Lemongrass – what is it, how to use it, flavor

What is Lemongrass?

Lemongrass is actually a type of grass. It is characterized by its long, slender, and grass-like leaves that grow in tight bunches. It has a fibrous stalk and can reach a height of about 1 to 2 meters (3 to 6 feet) when fully mature. Lemongrass is cultivated for its culinary, medicinal, and aromatic properties. It is closely related to citronella which is added to insect-repellents, candles and oils, to help keep mosquitoes at bay.

It is a popular ingredient in various cuisines, especially in Thai, Vietnamese, and Indonesian dishes. This is due to its aromatic leaves and stems which have a lemony fragrance and flavor.

History & background

The history and background of lemongrass can be traced back to ancient times in Southeast Asia, where it has been cultivated and used for centuries. The plant is believed to have originated in the tropical regions of India and Sri Lanka. It gradually spread to other parts of Asia, Africa, and the Americas through trade and exploration.

Lemongrass has a long history of use in traditional medicine systems such as Ayurveda (ancient Indian medicine) and traditional Chinese medicine. Its medicinal properties were valued for their digestive, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory effects. It was used to treat various ailments including stomachaches, fevers, infections, and skin conditions.

In addition to its medicinal uses, it is a key ingredient in Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Indonesian dishes. It adds bright, citrusy flavor to soups, curries, stir-fries, and marinades. It is often combined with other aromatic herbs and spices such as ginger, garlic, and chili peppers to create complex and flavorful dishes.

Over time, it gained popularity outside of its native regions and is now cultivated and used in various parts of the world. It is also grown in subtropical and temperate regions where the climate allows for its cultivation. Today, it is not only used in traditional cuisines but has also found its way into modern fusion cuisine and international recipes.

With its distinctive aroma and flavor, it has also become a popular ingredient in the beverage industry. It is used in herbal teas, flavored waters, and even in the production of essential oils and aromatherapy products.

What form does it come in?

Lemongrass can be found in several different forms, depending on how it is processed and used:

  • Fresh
  • Dried
  • Essential Oil
  • Tea
  • Seasoning & Extracts

The most common form of lemongrass is fresh stalks or stems. These stalks have a fibrous outer layer that needs to be removed before use. The tender inner part of the stalk is finely chopped or bruised and added to dishes to infuse their flavor. Fresh lemongrass is commonly available in Asian grocery stores or can be grown in home gardens.

Dried lemongrass is usually available in the form of dried leaves or in powdered form. It can be re-hydrated before use by soaking it in water or added directly to dishes that require longer cooking times. Powdered lemongrass can be used as a convenient alternative to fresh or dried leaves.

Lemongrass essential oil is extracted from the leaves of the plant. It is highly concentrated and potent in fragrance. The essential oil is commonly used in aromatherapy, as well as in the production of perfumes, soaps, and other cosmetic products.

Dried lemongrass leaves or tea bags made from lemongrass are used to make lemongrass tea. The tea is made by steeping the leaves or tea bags in hot water, allowing the flavors and aromas to infuse into the liquid. The tea is known for its refreshing taste and potential health benefits.

Lemongrass is also available in the form of seasonings, extracts, or pastes. These are convenient options for adding lemongrass flavor to dishes without the need for fresh or dried lemongrass. Lemongrass seasonings and extracts are often used in marinades, sauces, dressings, and other culinary preparations.

Lemongrass Powder

Lemongrass Powder by Spice Train.

Certified Organic Lemongrass Powder – lab tested for purity.
Certified USDA organic and NON-GMO verified.
Packed at source for ultimate freshness

3.5 ounce airtight container – store in a cool dark space.

Is Lemongrass good for you?

Lemongrass is generally considered beneficial for health and offers several potential health benefits.

  1. Antioxidant and Anti-inflammatory Properties: It contains antioxidants that help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, which are unstable molecules that can contribute to chronic diseases and aging. It also has anti-inflammatory properties that may help reduce inflammation in the body, which is associated with various health conditions.
  2. Digestive Health: It has been traditionally used to aid digestion and alleviate digestive issues such as bloating, stomach cramps, and indigestion. It may help stimulate the production of digestive enzymes, promote healthy bowel movements, and ease stomach discomfort.
  3. Immune System Support: It contains compounds that have antimicrobial and anti-fungal properties, which may help protect against certain infections. Additionally, it is rich in vitamin C, which is essential for a healthy immune system.
  4. Relaxation and Stress Relief: The aroma of lemongrass has a calming effect and is often used in aromatherapy to promote relaxation and reduce stress. Inhaling the scent of the essential oil or drinking lemongrass tea may help alleviate anxiety and enhance mood.
  5. Potential Cancer-fighting Properties: Some studies have suggested that certain compounds found in lemongrass, such as citral, may have anticancer properties. However, more research is needed to fully understand its potential effects on cancer prevention and treatment.

It’s worth noting that while it can offer health benefits, it should not replace medical advice or treatment. If you have any specific health concerns or conditions, it’s always best to consult with a healthcare professional before incorporating lemongrass or any other herbal remedy into your routine.

Flavor profile of Lemongrass

Lemongrass has a distinct and refreshing flavor profile with citrusy and herbal notes. It does not solely taste of lemon – as the name would suggest. Rather its flavor is often described as a combination of lemon and mild ginger, with hints of floral and earthy undertones. The taste is bright, zesty, and tangy, adding a unique dimension to dishes.

When used in cooking, it imparts a lemony fragrance and flavor that enhances the overall taste of a dish. It can provide a citrusy punch without the sourness of actual lemons. Lemongrass is commonly used in soups, curries, stir-fries, marinades, and sauces, where it adds a bright and aromatic element. It pairs well with other herbs and spices like ginger, garlic, chili peppers, and cilantro, creating a harmonious balance of flavors.

It’s important to note that the flavor intensity can vary depending on the freshness and quality of lemongrass. Fresh lemongrass tends to have a stronger and more pronounced flavor compared to dried or powdered forms. Additionally, the lower, more tender part of the lemongrass stalks is generally considered to have a milder and sweeter flavor, while the upper, thicker part can be more fibrous and stronger in taste.

Cooking with Lemongrass

Cooking with lemongrass can add a delightful citrusy and aromatic flavor to your dishes. Here are a few tips that I wanted to share with you on how to use lemongrass in your cooking:

  1. To use it fresh, remove the tough outer layers until you reach the tender part of the stalk. Cut off the woody top portion, and then finely chop, slice, or bruise the lower part of the stalk, depending on the recipe. The inner part of the stalk is the most flavorful. As you work with the lemongrass you will notice a lovely aromatic scent escapes from the cut stalks.
  2. It is often used to infuse its flavor into soups, broths, curries, and marinades. Add whole or chopped lemongrass to simmering liquids and allow it to infuse to release its aroma and taste. Remember to remove the lemongrass before serving, as the fibrous texture can be unpleasant to chew on.
  3. You can make a paste by blending fresh lemongrass with other ingredients like garlic, ginger, and chilies. This can be used as a flavor base for dishes such as stir-fries, marinades, and dressings.
  4. Finely chop and add it to stir-fried vegetables, meats, or tofu. Its bright and citrusy flavor complements the other ingredients in the dish. Sautéing with garlic and onions can also provide a flavorful base for many Asian-inspired stir-fries.
  5. Add finely minced lemongrass to marinades for chicken, beef, seafood, or tofu to infuse them with a citrusy and fragrant note. You can also include it in homemade sauces like curries, dressings, and dipping sauces to enhance their taste.
  6. Lemongrass can be used to make a soothing and refreshing herbal tea. Steep fresh or dried leaves in hot water for a few minutes, strain, and enjoy. Combine with other herbs like mint or ginger to create flavorful tea blends.

Common uses

Apart from its culinary applications, lemongrass has several other uses.

  1. Aromatherapy: Lemongrass essential oil is commonly used in aromatherapy due to its refreshing and uplifting scent. It is believed to help reduce stress, anxiety, and fatigue. Diffusing the essential oil or using it in massage oils or bath products can provide a calming and invigorating experience.
  2. Natural Insect Repellent: Lemongrass contains citronella, a natural compound known for its insect-repelling properties. The essential oil can be diluted and used as a natural mosquito and insect repellent. It is often applied to the skin or used in candles, lotions, and sprays to help deter bugs.
  3. Herbal Medicine: In traditional medicine systems, it has been used to address various health concerns. It has been used to promote digestion, alleviate stomachaches, reduce fever, relieve cold and flu symptoms, and soothe muscle pain. However, it’s important to consult a healthcare professional before using lemongrass for medicinal purposes.
  4. Skincare Products: It is a common ingredient in natural skincare products due to its astringent and antibacterial properties. It is used in soaps, lotions, creams, and facial cleansers to help cleanse and tone the skin, reduce oiliness, and promote a clear complexion.
  5. Flavoring and Fragrance: It is used as a flavoring agent in various food and beverage products such as candies, desserts, and herbal teas. It is also used in the production of perfumes, soaps, and other cosmetic products to add a refreshing and citrusy scent.
  6. Culinary Infusions: It can be used to infuse its flavor into oils, syrups, and vinegars. By steeping fresh or dried lemongrass in these liquids, you can create flavored infusions that can be used in cooking, salad dressings, and beverages.

These are just a few examples of the many versatile uses of lemongrass beyond the kitchen.

Other alternatives

If you’re looking for alternatives to lemongrass in your recipes, you could try adding lemon zest, lemon balm, lemon peel, lemon verbena, or even a small amount of ginger.

It’s important to note that these alternatives may not perfectly replicate the unique flavor profile of lemongrass, but they can provide a citrusy or aromatic character to your dishes.

Have a look at our substitutes section for ideas on what you can use in place of lemongrass.