When you prepare food that originates from a certain part of the world, one of the ways you can make it as delicious and authentic an experience as possible is to use ingredients from the same region.
Lemongrass is a big part of Asian cuisine and you’ll see it called for in many Thai and Indian recipes.
Sometimes, though, you might not have lemongrass to hand, nor be able to find it easily in your local stores. So what do you do when you’re fresh out of lemongrass?
This is a situation I’ve encountered many times as my local store doesn’t have the widest range of fresh produce. Should the lack of lemongrass mean I abandon the recipe? Should I try to carry on and just leave it out, affecting the taste of the final dish? Of course not!
Instead, I’ve spent a lot of time researching various types of lemongrass substitute so that I can stay true to the flavor of my favorite dishes, even when I don’t have all the ingredients in my kitchen.
Read on as I show you the top replacements for lemongrass.
The 6 Best Lemongrass Substitutes
This one might be cheating as a bit as it does, of course, still require the use of lemongrass. However, dried lemongrass can serve as a great alternative to fresh lemongrass when needed.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the process of drying concentrates the flavors. You’ll find that a little bit of dried lemongrass can pack a strong citrus flavor. As a result, be careful when adding this to your recipes as adding too much can overpower and ruin the balance of flavors in your dish.
My recommendation is for you to start off small. Add a pinch of dried lemongrass to your ingredients whilst cooking, mix it in and give it a taste. If you don’t notice any change in the flavor, add a little bit more and taste again. Repeat this process until you can taste the desired level of citrus.
A good rule of thumb is to use one teaspoon of dried lemongrass for every stalk of fresh lemongrass called for in the recipe.
Fresh Coriander Stalks and Ginger
The combination of fresh ginger and coriander is a surprisingly effective way to replicate the taste of lemongrass when you don’t have any available. Together they provide the punch of citrus to your recipe that would otherwise be missing.
Before using in your cooking, you’ll need to spend a little time preparing these ingredients so that they can be stirred into your food and add flavor but not disrupt the overall texture. To do this you’ll first need to cut the corriander stalks and ginger into small cubes before crushing in a garlic press to ‘mince’.
For quantities, where the recipe requires one stalk of lemongrass you should use two teaspoons of minced ginger and two teaspoons of minced coriander stalks.
Kroeung is a paste that comes from Cambodia. One of its primary components is lemongrass and depending on the variety ingredients can also include turmeric, garlic, shallots, red pepper, cinnamon and others.
The only real downside of Kroeung as a substitution for lemongrass is that it is difficult to find outside of stores that specialize in asian cuisine.
If you can find it though, it’s a great addition to any dish that requires lemongrass.
The combination of ingredients in the Kroeung lemongrass paste you buy will determine the impact that it has on the flavor of your dish. The typical recommendation is to use one tablespoon of Kroeung paste for each stalk of lemongrass in the recipe. However if it’s the first time you’re using a particular blend of Kroeung I recommend that you take the slow approach I’ve outlined previously. Add a small amount at a time to your dish, tasting and repeating until you’re satisfied with the flavor.
Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are a type of aromatic leaf that have a spiced-citrus flavor, especially common in Thai cooking. As a lemongrass substitute they help to recreate some of the citrus punch, which can be enhanced with a dash of lime juice if you’d like.
If you’re using fresh kaffir lime leaves you’ll need to crush them in your hands before adding them to your recipe. This is known as ‘bruising’ and is essential to help release the aromas of the leaf. If you’re using dried leaves, the flavor will be brought out by the heat and moisture of the cooking process.
Should you eat kaffir lime leaves? It’s a question that many people ask, and one without a definitive answer. Generally if the leaves are mostly intact you should remove before serving, much as you would with a bayleaf. On the other hand, if they are chopped and mixed with the other ingredients it’s absolutely fine to eat them.
Fresh lemon balm has a delicate citrus flavor and is a great way to add a citrusy touch to any meal you cook. It also has a touch of mint which can make an interesting addition to the flavor profile of any dish you prepare. It’s for this reason that I believe lemon balm may be up there as the best substitute for lemongrass.
To properly bring out the flavor of lemon balm, you’ll need to chop the leaves before adding to your recipe.
For every one stalk of lemongrass in the recipe you’re making, use three lemon balm leaves to begin with. As always I recommend letting you senses guide you – if after tasting you feel like your meal could do with a bit more of a citrus or minty punch, add some more leaves. Follow a gradual approach to ensure you don’t overpower the balance of flavors.
As a citrus fruit, lemons are a great way to add that characteristic punch to any meal. It’s because of this that lemon zest is a highly effective replacement if you’re looking to substitute lemongrass.
Unlike lemongrass, lemons are very easy to find in stores so are easy to pick up in a pinch. Zesting a lemon is also a relatively simple process and you don’t need a huge amount of it to influence the flavor of your dish.
I recommend that you chop the zest into finer pieces before adding it to the rest of your ingredients. This is so that it blends in more effectively and you don’t find yourself picking strips of lemon out of your food!
Use one teaspoon of lemon zest per one stalk of lemongrass in the recipe you’re making.
Lime zest can also be used as a lemongrass substitute should you prefer, or in the rare event that you can get limes but not lemons from the store!
What is the Best Substitute for Lemongrass?
Having researched and played around with the various lemongrass substitutes I’ve listed above, which do I recommend you use?
It’s definitely a close-run thing but if you could choose any of the options available I’d suggest that you go for chopped lemon balm. This is because it has a great flavor profile and can add a different dimension to your meal. In terms of availability, lemon zest may be the most practical substitute for lemongrass as you can almost always grab a lemon from your local store if you’re in a hurry.
All of that said, I’m a big fan of experimentation in the kitchen so I suggest you keep each of these lemongrass replacement options in mind and test them out yourself whenever you can – you never know when you might find a new favorite ingredient!
Can You Freeze Lemongrass?
Maybe you’d prefer not to rely on lemongrass substitutes and instead would always prefer to have the real deal to hand.
That’s fair enough, but how can you do that? The good news is that you can freeze lemongrass for up to 6 months without compromising its quality!
Check out our ultimate guide to freezing lemongrass to learn how to properly freeze and defrost it for the best results.