk.
3. Lemon verbena: 1 teaspoon chopped substitute one stalk.
4. Lime zest: Use 1/2 teaspoon per stalk.
5. Ginger: 1 teaspoon minced equals one stalk.
Adjust based on flavor strength and your taste.

What can I use as a substitute for lemongrass in Thai cooking?

If you're out of lemongrass, consider:
1. Lemon zest: For a vivid citrus kick.
2. Kaffir lime leaves: They bring a unique citrus scent.
3. Ginger: For spicy warmth.
4. Lemon balm: Adds mild lemon sweetness.
5. Lemon verbena: Offers a soft floral lemon taste.
Tweak amounts based on flavor intensity and your liking.

Final Thoughts

No lemongrass? No problem! You can use lemon zest, lime zest, kaffir lime leaves, lemon balm, lemon verbena, a mix of cilantro and ginger, arugula, preserved lemon, lemon juice, or lemongrass oil instead.

I would recommend lemon zest and Kaffire lime as the best substitutes for lemongrass. Kreung lemongrass paste and lemon balm leaves are also good alternatives worth considering.

Each of these substitutes brings a unique twist to your dish, so start with a little and tweak as needed.  For example, swap one lemongrass stalk with half a lemon’s zest or two kaffir leaves. Enjoy experimenting!

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