I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of lemongrass substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitutes for fresh lemongrass in terms of flavor are the frozen version or lemongrass paste. You can also use dried lemongrass, although it works best with liquid-based dishes. Other convenient options are lemon zest or a paste made from cilantro stalks and ginger.
I whipped up small batches of this Thai-inspired lemongrass soup to test several lemongrass substitutes.
Lemongrass is a staple ingredient in Southeast Asian cooking. It’s closely related to the plant citronella, and has a light citrusy flavor with a hint of mint. Its texture is fibrous and woody, so it’s typically finely minced or used whole and then removed before serving.
You’ll find lemongrass in recipes for soups, stews, and Thai curries, but it’s also great for making herbal teas. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts.
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Frozen Lemongrass||1 stalk = 1 frozen stalk||10/10|
|Lemongrass Paste||1 stalk = 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste||9/10|
|Lemon juice + Green Leafy Herbs||1 stalk = ½ tbsp lemon juice + 1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs||8/10|
|Cilantro Stalks + Ginger||1 stalk = 2 tsp cilantro stalks + 2 tsp ginger||8/10|
|Dried Lemongrass||1 stalk = ½ tsp dried lemongrass or 1 tsp lemongrass powder||7/10|
|Lemongrass Tea||Steep 1 bag of pure lemongrass tea in boiling water||7/10|
|Lemon Verbena||1 stalk = ½ tbsp chopped lemon verbena||7/10|
|Lemon Balm||1 stalk = 1 tbsp freshly chopped lemon balm||8/10|
|Kaffir Lime Leaves||1 stalk = 3-4 kaffir lime leaves||7/10|
Unsurprisingly, frozen lemongrass is the closest substitute for a fresh lemongrass stalk in terms of flavor and appearance. It retains most of the herb’s citrusy, slightly minty flavor and you’ll find it in most Asian grocery stores and even in well-stocked mainstream grocery chains.
If you’re replacing whole stalks of lemongrass, there’s no need to thaw it before using it. But in marinades or recipes that call for minced lemongrass, you’ll need to let the frozen stalks soften first for best results.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 1 frozen stalk.
Can’t find frozen lemongrass? Lemongrass paste is the next best option.
It’s incredibly similar to the real deal in terms of taste, but always check the ingredients list when using this substitute. Some brands mix in other ingredients like kaffir lime leaves, garlic, and galangal. These add-ons can be helpful in dishes that also call for them, but they do dull the lemongrass taste.
One big advantage of lemongrass paste is the convenience aspect. There’s no need to worry about prepping the lemongrass, just squeeze and go! And it will stay fresh in the fridge for weeks.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste.
Lemon + green herbs
In a pinch and out of lemongrass? A combination of lemon zest and green herbs like chives, cilantro, basil, or mint can come to the rescue. It’s not perfect, but it gets the job done. The lemon offers that citrusy kick, although it’s a tad more tart than lemongrass, so moderation is key. And pairing it with green herbs can mimic the herbaceous notes of lemongrass.
I recommend using the zest over the juice because the juice can quickly overwhelm a dish because it’s not as subtle as the zest. Just be careful not to grate the white part (AKA the pith) because this will impart a bitter flavor.
Psst… you can also use limes.
How to Substitute: 1 fresh lemongrass stalk = 1 tsp fresh zest + 1 tsp chopped fresh herbs.
Dried lemongrass is still lemongrass, but it’s a bit like comparing fresh basil to dried basil. Once lemongrass is dried, it takes on a slightly woody note and loses some of its bright, citrusy zing.
You can also only use it to substitute fresh lemongrass in dishes with enough liquid to rehydrate it. Think soups, stews, or curries. The dry texture won’t work in things like a stir fry.
Pro tip: If you have some fresh lemons to hand, consider adding a splash of their juice to your dish to enhance the citrusy notes. This is what I did for the experiment it worked out really well.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 1 tsp dried lemongrass.
Pure lemongrass tea
If you have some lemongrass teabags, these are also a decent replacement for lemongrass in liquidy dishes. Again, they won’t possess the same vibrancy and depth of flavor as fresh lemongrass, but they’ll work in a pinch.
Steep a tea bag in boiling water for five minutes to get all the flavor out and replace some of the stock of water in your recipe with the tea. I used 2 tea bags to get a stronger flavor, and I also added a slice of ginger to the brewing tea to add more complexity.
You could also try putting the tea bag straight into the dish and letting it infuse for 5-10 minutes, just don’t forget to take it out!
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 1 tea bag of pure lemon grass tea steeped in boiling water.
Lemon verbena, with its robust floral notes, is another potential stand-in for lemongrass. Native to South America, this herb is known for its strong lemony scent. The catch with lemon verbena is it has prominent floral undertones so you might want to use it sparingly, especially if you’re not a fan of flowery flavors.
I had to learn this the hard way when I tried lemon verbena tea once and got a headache!
Fun fact about this herb: it was popular during Queen Victoria’s reign in England and is often used to create natural fragrances.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with ½ tbsp chopped lemon verbena.
Lemon balm is like lemongrass’s sweet, gentle cousin. It offers a milder lemon flavor with a touch of sweetness. But no worries if you find it too subtle. You can intensify its flavor by pairing it with a splash of lemon juice or a dash of freshly grated lemon zest.
And an added advantage? You can easily grow a pot of lemon balm in your garden or on a windowsill, so you can always have this substitute on hand.
Psst.. always add lemon balm just as you finish cooking. Unlike lemongrass which doesn’t lose its flavor when heated, lemon balm can lose its flavor if you cook it for too long.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 1 tbsp freshly chopped lemon balm.
Kaffir lime leaves
Kaffir lime leaves aren’t the easiest ingredient to find, but they can make a decent stand-in for lemongrass if you have some and work well in lots of Asian dishes.
The leaves will impart a citrusy flavor and aroma to dishes, although they taste more complex than lemongrass because they also have floral notes. But the good news is they’re not as intense as lemon verbena.
And don’t confuse them for regular lime leaves, which have a completely different flavor profile.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 3-4 kaffir lime leaves.
Cilantro stalks + ginger
Another convenient substitute that’s worth a shot is a mixture of minced cilantro stalks and freshly grated ginger. Again, this substitute isn’t perfect, but it works well to add that background brightness in less complicated dishes.
I ground up 2 tsp of grated ginger and 2 tsp of chopped cilantro stalks in a mortar and pestle and used this to replace 1 lemongrass stalk. Psst… cilantro stalks are better because they have more flavor than the leaves.
If your dish already calls for ginger or cilantro then avoid this substitute.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 fresh lemongrass stalk with 2 tsp grated ginger + 2 tsp chopped cilantro stalks.
Other substitute options
The list above features my top lemongrass substitutes, but here are more alternatives that are worth a shot.
- Lemon Leaves: Got a lemon tree in your backyard? You’re in luck because you can use them as a substitute for lemongrass, thanks to their aromatic and bright flavor. Treat them as bay leaves – let them infuse in the broth then fish them out right before serving.
- Preserved Lemons: These have a mellower taste than regular lemons but can also be quite salty, so hold back on adding extra salt to your recipe if you use these.
- Leave it out: if lemongrass isn’t a focal point in your dish, you can leave it out. If there are enough other things going on in the recipe, you won’t miss it too much.
Substitutes to avoid
Don’t trust everything you read on the internet! I came across lots of suggestions for lemongrass substitutes when I was researching, but not all of them worked out when I tested them.
- Eucalyptus: these leaves had a pungent, bitter flavor – a far cry from the mellow notes of lemongrass. Plus, these leaves are mainly known for the cooling sensation they provide.
- Lavender: This tasted incredibly floral and had no trace of citrus. Save it for desserts and drinks instead.
- Curry Leaves: These were a little too pungent and had an overpowering flavor, unlike the subtle lemongrass.
Lemongrass Substitutes + 1 To Avoid
- 1 portion Frozen lemongrass
- 1 portion Lemongrass paste
- 1 portion Lemon juice + fresh herbs
- 1 portion Cilantro stalks + ginger
- 1 portion Dried lemongrass
- 1 portion Lemongrass tea
- 1 portion Lemon verbena
- 1 portion Lemon balm
- 1 portion Kaffir lime leaves
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen lemongrass substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.