The flavor profile of lemongrass is complex, combining various distinct tastes. That means there isn’t just one best substitute for lemongrass. You’ll find that no single ingredient can perfectly replicate fresh lemongrass, instead, you’ll need a combination of ingredients.
So, some of the best substitutes for lemongrass are mixtures of herbs and aromatics. Keep reading to find the ones that will work best for your next recipe when you can’t find lemongrass in stores.
What Is Lemongrass?
Lemongrass is a culinary herb that’s commonly used in Asian cuisine, particularly in soups, stews, and curry recipes.
Scientifically known as Cymbopogon, it’s a perennial plant that looks like a green onion. But everything else, from its texture, taste, and aroma, is completely different.
The lemongrass stalk is tough and very fibrous. The leaves are elongated blade-shaped with a very rough (almost spiky) surface.
How to Use Lemongrass
You can use the entire stalk of lemongrass for cooking and making drinks. Most of the lemongrass flavor comes from the bottom part and the bulb of the stalk. You can chop it or give it a few thumps with the back of a knife to release more of its flavor and aroma.
I prefer adding lemongrass at the start of cooking stews and soups or sauté it with other aromatics before adding the cooking liquids. This allows the taste of lemongrass to develop and be infused well into the dish.
You can also chop a whole lemongrass stalk into two to three smaller pieces when boiling it to make tea or add it to create infused water.
What Does Lemongrass Taste Like
The flavor of lemongrass has a pronounced citrus and mildly tangy taste. This is balanced with a subtle hint of herby aroma and a bit of a peppery bite similar to ginger.
The fragrance it adds to a dish is incredible, with refreshing hints of lemon and mint to cut through the richness of curry dishes, soups, and stews. Best of all, lemongrass is an herb that isn’t bitter or pungent at all.
Why Use a Lemongrass Substitute
Most recipe alternatives are discovered after running out of the original ingredient, so availability is always a good reason to explore good alternatives.
You don’t need too much lemongrass for cooking, so you might discover that the remaining stalks in the fridge are no longer fresh. This is another situation that calls for great lemongrass substitutes.
A streak of creativity in the kitchen doesn’t hurt, and it’s one of the best times to experiment and tweak some recipes to fit your preferences. If you like to make a dish more tangy without an overpowering gingery taste, or vice versa, go ahead and try some good lemongrass substitutes.
7 Best Substitutes for Lemongrass
Store-Bought Lemongrass Paste
Before we get to the easy-to-find alternatives, let me share the lemongrass substitute that can provide the closest flavor to fresh lemongrass.
Most lemongrass paste products sold in stores are spice blends, and the best one is the Kroeung (or Kreung), which is a Cambodian spice paste and marinade. Its main component is lemongrass paste, but it also has galangal, garlic, and shallots.
These additions may slightly change the flavor of your dish, but they will still provide the familiar lemongrass taste and fragrance. Don’t worry about not finding a lemongrass paste in your local supermarket because you can easily find them online.
For the best taste, use one tablespoon of lemongrass paste for every lemongrass stalk.
Lemon Zest and Arugula
This is the next closest lemongrass substitute in terms of flavor. The fresh lemon zest provides citrus notes of lemongrass. The arugula leaves give off herbaceous notes to mimic a subtle ginger-like aroma. Together, they add a lemony and peppery flavor similar to lemongrass.
For every stalk of lemongrass, mix one teaspoon of lemon zest and one chopped arugula leaf. This mix of lemongrass substitutes will be perfect for seafood stews, salads, and soups. Try it with this Instant Pot Thai Red Chicken Curry recipe!
Fresh Ginger and Coriander
Some people don’t like coriander (or cilantro) because they associate the herb with a soapy flavor. Interestingly, research suggests it could be due to a higher sensitivity to aldehydes.
If you are fine with the taste of coriander, mix it with fresh ginger to replace lemongrass in broths, stews, and soups.
The flavor of coriander is a mix of citrus, fresh, and herby notes. Combine it with grated or minced fresh ginger, and you can have something that tastes and smells quite like lemongrass.
To replace one stalk of lemongrass, mix 2 teaspoons each of grated or minced fresh ginger and chopped coriander stalks.
Fresh Mint Leaves, Lime Juice, and Ginger
If you like making lemongrass tea with lemongrass-infused water, the combination of fresh mint leaves, lime juice, and fresh ginger is an excellent substitute. This mixture will give you the minty, citrus flavor and a slightly spicy taste that you can get from boiling lemongrass stalks or steeping lemongrass leaves in drinking water.
To replace one stalk of lemongrass, mix 6 to 8 mint leaves (chopped), two teaspoons of lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon of minced fresh ginger. For a bit of sweetness, you can also add 1/4 teaspoon of sugar or honey to your drink.
Kaffir Lime Leaf
Kaffir lime leaf is a staple in Southeast Asian cuisine, especially stews and curries with coconut cream-based sauces. Its flavor is more subtle than lemongrass but imparts a tangy citrus flavor with a little spice.
Dried kaffir lime leaves are easier to find. They can provide the same flavor profile, although it’s more subtle. So when used to replace lemongrass, remove the midrib and tear the leaves before adding it to your recipe. One to two kaffir lime leaves are usually enough to replace one lemongrass stalk.
Lime Zest or Lemon Zest
Zesting the peel of citrus fruits like lime and lemon is a great way to get its flavor without adding too much liquid to a dish. If you only want to replicate the citrus notes of the lemongrass flavor, these are good alternatives that you can easily find. You may even have it already in your kitchen.
You won’t get the spice, herby, and minty notes of lemongrass, but adding lemon or lime zest is still better than not losing a tangy, refreshing taste in your dish. These substitutes also work well for desserts, even for citrusy baked goods, because they won’t add any liquid to the recipe.
Invest in a microplane because it’s the easiest kitchen tool to use when zesting a lime or lemon. Be careful not to grate the white pith, which can make your dish unpleasantly bitter. If the recipe calls for one lemongrass stalk, add 1/2 teaspoon of lime zest or lemon zest.
Lemon Juice, Kaffir Lime, Leaf, and Lime Zest
The kaffir lime leaf provides a subtle tangy, peppery, and bitter flavor. Use fresh lemon and lime to intensify the citrus taste.
To replace 1 stalk of lemongrass, combine 1 tablespoon of lime zest, 1 kaffir lime leaf, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
This mixture would be an incredible substitute for savory broths and soups. It’s also one of my favorite combos for making tea, although I add a bit of sweetness from syrup or honey to round out the taste.
How to Use Lemongrass Substitute for Cooking
Using lemongrass alternatives typically requires adjusting your recipe, so it’s always good to have an idea of how the dish should turn out. You can consider the ratios of lemongrass and substitutes mentioned above as a starting point.
If you want to make the dish more tangy, sparingly add the citrusy ingredients until you reach your preferred flavor. The same goes for herby and peppery alternatives like arugula and coriander.
Yes, especially when making soups, broths, or tea. Dried lemongrass tends to have a more intense taste, so I prefer using just one teaspoon of dried lemongrass as a fresh lemongrass replacement.
The top section of the stalk should appear a bit vibrant and not dry or limp. The bottom part down to the bulb should still feel firm. It should also still have a robust citrus and herb scent.
Yes. One of the reported health benefits of lemongrass is it can help you feel relaxed, so it may help with better sleep when consumed as a tea at bedtime.
Where to Find the Best Lemongrass Substitutes
Lemongrass and its substitutes like lemongrass paste and kaffir lime leaves are commonly available in Asian grocery stores. They’re also very easy to find on online shopping platforms.
The rest of the substitutes for lemongrass, however, are much easier to find in the fresh produce section of supermarkets.
Whether you choose fresh or dried ingredients, always keep in mind the proper substitution ratio for the best dish outcome even when there’s no lemongrass on hand.