10 Best Handy Lemongrass Substitute

Deborah Olayiwola
Deborah Olayiwola
Deborah is a content marketing specialist, with a passion for the food niche, she writes engaging content that celebrates the joy of food and its power to bring people together. Having worked on different projects. Her curiosity and creativity shines through in her writing.
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Lemongrass is a unique and vibrant ingredient used in many cuisines around the world. With its refreshing citrusy and ginger-like flavor, it adds brightness to soups, curries, marinades, and more. Though it may be readily available in specialty stores, lemongrass can be scarce to find at regular supermarkets.

That unique citrusy, gingery flavor is so hard to replicate. But  I’ve got some handy substitutions that can give your dish the same flavor even without the lemongrass. If you can’t find any at the store or you’ve just used the last bit from your garden, there are several options like fresh herbs, citrus fruits, and spices that make excellent lemongrass substitutes.

Lemongrass substitute

I love experimenting with lemongrass in my cooking and have missed its unique fragrance and taste when I don’t have it on hand. But with these simple substitutions, I can still enjoy similar bright notes in my dishes. The key is knowing what ingredients make solid replacements and how to balance them with the other flavors.

If you grow lemongrass in your garden or pick it up at the store, it’s a fantastic enhancement to your dishes. But with a little creativity, we can mimic that lemon-ginger flavor when needed with common ingredients. Keep reading for the top tips and recommendations!

 Top 10 Best Options for Lemongrass Substitutes

1. Lemon Zest

Lemon zest is often the easiest and most direct replacement for lemongrass. Use a vegetable peeler or zester to remove just the yellow zest from the fruit avoiding the bitter white pith underneath.

The zest contains the fragrant citrus oils that provide a vibrant lemon flavor. Start with one teaspoon of zest for every stalk of lemongrass specified in the recipe.

Add more to taste if you want a stronger lemon flavor. The zest can be minced finely to infuse sauces, marinades and curry pastes. Lemon zest works best in dishes where you want the bright, fresh lemon flavor to come through.

Lemon Zest

2. Lemon Juice

Lemon juice is another good lemongrass substitute for providing acidity and lemon flavor to balance out richer, heavier dishes. Replace each stalk of lemongrass with two teaspoons of fresh squeezed lemon juice.

The juice can be added directly to soups, curries and stir-fries. When using lemon juice, you may want to reduce other acidic ingredients in the recipe slightly to achieve the desired flavor balance. The downside of lemon juice compared to zest is that you lose out on the aromatic citrus oils.

Lemon Juice

3. Kaffir Lime Leaves

Kaffir lime leaves are used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking. They come from a different citrus fruit but provide an intense citrus fragrance. Use 2-3 freshly torn kaffir lime leaves as a substitute for each stalk of lemongrass.

The leaves can be added whole or julienned to infuse flavor during cooking. Similar to lemongrass, they work well in curry pastes, soups and sauces. The only drawback is that kaffir lime leaves can be difficult to find outside of Asian grocery stores.

Kaffir Lime Leaves

4. Lime Zest/Lime Juice

Regular lime zest or juice makes an excellent lemongrass substitute. Limes have a similar citrusy flavor, although they are more tart and less sweet than lemons.

Replace each stalk of lemongrass with 1 teaspoon lime zest or 2 teaspoons lime juice. Use the zest to add fragrant lime oils and the juice for acidity. Limes are especially suitable for dishes that already incorporate a lime flavor, like ceviche, fish tacos or lime coconut rice.

Lime Zest

5. Ginger Fresh Ginger

Another good lemongrass substitute because it contains the same spicy, gingery flavors as lemongrass. It works well in Thai and Vietnamese recipes. Substitute every stalk of lemongrass for 1/2 inch of fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated.

Adjust the amount to taste based on how pronounced you want the ginger flavor to be. Ginger has a stronger bite so be careful not to add too much when using it as a lemongrass substitute.

Ginger Fresh Ginger

6. Galangal

Galangal is a root that looks somewhat like ginger and is used more in Thai cuisine. It has a citrus-like flavor that makes it a perfect lemongrass substitute. Use about 1/2 inch of fresh galangal per stalk of lemongrass.

It can be sliced, minced or grated and used in curries, soup and marinades. Make sure it is fresh and thinly sliced to maximize the flavor release when cooking. Dried galangal can also be used but requires long simmering to extract the flavors.


7. Citrus Peel

For a more well-rounded citrus flavor, try using peels from oranges, grapefruits or tangerines. Remove the peels from the fruit using a vegetable peeler avoiding any of the bitter white pith.

Then thinly slice or julienne the peels. Add 2-3 strips of citrus peel per stalk of lemongrass to the dish. Allow it to simmer in soups, curries or sauces to infuse the flavors. The peels can also be left in the dish as an edible garnish. Adjust the types of citrus to suit the flavor profile you are trying to achieve.

Citrus Peel

8. Lemon Balm

Lemon balm is an herb from the mint family. It has a delicate lemon flavor that makes it a great lemongrass mimic. Use 2-3 teaspoons of fresh lemon balm leaves chopped per stalk of lemongrass.

Try adding it to marinades, dressings and pan sauces for a subtle lemon essence. Dried lemon balm can also be used in longer cooked dishes. Just use about 1 teaspoon of dried leaves in place of each fresh stalk. Lemon balm has the citrusy aroma without being overly tart.

Lemon Balm

9. Lemon Verbena

Lemon verbena is another lemony herb which is also a lemongrass substitute. It has a stronger, more concentrated lemon flavor. Substitute 2-3 leaves of lemon verbena for each stalk of lemongrass called for.

Lemon verbena works well in simmering dishes like sauces, soups and curries as well as infused into drinks. Chop or tear the fresh leaves before adding to release the oils. Dried leaves can also be used in small amounts. Start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon leaves per stalk of lemongrass.

Lemon Verbena

10. Lemon & Ginger Combination

For best results, you can use a combination of lemon zest and fresh ginger together in place of lemongrass.

This offers both the fresh lemon flavor and spicy ginger notes. Start with 1 teaspoon lemon zest and 1/4 inch knob of ginger per stalk of lemongrass. Adjust the proportions based on your preferences and the dish. The combo mirrors lemongrass well in many Thai and Southeast Asian dishes.

Lemon Ginger Combination

What Flavor Does Lemongrass Give?

Lemongrass has a very distinctive citrusy, lemon-lime flavor that adds a bright, aromatic note to dishes. While lemon and lime have a sour, tart taste, lemongrass is more mellow and subtle.

Its flavor is a bit hard to describe because it’s not as assertive as lemon or lime juice or zest. I’d say it’s mildly sweet and almost grassy, with hints of ginger and citrus peel.

Lemongrass provides a fresh, floral aroma and taste that complements many Asian and Thai cuisines. It pairs well with coconut milk, chilies, cilantro, and lime. Lemongrass can be used fresh or dried for teas and soups.

Tips for Cooking with Lemongrass Substitutes

  • Add lemon or lime juice or vinegar to brighten up dishes and provide acidity similar to lemongrass.
  • Infuse oils and broths with lemon zest or kaffir lime leaves to impart flavor.
  • Bloom spices like ginger and galangal in oil first to help release their flavors.
  • Use citrus oils or extracts for convenience but be careful not to have artificial flavor.
  • Chop, crush or bruise fresh ingredients like herbs and peels to maximize flavor release.
  • Adjust amounts gradually based on taste preference and complexity of other ingredients.
  • Garnish finished dishes with fresh citrus slices or herbs like lemon balm.

How Much Lemon Juice to Substitute for Lemongrass?

You can substitute lemon juice for lemongrass in most recipes, although the flavors aren’t quite identical. I’d recommend using about 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice for every stalk of lemongrass called for.

Add the lemon juice at the same point in the recipe you’d add the lemongrass. You may also want to add a pinch of lemon zest to help replicate that citrusy lemongrass flavor.

The lemon won’t provide as much aroma, but the bright acidity makes it a solid stand-in. Just use a light hand, as the lemon can easily overpower.

Lemongrass Flavour Pairings

  • Coconut – The richness of coconut milk or cream balances beautifully with the bright lemon-lime taste of lemongrass. Coconut-lemongrass soups and curries are classic combos in Thai cuisine.
  • Chili peppers – Lemongrass brightens and shows the flavor of spicy chili peppers like jalapeños without getting lost. Use lemongrass in salsas, stir fries, or curries with peppers.
  • Ginger – The spice of ginger melds wonderfully with lemongrass. Add them in teas, marinades, and broths, or add to chicken or fish. The heat and slight bite of ginger accentuates the grassy citrus of lemongrass.
  • Garlic – For savory dishes, garlic and lemongrass make an aromatic medley. Saute them in oil to mellow the garlic and let the lemongrass shine before adding other ingredients. The combination punches up the flavor.
  • Lime – A squeeze of lime juice right before serving dishes cooked with lemongrass really makes its citrusy essence pop. The tang of lime complements and intensifies the lemon-lime notes.
  • Cilantro – The fresh, cooling taste of cilantro balances the slight grassy bitterness of lemongrass perfectly. Use in curries, salads and marinades.

While nothing can perfectly replicate the unique flavor of fresh lemongrass, lemons, limes and gingers make excellent stand-ins. With its floral, citrus and subtle spicy notes, lemongrass can be difficult to duplicate, but these substitutes come respectably close.

When my next recipe calls for lemongrass and I don’t have it on hand, I can confidently turn to these simple lemongrass substitute and still achieve delicious results. Give them a try in your next Asian-inspired dish for bright, tangy flavor even without lemongrass.

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Deborah Olayiwola
Deborah Olayiwola
Deborah is a content marketing specialist, with a passion for the food niche, she writes engaging content that celebrates the joy of food and its power to bring people together. Having worked on different projects. Her curiosity and creativity shines through in her writing.

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