Looking for a lemongrass substitute? This article will provide you with some of the best options to choose from–you actually might be surprised by some items on this list!
I love cooking Thai and Vietnamese food, so most of my dishes usually call for lemongrass. Sometimes, however, things could get a bit more challenging, as these fragrant stalks are not easily available!
This is why I started looking for alternatives. Below are some of the things that I learned during my search!
What Is Lemongrass?
Before I start with the list, I’d like to discuss a few things about lemongrass first—the flavor profiles, and what could happen if you do substitutes.
Lemongrass has a unique flavor—as the name suggests, it’s both lemon and herbal flavors. It’s extremely aromatic, and is excellent for dishes like curries, soups, stews, and even grilled meats!
That said, you should know that even if these substitutes have similar flavors, you will not be able to fully copy its unique flavors. This is not a bad thing, though! These flavor combos are equally delicious!
In no particular order, here are 6 lemongrass substitutes that you can use in case you run out of the fresh variety.
6 Lemongrass Substitute Hacks To Make Delicious Recipes
1. Kaffir Lime Leaves and Lemon
I will be providing some combinations like this in this article. Also common in Thai and Vietnamese dishes, kaffir lime leaves have similar elements as lemongrass—it’s wonderfully aromatic, and has a citrusy flavor.
Kaffir lime leaves and lemongrass are often used together in recipes. Thai dish tom yum, for instance, makes use of both. They are excellent in dishes that have a coconut base. The creaminess of the coconut is balanced by the herbal flavors.
If a curry dish calls for lemongrass but you don’t have any, try using kaffir and lemon juice to elevate the flavor the way lemongrass can. 1 stalk of lemongrass can be substituted with two teaspoons of fresh lemon juice and one kaffir lime leaf.
When using these leaves, it is best to tear or cut the leaves in half or quarters to maximize the flavor.
2. Lemon Zest
This is one of the easily available items on this list. I learned about using lemon zest as a lemongrass substitute from a friend—she recommended that I can the zest of one lemon for every lemongrass stalk required by the recipe.
The lemon zest, of course, wasn’t able to provide me with the exact flavors of lemongrass, but since I didn’t have a choice then, I needed to make do with what I had on hand.
The result was still good, however, the citrus flavors (with a small hint of slightly bitter flavors) gave my curry dish an extra layer.
My advice to those who’ll try this lemongrass substitute is to keep tasting the dish to see if you have enough. Don’t dump all of the one teaspoon just yet—you can simply start adding if you’re not satisfied with the taste.
3. Arugula and Lemon Zest
The arugula and lemon zest combination is another way to copy lemongrass flavors. For every lemongrass stalk required, one arugula leaf (two if the leaves are small), and the zest of one lemon.
The difference between this combination and the basic lemon zest above is the extra layer of spice brought about by the arugula.
Like my tip above, it’s best if you don’t add everything at once. Start with the zest of half a lemon and a small arugula leaf, for instance.
4. Store-Bought Lemongrass Paste / Lemongrass Powder
When I first started cooking Thai food, I honestly did not think that these things existed! It was a trip to a local Asian grocery that led me to these lifesavers: lemongrass paste and lemongrass powder!
Nothing beats the real thing, but these two are the next best options you have if you don’t have fresh lemongrass. The lemongrass powder is usually packed in either plastic bags or small bottles.
A recipe that calls for one stalk of lemongrass will require about one teaspoon of lemongrass powder. I suggest that you add this both in the middle and the last part of cooking, to build the flavors effectively.
Lemongrass paste, on the other hand, is sold in bottles that are a bit bigger. I suggest you get more than the recipe requires because as long as the bottle is unopened, it could last for a long time—months, even years!
5. Lemon Verbena
Lemon verbena, like lemongrass, is aromatic and has a beautiful lemon flavor, especially when chopped. It has a similar effect to adding the lemon zest, but this one has a more herby flavor.
If you can’t find this herb in the supermarket, try those that are selling them as plants—this might be useful to those who will be using them regularly.
If you have a lot of lemon verbena leftovers, don’t throw them away! These are excellent for teas and cocktails. I once used in iced tea by adding a few leaves in my lychee iced tea, and the flavor was instantly elevated!
Keep in mind that lemon verbena, too, have a strong flavor, don’t dump all of the leaves in one go. Taste your food first, and then keep adding if you’re not yet satisfied with the flavors.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a perennial herbaceous plant that has mint-like properties <it’s part of the mint family>. I’ve been to a number of cooking forums and found that a lot of home cooks looking for lemongrass substitutes actually prefer these over the lemon zest.
Lemon balm is fragrant and has citrus elements, and is also often used as a lemon zest substitute. When using this aromatic herb on a recipe that calls for lemongrass, you can maximize the flavors by either cutting them in half or chopping.
Also, make sure that you do not go overboard. Use about 3 lemon balm leaves for every stalk of lemongrass, but do not add it all at once. Add them midway in the cooking process and taste—if you think it lacks flavor, go ahead and add some more.
Not only is this herb delicious and aromatic, but it’s also good for you! It’s used for a number of digestive problems like bloating and flatulence and pain, like headaches and cramps. It’s said to be helpful to those who have mental disorders, too.
If you are lucky enough to find some lemongrass stalks and you know you won’t find them on a regular basis, I suggest you buy a lot and then plant it yourself! This way, you’ll always have lemongrass available.
Simply put the root end <trim all the parts that have browned/appear dead> in shallow water, and place it by your window so it gets sunlight. In a few weeks, roots will form at the bottom. Once the roots have matured, transfer them to a pot with soil.
Lemongrass is abundant in lots of Asian countries, but we in other parts of the world aren’t so lucky. I hope these tips helped you with your dishes!
How did your substitution turn out? Lemongrass has a very distinct taste and it could be challenging to exactly replicate, but used the right way, these substitutes and combinations can let you get the flavors your dish needs.
If you have comments and suggestions, please send them to me using the comments section below! New ideas are more than welcome, too. Stay tuned with cookingispassio.com. Happy cooking!
Read more: The best substitute for tomato paste.