Know Your Herbs: Lemongrass

Lemongrass is an aromatic herb with notes of citrus and ginger. It's bold, bright, and spicy in its raw form, but the harsh tones soften when cooked, yielding a complex, lemony floral flavor.

Stalk of lemongrass

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Lemongrass is incredibly diverse in its application, but how do you use it? How should you store it? And if you can't find it, what's a good substitute? Read on below to find out more about this punchy, aromatic herb!


Origin: Grown in Asia, Australia, and Africa, lemongrass encompasses a variety of plants in the grass family

Flavor: Bright, citrus

Often found in: Southeast Asian dishes, like beef rendang or tom yum soup

Substitutes: 2 stalks of lemongrass = zest of 1 lemon. Not an ideal substitute, but will work in a pinch!

Stalk of lemongrass

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

What is Lemongrass?

Lemongrass, grown in Asia, Australia, and Africa, encompasses a variety of plants in the grass family. Some of those varieties are used as herbs in both culinary and medicinal applications.

Lemongrass can grow to several feet; it is tall and stalky with a vibrant green hue. Across the globe, the herb is cultivated for its strong aroma and bright, citrus flavors. Lemongrass is a critical ingredient in many Southeast Asian dishes, such as beef rendang or tom yum soup. You can find it in salad dressings, curry pastes, and marinades.

In parts of India, lemongrass finds its way into masala chai, rice, and meat dishes. Bintu Hardy, a food blogger and recipe developer, details her experiences growing up drinking a refreshing ginger and lemongrass iced tea in Sierra Leone.

Dried vs. Fresh Lemongrass

There are two types of dried lemongrass:

  • Dried and cut stalks of lemongrass: Compared to fresh lemongrass, dried lemongrass has an earthier flavor with less brightness. But it does retain some of the complexity of the fresh variety, and it is a solid option for simmering in soups and curries. Cook's Illustrated recommends against cooking with dried lemongrass in stir-fry (or drier dishes), as the texture is less favorable.
  • Dried lemongrass stalks ground into a powder: Ground lemongrass or lemongrass powder is ideal for soup, curry, or stir-fry. Start with just a pinch, as the ground form is quite potent.

If you are able to source fresh lemongrass, I highly recommend it over the dried versions to be able to taste the full complexity of the herb. I often purchase lemongrass in bulk and store it in the freezer when needed.

Single stalk of lemongrass

Simply Recipes / Lori Rice

Where to Buy Lemongrass

You can find fresh lemongrass in specialty Asian grocery stores and certain larger grocery stores, such as Whole Foods.

Dried lemongrass can be purchased at specialty spice shops, in-person or online. Curio Spice and The Spice House are two reputable shops with high-quality spices.

When buying lemongrass, look for stalks with a strong aroma and a green hue. Avoid selecting stalks that appear dried out or brown.

Lemongrass vs. Lemons

Though lemongrass and lemons have similar aromas, they are two very different ingredients. Lemongrass is more complex in scent and flavor, with slight woody, spicy notes. 

Lemongrass Substitutes

Because lemongrass boasts a robust set of flavors, there isn't a perfect substitute. In a pinch, though, there are a couple of options:

  • Lemon zest: 2 stalks of lemongrass = zest of 1 lemon
  • Dried lemongrass: 1 stalk of lemongrass = 1 teaspoon dried lemongrass

The resulting dish won’t have the same flavor profile, but these substitutes are quick and easy.

How to Prep Lemongrass

Lemongrass is woody, stiff, and fibrous and needs some prep before you can use it in cooking.

  1. Slice off the bottom root of the stalk.
  2. Cut several inches off the top of the stalk to remove the woody ends. Depending on the size of the lemongrass, you will likely be left with four to six inches of remaining stalk.
  3. Peel away a few layers of the stalk until you reveal the pale, inner core. When you've reached the inner core, you should be able to slice into the herb with little resistance.

From here, you can prep as needed for your particular recipe. For example, lemongrass can be sliced into thin rings for a stir-fry, ground into a paste for a curry, or simmered whole for a stew. Refrigerated stalks of lemongrass, wrapped in plastic wrap, should stay fresh for about two weeks.

How to Freeze Lemongrass

Wrap the trimmed and peeled lemongrass stalks in plastic wrap and place into a freezer-safe, airtight container or plastic bag. Store in the freezer for 3 to 4 months.

How to Cook with Lemongrass

Fragrant and citrusy, lemongrass is a wonderful herb to have on hand. If you're looking for some inspiration, try one of the following recipes: