What are the best lemongrass substitutes for curry? My partner spent most of his childhood growing up in Southeast Asia, so every now and again as a treat, I like to make a Thai curry or pho for him. I know lemongrass is one of those key ingredients and the secret to a great-tasting Thai curry, so I make sure it’s on my shopping list when I know I’m making my partner’s favorite dish.
But there I was at the grocery store, standing all confused in the fresh foods aisle, thinking I’d forgotten what lemongrass looks like because I couldn’t find any! There weren’t any; every shop assistant I asked (and I asked more than one) confirmed that fact. So what now?
I needed to make the Thai curry, but what lemongrass substitutes can I use? If you’re in a similar predicament, here’s what you can do!
Best Lemongrass Substitutes for Curry
The best substitutes for lemongrass in curry are dried lemongrass, arugula and fresh lemon juice or lemon zest, fresh lemon zest, lemongrass paste or Kreung, fresh lemon juice and fresh ginger, fresh lemon juice, fresh cilantro stalks and fresh ginger, fresh lemon juice and lime zest with Kaffir lime leaf, mint leaves and fresh lime juice with ginger and sugar, and Kaffir lime leaves.
Quick Tips When Substituting Lemongrass
When substituting lemongrass in your curry, there are a few facts to be mindful of:
- You want to replicate the flavor of lemongrass as closely as possible. So you want a light, earthy citrus and lemon flavor with a hint of mint and ginger and slight bitterness.
- You can’t replace the lemongrass alternative in the ratio as the original; I’ve included guidelines for each substitute.
- Keep tasting your recipe and balance it with sweet or savory spices to achieve the ideal taste you want.
10 Best Lemongrass Substitutes for Curry
Here are the best lemongrass substitutes you can use for curry to get the same citrusy, slight minty flavor:
1. Dried Lemongrass
Ratio: 1 teaspoon of dried lemongrass for 1 fresh lemongrass stalk
If you can’t find fresh lemongrass at your local grocery store, opt for dried lemongrass in the herb aisle. This is ideal for dishes like curry that need to simmer so the lemongrass substitute can develop its flavors.
You’ll get the same herbal citrusy flavor (minus the lemon flavor), but using too much dried lemongrass can overpower your curry.
You’ll need to finely chop the dried lemongrass so it doesn’t add an unpleasant fibrous component to your dish, or leave it as it is, but remove the dried lemongrass before you serve the curry.
2. Arugula and Lemon Juice/Zest
Ratio: ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and ½ tablespoon of arugula leaves for 1 tablespoon of chopped lemongrass
Arugula and lemon juice or lemon rind zest is a great lemongrass substitute as you get slightly bitter yet sweet and herbal flavors of lemongrass. The arugula also adds a peppery note that’s yummy in soups and curries.
3. Fresh Lemon Zest
Ratio: zest from ½ a lemon for 1 lemongrass stalk
Fresh lemon zest can be used in place of lemongrass in any recipe you are following. The zest contributes the same lemony, citrus tang of lemongrass, and it adds a freshness to your curry that is yum.
Don’t grind the white pith of the lemon into your curry as you don’t want an overly bitter taste.
4. Lemongrass Paste
Ratio: 1 tablespoon of lemongrass paste for 1 whole lemongrass stalk
Lemongrass paste (also called Kreung) adds a herbal citrus and garlic-y flavor to your curry. It’s the perfect substitute for dishes that need to simmer so the flavor can cook through the curry.
If you can’t find lemongrass paste, then substitute 1 tablespoon of the paste with ½ teaspoon of lemon juice, ½ teaspoon of chopped ginger, and ½ teaspoon of chopped garlic.
5. Lemon Juice and Chopped Ginger
Ratio: 1/2 teaspoon of lemon juice and ½ teaspoon of chopped ginger for 1 tablespoon of lemongrass
This is a convenient lemongrass replacement for your curry dish as the ingredients are easy to find, or they may already be in your fridge or pantry. The ginger and lemon juice add a very basic lemongrass flavor to your curry (minus the herbal hints), which is perfect if you are in a pinch.
6. Fresh Lemon Juice
Ratio: ½ teaspoon of fresh lemon juice for 1 tablespoon of lemongrass
Freshly squeezed lemon juice can also work as a substitute for lemongrass in your curry. Opt for a thin-skinned, soft lemon and rather add small quantities of lemon juice to your curry, taste, and then add more if needed as you don’t want an overly acidic curry.
7. Cilantro and Fresh Ginger
Ratio: 2 teaspoons of cilantro and 2 teaspoons of ginger for 1 lemongrass stalk
The cilantro and fresh ginger is another winning lemongrass substitute. The pair of ingredients gives the curry a herbal, fresh, flora, spicy, and peppery taste that mimics lemongrass well.
Use cilantro stalks rather than the leaves for more flavor, and opt for freshly grated ginger.
8. Lemon Juice, Lime Zest, and Kaffir Lime Leaf
Ratio: 1 Kaffir lime leaf, 1 tablespoon of lime zest, and 2 tablespoons of lemon juice for 1 lemongrass stalk
Add an intense but delicious lemongrass flavor to your curry by using fresh lemon juice, fresh lime zest, and shredded Kaffir lime leaf. Let this lemongrass alternative simmer in the curry to bring out the full lemony citrus flavor you need.
9. Mint Leaves, Lime Juice, Ginger, and Sugar
Ratio: 6-8 mint leaves, ¼ teaspoon of ginger, ¼ teaspoon of sugar, and 2 teaspoons of lime juice for 1 lemongrass stalk
The fresh mint leaves, lime juice, and chopped ginger add a citrusy lemon flavor with hints of pepper and mint to your curry. You’ll need to finely chop the mint leaves, add it to the lime juice, ginger, and sugar, and add the substitute to your curry just before serving.
10. Kaffir Lime Leaves
Ratio: 1 Kaffir lime leaf for 1 lemongrass stalk
The Kaffir lime leaf as a lemongrass substitute in your curry gives your dish the same tangy, citrus flavor.
To eliminate a bitter taste, remove the midrib and stalk of the leaves. Then, let the Kaffir leaves infuse in your curry. If you put whole leaves in, remove them before serving the dish.
Final Thoughts on 10 Best Lemongrass Substitutes for Curry
I ended up adding Kaffir lime leaf, fresh lime zest, and fresh lemon juice to the Thai curry I was making for my partner since the grocery store was all out of lemongrass. My partner didn’t even know there was no lemongrass in the curry, so I was pretty pleased.
The last words of wisdom I want to share with you is to keep tasting your dish when you substitute one ingredient for another. You can always start by adding less and later add more. You won’t easily remove a flavor you introduced to the curry if it is too overpowering.
Frequently Asked Questions on 10 Best Lemongrass Substitutes for Curry
What Can You Use Instead of Lemongrass?
For sweet dishes, use lemon balm or lemon verbena instead of lemongrass. If your dish needs to simmer, replace the lemongrass with Kaffir lime leaves (midrib and stalk removed), a mix of lemon juice, lime zest, and Kaffir lime leaf, lemongrass paste, or dried/ground lemongrass. Add mint leaves, ginger, sugar, and lime juice just before serving your dish to create a lemongrass flavor.
Can You Use Lemon Juice Instead of Lemongrass?
You can use lemon juice as an alternative to lemongrass, but use fresh lemon juice for the best results. Add less lemon juice to the dish and taste before adding more so you don’t have a dish that’s too acidic.
Daniel Iseli (Head Chef)
Hi, my name is Daniel and I am passionate about cooking. I have been cooking for the past 20 years and am happy to share my best recipes and cooking-related knowledge with you.