Lemongrass powder is a popular ingredient used in many cuisines around the world. Known for its bright, citrusy flavor and lemon-like aroma, lemongrass powder adds a wonderful depth of flavor to soups, curries, marinades, and more.
However, lemongrass powder can be difficult to find in regular grocery stores in Western countries. So what can you use if you don't have lemongrass powder on hand? Fortunately, there are several easy-to-find lemongrass powder substitutes that can mimic its taste and aroma.
What is Lemongrass Powder?
Lemongrass powder is made by drying and grinding lemongrass leaves and stems into a fine powder. Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) is a tropical grass that grows in many parts of Asia.
Fresh lemongrass has long, pale green stalks and leaves. It has a very strong, invigorating lemon scent. The bottom 4-6 inches of the stalks are the most flavorful part.
To make lemongrass powder, the stalks are first dried, either naturally in the sun or using commercial dehydrators. The dried lemongrass is then ground into a fine powder that has an intensely concentrated, lemon-lime flavor.
Lemongrass powder has a bold, bright, citrusy taste and aroma. It adds wonderful lemon undertones to both sweet and savory dishes.
Lemongrass Powder Flavor Profile
The flavor of lemongrass powder can be described as:
- Citrus - bright, tangy, lemon-lime flavor
- Herbal - green, grassy notes
- Woodsy - subtle earthy aroma
- Ginger - slight spicy, gingery undertones
While dried lemongrass powder tastes intensely of lemon, it does not have the sourness or bitterness of fresh lemon juice. Rather, it has a balanced, rounded citrus flavor.
Lemongrass powder also has subtle herbal and floral aromas that lend complexity. The taste is warming, with hints of ginger and spice.
Overall, lemongrass powder adds incredible lemon essence without overpowering. A little goes a long way in providing bright, citrusy flavor.
Popular Uses for Lemongrass Powder
Lemongrass powder is popular in many Southeast Asian cuisines, especially Thai, Vietnamese, Malay, and Indonesian. It is used in:
- Curries - lemongrass powder adds wonderful citrus aromas to curries without making them too sour
- Soups - it provides brightness and aroma to soups and stocks
- Marinades and rubs - the lemon flavors permeate meats, seafood, and veggies
- Baked goods - it gives a lovely lemon lift to cakes, cookies, breads
- Teas and beverages - lemongrass powder makes flavorful herbal teas
In Thai cuisine, lemongrass is one of the key ingredients in the famous Tom Yum soup. It also features prominently in green and red curry pastes.
Lemongrass powder works very well blended into marinades for meats like chicken, beef, and fish. It tenderizes while also infusing dishes with its citrus essence.
A pinch also enhances the flavor of stir fries, noodle dishes, rice dishes, dips, and dressings.
Lemongrass powder makes a wonderful addition to baked goods like cakes, muffins, and cookies too. It adds subtle lemon flavor without the moisture of lemon juice or zest.
Now that you know a bit about lemongrass powder, let's look at some easy ingredient swaps when you don't have it on hand.
8 Lemongrass Powder Substitutes
Here are the top substitutes for lemongrass powder:
Let's explore each lemongrass powder alternative in more detail.
1. Dried Lemongrass
Dried lemongrass is the closest direct substitute for lemongrass powder. It provides the true lemon-lime flavor of lemongrass.
Dried lemongrass comes in long, pale dried stalks. You can find it in the spice aisle at well-stocked grocery stores. It is also widely available at Asian specialty markets.
To use it, cut the dried lemongrass stalks into smaller pieces using kitchen shears. Then grind them to a powder using a mortar and pestle or small coffee grinder.
You can then use the ground dried lemongrass in place of lemongrass powder in your recipe.
The flavor will be very close to lemongrass powder, though a bit less intense. Use a 1:1 ratio for substitution.
2. Lemon Zest
Lemon zest makes an excellent lemongrass powder substitute. The outer yellow lemon peel contains the flavorful lemon oils that provide bright citrus flavor.
Lemon zest has a very similar, although somewhat one-dimensional, lemon essence compared to lemongrass. But it adds wonderful citrus aroma without bitterness.
To use lemon zest, finely grate the peel of an organic lemon to release the aromatic oils. Be careful not to include any of the bitter white pith underneath.
The finely grated zest can then be added to dishes in place of lemongrass powder.
As lemon zest has a very concentrated flavor, use about half the amount of lemongrass powder called for in recipes.
3. Lime Zest
Like lemon zest, lime zest makes a simple lemongrass powder substitute. It provides tangy citrus flavor notes.
Grate the zest of limes just like you would do for lemons. Try to use organic limes if possible to avoid pesticide residues in the peel.
The lime zest will not be as complex as lemongrass powder. But it will lend a bright, tropical citrus flavor to balance dishes.
Use around 1/2 teaspoon of finely grated lime zest to substitute for 1 teaspoon of lemongrass powder.
Fresh ginger root is another ingredient that works well as a stand-in for lemongrass powder.
Ginger has spicy, gingery undertones similar to lemongrass. When paired with other ingredients, it helps provide some of the missing citrus aroma.
To use ginger, peel and finely grate a 1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger root. You can then use the grated ginger in place of lemongrass powder in recipes.
For each teaspoon of lemongrass powder, substitute with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger.
Ginger pairs especially well with kaffir lime leaves or a squeeze of lime juice to reinforce the citrus flavors.
5. Kaffir Lime Leaves
Kaffir lime leaves are used extensively in Southeast Asian cooking. They come from the Makrut lime tree.
Kaffir lime leaves have an intensely fragrant citrus aroma when crushed or torn. Their flavor is more floral, herbal, and subtle compared to the bold lemon-lime essence of lemongrass.
But kaffir lime leaves make an excellent background flavor in the absence of lemongrass powder. They reinforce the citrus aromas while providing herbal complexity.
You can find fresh or dried kaffir lime leaves in Asian grocery stores. Use 2-3 torn lime leaves in place of 1 teaspoon of lemongrass powder.
6. Lemon Balm
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family. It has a delicate lemon-mint flavor that makes a good lemongrass powder substitute.
Lemon balm has light citrus notes and a mildly minty aroma. The flavor is not as intense as lemongrass powder.
But it adds pleasant citrus highlights and pairs well with ginger or lime juice to reinforce the lemon tones.
Use about 1 tablespoon of finely chopped fresh lemon balm leaves in place of 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder.
Lemon balm is easy to grow yourself or can be found fresh or dried in stores. It works especially well in condiments, marinades, and teas.
7. Galangal Powder
Galangal is a root spice that belongs in the same family as ginger. It has a sharp, earthy flavor with citrus hints.
Dried, ground galangal powder makes an interesting substitute for lemongrass powder, as their flavor profiles have some similarities.
Both have gingery, peppery heat coupled with lemony aromas. However, galangal is much more intense, so use a smaller amount substituted for lemongrass powder.
Start with about 1/4 teaspoon of galangal powder for every 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder called for. Taste and adjust as needed.
You can find ground galangal powder at specialty Asian grocers or online spice shops. It works well in soups, curries, and stir fries.
8. Citrus Peel
The peel of citrus fruits like orange, grapefruit, tangerine, etc. can also be used in place of lemongrass powder.
Citrus peels contain aromatic oils that provide zesty citrusy flavors when dried and ground. Focus on using organic fruits if possible.
Wash the peels thoroughly, then dry them until completely dehydrated. You can then grind them to a fine powder.
The citrus powder will add fruity, tropical notes to dishes. It won't have the herbal aromas of lemongrass powder but makes a quick flavorful substitute. Use a 1:1 ratio in recipes.
Here is a quick recap of the approximate substitution ratios when using alternatives for lemongrass powder:
- Dried lemongrass - Use 1:1 ratio
- Lemon or lime zest - 1/2 to 1 teaspoon zest per 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder
- Ginger - 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger per 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder
- Kaffir lime leaves - 2-3 leaves for 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder
- Lemon balm - 1 tablespoon chopped leaves per 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder
- Galangal powder - 1/4 teaspoon for 1 teaspoon lemongrass powder
- Citrus peel - Use a 1:1 ratio
As always, taste and adjust the amounts as needed. Smaller substitutions of strong ingredients like ginger and lime work best to avoid overwhelming flavors.
Tips for Getting Best Results
Here are some tips for achieving optimal flavor when using lemongrass powder substitutes:
- Grind or grate fresh ingredients like ginger and citrus zest right before using. This preserves their aromatic oils.
- When using dried herbs like lemon balm or kaffir lime leaves, crush or crumble them to release more flavor.
- Add acidic ingredients like lime or lemon juice to reinforce the citrus flavors.
- Pair strong flavored substitutes like ginger with lime leaves or juice to balance the taste.
- Add substitutes early in cooking so the flavors infuse the dish.
- Adjust amounts carefully, especially when using very strong flavored substitutes.
- Use fresh, organic produce whenever possible for the best flavor.
- Make your own lemongrass powder substitute blend using a combo of ingredients like lime zest, lemon balm and ginger.
With the right pairings and ratios, these substitutes can closely mimic the unique flavor of lemongrass powder.
Health Benefits of Lemongrass
Beyond providing flavor, lemongrass has a number of health benefits. These are also present in many lemongrass powder substitutes like ginger and citrus fruits.
Lemongrass contains beneficial plant compounds like flavonoids, phenols, and anthocyanins. Some of its potential health benefits include:
- Has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties
- Supports digestion and helps relieve stomach issues like cramps and nausea
- Anti-microbial effects help prevent foodborne illnesses and boost immunity
- May help lower cholesterol
- Relieves stress and anxiety when used aromatically
Many lemongrass substitutes also have similar health-promoting effects. For example, gingerol compounds in ginger help reduce inflammation. Citrus peels are rich in Vitamin C and flavonoids.
So you can still enjoy some of the wellness advantages of lemongrass by using common kitchen staples in your cooking.
How long does lemongrass powder last?
Lemongrass powder will last 6-12 months when stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry place. The flavor and aroma will fade over time.
Can I use regular lemon juice as a substitute?
Yes, you can use regular lemon juice or lime juice as a lemongrass powder substitute. However, start with just 1-2 teaspoons juice and adjust to taste. Too much can make dishes very sour.
What's the best way to store lemongrass powder?
It's best to keep lemongrass powder in an airtight glass jar in a cool, dry spot away from light. As it contains delicate aromatic oils, warmth and moisture can cause it to lose potency faster.
Can you use lemongrass essential oil as a substitute?
It's not recommended to use lemongrass essential oil for cooking or baking. It is far too concentrated and can impart a chemical flavor. Small amounts of food grade oil can be used in beverages but require caution.
Is lemongrass powder gluten-free?
Yes, pure lemongrass powder is gluten-free. But always check label or packaging to confirm the brand you buy has not been contaminated or mixed with gluten ingredients.
Lemongrass powder is a phenomenal ingredient that adds incredible lemon essence to both sweet and savory recipes. When you don't have lemongrass powder available, there are several handy ingredient substitutes that can mimic its flavor.
Dried lemongrass and lemon or lime zest make the closest replacements in terms of taste and aroma. Kaffir lime leaves, ginger, and lemon balm also reinforce the citrus notes when paired thoughtfully.
With the right substitutions and ratios, you can still enjoy bright, robust lemon flavors in your cooking. Try using these lemongrass powder alternatives to elevate the flavor of curries, soups, baked goods, marinades and more.