Lemongrass is an aromatic grass that combines citrusy, herbal flavor with a minty undertone. It brings a fresh burst of tang without the bitterness and is commonly used in Southeast Asian cuisine. If you don't have any lemongrass in the kitchen, then you're going to need an alternative. We've compiled a handy list of lemongrass substitutes so that you can complete any recipe without the original ingredient.
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What can I use to replace fresh lemongrass in cooking?
To replace lemongrass in your next dish you can use dried lemongrass, lemongrass paste, lemon zest, or kreung. Although these ingredients won't perfectly mimic the flavor of fresh lemongrass, they will help to create authentic tasting Asian cuisine without any out-of-place flavors.
1. Dried Lemongrass
Dried or powdered lemongrass is a good option for replacing the fresh version although they won't be exactly the same. While fresh lemongrass is excellent for brightening spicy or heavy dishes, once dried, it loses its complexity and has a woodier flavor.
Most dried herbs pack a flavorful punch and lemongrass is no exception. It can easily overwhelm other ingredients so avoid using a heavy hand when adding it to your food. For each stalk, use about a half teaspoon.
It is a good idea to trim off the spiky base and top and then remove the outer layers. Crushing or mincing the leftover section will release a fragrant, citrusy flavor. The dried herb is good added to soups, hot tea, and any dish that allows time for rehydration of the herbs. You can also use this substitute for meat and poultry rubs, marinades, sauces, and stir-fries.
In some countries, finding dried lemongrass in mainstream supermarkets may be a challenge. If it isn’t located in the spice section, then try an Asian specialty store or search online.
2. Lemongrass paste
In the chilled section of your grocery store’s vegetable aisle or the Asian food section, you may find tubes of lemongrass paste. This is a convenient way to replace the fresh version in your cooking.
If you are making a flavorful soup like tom yum goong or laksa paste then use one tablespoon of paste to replace one tablespoon of chopped lemongrass. If the recipe you're using calls for one stalk of lemongrass then use a heaped tablespoon of the paste.
3. Lemon zest
Lemon zest makes a good lemongrass replacement as they both have a citrusy flavor, excellent for brightening dishes. Most of the time lemons are easy to find which is another benefit of this option. To make lemon zest, you’ll need a box grater on the fine setting or a zester. Keep in mind the zest is only the yellow part of the skin and any white pith should be avoided.
Want a more authentic lemongrass flavor? We suggest adding a small amount of fresh minced ginger to the lemon zest. This additional ingredient will add a pungent, warming, slightly earthy flavor to the dish, essential for mimicking lemongrass.
To replace one stalk of lemongrass, use 1 ½ tsp lemon zest and ⅛ tsp minced fresh ginger.
Tip: If you have some preserved lemons in the kitchen then you could also use these. Add half a lemon to replace one stalk of lemongrass. The peel and pulp can all be added to the dish.
Kreung is a type of paste that includes lemongrass and a range of other ingredients such as galangal, lime zest, shallots, turmeric, garlic, and chilis. Commonly used in Cambodian cooking, kreung makes a handy lemongrass substitute and has a similar use to Thai curry pastes.
Locating kreung in supermarkets may be a challenge, but you can try Asian specialty stores or search online. This product comes in a range of colors: red kroeung contains a dehydrated chili pod which adds a red shade to the dish rather than adding heat; yellow kroeung has turmeric as a primary ingredient and is commonly used to flavor a stew called samlor machu kroeung; green kroeung contains a high proportion of lemongrass leaves rather than the stalks. It is used for adding green color to food, like a Thai green curry paste.
To replace a tablespoon of chopped lemongrass, use a tablespoon of kreung paste. This substitute adds a mix of different savory flavors and is not suitable for sweet recipes.
When used in small amounts, arugula, or rocket leaf, can be used as an alternative to fresh lemongrass stalks. This option is excellent in dishes like fish soup and stews.
To get the true taste of lemongrass you will also need to include lemon zest for that citrusy, bright taste. We recommend combining one teaspoon of lemon zest with one arugula leaf. This may not sound like much but remember that arugula has a strong peppery taste and it's important that you don't overwhelm the dish. Combine the ingredients using a mortar and pestle or a blender and perform a quick taste test. You may want to add a little more arugula but be careful not to overdo it.
6. Kaffir lime leaves
The leaves of a kaffir lime are excellent for adding a spicy, citrus flavor and aroma, that is similar to lemongrass. They are easy to cook as you simply need to tear the leaves and remove the midrib before adding to soups, salads, stir-fries, and curries. Like the bay leaf, remove kaffir lime leaves before serving the dish. Alternatively, the leaves can be sliced thinly and used as a garnish on food.
When searching for kaffir lime leaves, you can buy them fresh, frozen, or dried. They are easy to find in Asian specialty stores and online.
Use one leaf to replace a stalk of lemongrass. To more closely mimic the taste of lemongrass, you may also want to add the zest of a lime.
7. Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena is an herb that is citrusy, slightly sweet, and excellent for brightening dishes. Its strong lemon scent works well in Asian cuisine, but it doesn't have the same powerful lemon flavor that lemongrass does. To counter this, use 1 lemon verbena leaf combined with half a teaspoon of lemon zest to dial up the flavor. It is a good idea to chop or tear the leaves before adding to recipes as this will help release the flavor.
8. Japanese Yuzu
The yuzu is a popular citrus fruit in Japan that is the size of a grapefruit and prized for its zest. You can use this ingredient as a lemongrass substitute to great effect in stir-fries, curries, beverages, and broths. Yuzu provides a lovely citrusy flavor and is also good for adding a delicious floral fragrance to food.
Like most of the replacements on this list, use yuzu in moderation as it will quickly overpower the dish. Whenever possible, try adding a teaspoon of yuzu zest and taste testing before adding more.
9. Cilantro stalks and ginger
Lemongrass offers a unique herbal taste that can be a challenge to replace with one ingredient. However, the combination of cilantro stalks and ginger is a useful option in slow-cooked meals like soup. Ginger gives a pungent earthy taste while the cilantro stalks provide a citrusy flavor.
Use a teaspoon of grated fresh ginger and two teaspoons of cilantro stalks. The stalk provides a more intense flavor than the leaves.
Related reading: How do parsley and cilantro differ?
10. Lemon balm
Lemon balm is an herb that is a member of the mint family. It has a citrusy flavor and aroma that is delicate and is best added at the end of cooking. Use 3-4 chopped lemon balm leaves to replace a stalk of lemongrass in savory dishes and desserts.
Replacing lemongrass in authentic Asian dishes like Tom Yum soup and stir-fries isn't easy as it has a unique flavor that’s hard to replicate. Your best options for getting a similar taste are to use dried lemongrass or a paste from the tube section of your supermarket. Other options include lemon zest, kreung, arugula, or kaffir lime leaves. Although they won't perfectly mimic the taste of lemongrass, when used sparingly they will allow you to complete most recipes without adding any awkward flavors.
What dish are you making that requires lemongrass? Please let us know in the comments below.