Best substitute for lemongrass | What you can use

by Joost Nusselder | Updated:  May 16, 2022

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Lemongrass is a pleasantly flavorful herb with a citrusy aroma that’s popular in many Asian cuisines, especially Thai and Vietnamese food.

You might come across a recipe like Vietnamese lemongrass chicken and wonder what you can use instead of this fragrant herb.

While lemongrass is not as widely available as some other herbs, it can usually be found in Asian markets or specialty stores.

If you cannot find lemongrass, there are several good substitutes that will work in its place.

Best substitute for lemongrass | What you can use

The best substitute for lemongrass is ginger. Although this root does not have the same citrusy flavor, it does have a similar pungent aroma that will add depth and flavor to your dish.

There are some other very good substitutes for lemongrass you can also use and I’m sharing them all here.

About lemongrass: flavor and texture explained

Before you can look for substitutes, it may be helpful to have a better understanding of what lemongrass actually is.

What is lemongrass?

Lemongrass is a perennial grass that belongs to the Cymbopogon genus. This herb is native to tropical and sub-tropical regions of Asia, Africa, and Oceania.

The stalks of the lemongrass plant are used as a flavoring agent in many cuisines.

Lemongrass is a popular ingredient in many Asian cuisines, especially Thai food. It is used to flavor curries, soups, and stir-fries.

The countries that use the most lemongrass for cooking include Thailand, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, and India.

What does lemongrass taste and feel like?

Although it’s called lemongrass, this herb doesn’t taste quite like lemon.

The stalks have a lemon-like flavor with a hint of ginger and mint. The taste is citrusy and slightly floral with a strong aroma.

The lemongrass stalk is long and slender with a bulbous end. The outer layer of the stalk is tough and fibrous, while the inner flesh is soft and aromatic.

The texture of lemongrass is fibrous with a woody center. When cooked, the herb becomes softened but still retains some of its crunch.

This herb is quite mild flavored so it goes with many types of food, especially chicken.

Lemongrass is also used to make tea and as a fragrance in soaps and candles.

Lemongrass can be used fresh, dried, or powdered. It’s also available as an essential oil. A fresh stalk of lemongrass can usually provide enough flavor for one recipe.

What makes a good lemongrass substitute?

The best lemongrass substitutes all have one thing in common: they have a pleasantly tangy and herbal flavor.

When looking for lemongrass substitutes, you want to find herbs and spices that have a similar flavor profile and the good news is you can combine them to create a custom lemongrass alternative.

You want to try to replicate a complex flavor with a citrusy taste, a bit of lemony tang, some ginger-like spiciness, and a hint of herbal mint.

Best substitutes for lemongrass

Other good substitutes include galangal, kaffir lime leaves, and fresh turmeric. If you use any of these substitutes, be sure to use them sparingly as they can easily overpower the dish.

In the following section after the list of substitutes, I’ll explain the usage ratios and how to use them.

Lemongrass is a fragrant herb so you might not even need more than one stalk of lemongrass

Ginger

The number one substitute for lemongrass is ginger. Ginger has a similar flavor profile to lemongrass, although it is a bit spicier.

The ginger’s texture is very different from the lemongrass which mostly resembles a sprig of spring onion but it’s actually quite a good substitute because the center has some of that woody fibrous texture of ginger.

Fresh ginger root is my favorite lemongrass substitute because it’s easy to find, it has a strong flavor, and it’s very versatile.

Ginger can be used in sweet or savory dishes and is especially good in curries and stir-fries.

To use the ginger as a substitute, mince or grate the ginger and add it to your recipe as you would lemongrass. To substitute fresh ginger for lemongrass, use a 1:1 ratio.

But, if you want to tone down the ginger flavor, use a bit less.

Have some more ginger to spare? Try this amazing Pinaputok na Tilapia Recipe with lemon juice & ginger

Kaffir lime leaves

Another substitute is kaffir lime leaves. These have a strong citrus flavor and can be found in Asian markets.

To use kaffir lime leaves as a substitute, remove the central spine from each leaf and then chop the leaves finely.

Add the kaffir lime leaves at the same time that you would add lemongrass to the dish.

Lemon zest

Since it’s called lemongrass, lemon is obviously a good substitute. You can use the zest of one lemon or add a splash of fresh lemon juice to your dish.

Fresh lemon zest has a strong citrus flavor with a hint of bitterness. It’s best to use the zest from organic lemons since the skin is where most of the lemon’s flavor is.

I prefer to use zest because it adds a bit of texture. Some dishes might not require too much liquid so the lemon juice isn’t suitable for all recipes.

But overall, the lemon zest is closely related to the flavor of fresh lemongrass.

Lemon juice

Freshly squeezed lemon juice is another great substitute for lemongrass.

Lemon juice is tart and acidic so it will brighten up any dish. It’s also very easy to find and has a long shelf life.

To use lemon juice as a substitute for lemongrass, add one teaspoon of lemon juice per recipe or 1 tablespoon if you want a stronger flavor.

However, I find that the lemon flavors have a tangy taste but lack that classic herbal taste of the lemongrass so you can mix it with a bit of fresh or dried mint leaves.

Lime zest

Just like lemon zest, you can use lime zest and it’s actually one of the top lemongrass alternatives.

Lime zest will add a bit of brightness and acidity to your recipe. As with lemon zest, I prefer using lime zest because it doesn’t add any extra liquid to the dish.

Be careful not to add too much or it can give food a bitter taste.

Lime leaf

Lime leaf is hard to find but it’s a great substitute for lemongrass. The flavor is more intense than lime zest so you’ll need to use it sparingly.

To use lime leaf as a substitute, remove the central spine from each leaf and then chop the leaves finely. Add the lime leaves at the same time that you would add a lemongrass stalk.

Lemon zest and arugula leaves

If you want to add the herbal notes of the lemongrass to your dish, mix the grated lemon zest with a couple of fresh arugula leaves.

I recommend a teaspoon of lemon zest combined with one arugula leaf but you can use more depending on the quantity of food you’re cooking.

Chop the arugula leaves finely before adding them to the dish. This combination is best used in soups and curries.

Arugula mixed with lemon zest gives your food a pleasant herbal and citrusy flavor.

Lime juice

Lime juice is pretty easy to get a hold of and it’s a great substitute for lemongrass. You can use fresh lime juice or bottled lime juice.

To use lime juice as a substitute, add 1 tablespoon (15 ml) of lime juice for each teaspoon (5 ml) of lemongrass called for in the recipe.

Using too much lime juice can make the food taste bitter. If you do use lime juice, add it sparingly and taste as you go.

Lemon balm leaves

Lemon balm leaves have a flavor that is similar to lemongrass and lemon. This herb is related to mint and has a slightly minty flavor.

To use lemon balm as a substitute, chop the leaves finely and add them to the dish at the same time you would add lemongrass.

Lemon verbena

Lemon verbena is a lemony herb that has a strong citrus flavor. The flavor of lemon verbena is more intense than lemon balm so you’ll need to use it sparingly.

To use lemon verbena as a substitute, chop the leaves finely and add them to the dish at the same time you would add lemongrass but use a quarter of the amount.

This is one of the strongest lemongrass substitutes and needs to be used sparingly.

Galangal

Galangal is another root with a pungent flavor that’s related to ginger. It’s commonly used in Thai and Vietnamese cuisine.

While galangal does have a slightly different flavor from lemongrass, it’s still a very good substitute.

Galangal is sold as a fresh root or powder. If you use the powder, start with 1 teaspoon and add more to taste as it’s quite potent.

Fresh turmeric

Fresh turmeric is another good substitute for lemongrass. It has a similar flavor profile and can be used in the same way as lemongrass.

The only downside to using turmeric is that it can stain your hands and clothes so be careful when handling it.

Mint Leaves + Lime Juice + Ginger + Sugar

To replicate that authentic lemongrass flavor, you can combine several ingredients.

Chop up about 7 or 8 mint leaves into tiny pieces and mix with the juice from half a lime, about 1/4 tsp of freshly grated ginger, and 1/4 tsp of white or brown sugar.

You can use this mixture just like you would lemongrass to flavor tom yum soup, and salads, or use it in marinades.

This combination gives a sweet and tangy citrus taste to the food.

Dry lemongrass

You can buy dry lemongrass which is often sold as tea but you can use it as a condiment.

To use dry lemongrass, you can add half a teaspoon right into the soup, stew, or curry.

You can also grind it into a powder using a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle.

Add the desired amount to your recipe. The powder can be stored in an airtight container for several months.

If you substitute dried lemongrass for fresh lemongrass, be sure to add it early in the cooking process so that it has time to rehydrate and release its flavor.

You can also buy lemongrass powder.

Lemongrass paste

Lemongrass paste is a good substitute for fresh lemongrass. It’s made from ground lemongrass and can be found in the Asian section of most supermarkets.

To use lemongrass paste, add 1 teaspoon for each teaspoon of fresh lemongrass called for in the recipe. This paste has the exact same tangy citrus flavor as the fresh version.

You can buy lemongrass paste here.

Also find out what the best soy sauce substitutes are in case you ran out

The ratio to use for each substitute

As a general rule of thumb, use about half as much of the substitute as you would fresh lemongrass.

So, if a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of lemongrass, use 1/2 tablespoon of ginger.

Of course, this is just a guideline and you will need to adjust according to your own taste.

Start with less and add more if needed. It’s always easier to add more than it is to take away.

How to use these substitutes in cooking

Ginger, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemon zest, and fresh turmeric can be used in the same way as lemongrass.

They can be added to soups, curries, stir-fries, and marinades.

The best way to use these substitutes is to finely chop or mince them so that they release their flavor better.

You can also bruise them with the back of a knife to release their essential oils.

When NOT to use lemongrass substitutes

Lemongrass substitutes won’t work in every recipe.

For example, if you’re making a dish where lemongrass is used more for its texture than flavor, such as in a green curry recipe, then using a substitute will change the dish completely.

In this case, it’s best to either omit the lemongrass or find a different recipe.

Similarly, if you’re making a dish where lemongrass is the star ingredient, such as in a Lemongrass Chicken recipe, then using a substitute will result in a completely different dish.

If you have heaps of lemongrass, then use it to make this yummy Lechon Baboy Cebu with perfect crispy skin

Takeaway

Lemongrass is a popular herb in Asian cuisine, but if you can’t find it, there are some good substitutes that can be found in supermarkets or Asian shops.

The best substitute for lemongrass is ginger, which has a similar flavor profile to lemongrass. But, if you’re really desperate for a quick fix, a bit of lemon zest or lime juice will do the trick.

Next, try making this finger-licking delicuos Chicken Inasal Recipe and pick any substitute from the list to substitute the lemongrass!

Ever had trouble finding Japanese recipes that were easy to make?

We now have "cooking Japanese with ease", our full recipe book and video course with step-by-step tutorials on your favorite recipes.

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Bite My Bun is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with Japanese food at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.