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Lemongrass has long been known for its citrusy flavor and association with the cuisines of some countries in Southeast Asia. And while many of us are at least familiar with this citrusy herb, not everyone has had a chance to experience its truly unique flavor. So what does lemongrass taste like?
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The term “lemongrass” refers to a plant in the Cymbopogon genus. Lemongrass plants are used in many types of Asian cuisine. You might hear lemongrass referred to by any number of other names: fever grass, Malabar grass, Cochin grass, barbed wire grass, silky heads, or oily heads. Its tall stalks can grow to be up to 10 feet high.
Lemongrass grows readily in many tropical climates. It has heavy stalks, each of which has a bulbous bottom like that of green onions. It is often used in cooking in powdered form, raw, finely chopped, or even smashed into a paste. It also is often used to make lemongrass tea.
Lemongrass has a lot of other uses outside of the culinary world, too. Its pleasant scent is used to make various fragrances. It’s also a key part of the manufacturing of citronella oil. And perhaps most fascinating of all, it’s also used in beekeeping! Its scent mimics a pheromone that helps draw bees back to the hive.
What Does Lemongrass Taste Like?
Lots of people simply say that lemongrass has a lemon flavor. But this would be selling short the nuanced taste of fresh lemongrass. Lemongrass has a unique blend of flavors and aromas. It has a lemony flavor and scent, and very fresh lemongrass has a scent that is somewhat floral, too.
However, the taste is a lot different from that of lemon juice or lemon zest. If you can imagine a citrus flavor without the acidity you’re getting close to the tart lemon taste of lemongrass. This plant has notes of ginger without ginger’s characteristic spice. Lots of people also say they detect a hint of mint.
But perhaps the best thing about the taste of lemongrass is the lightness of its flavor. Though its taste is distinctive, it won’t overpower a dish. Rather, it adds a lightness and complexity to the flavor that’s already there.
It’s very important to note that the longer you use lemongrass in cooking, the stronger its flavor will be. Plenty of chefs use lemongrass stalks like bay leaves when cooking soup; they will bundle the lemongrass, keep it in the soup as it cooks, and then remove it.
How Do You Prepare Lemongrass?
Like many herbs or vegetables, this perennial grass needs a little prep before it can impart its distinct citrus flavor to your next dish. If you’re familiar with Vietnamese cooking and Thai cooking, you might already know how to do this.
To start, you’ll need to pull the outer leaves from the stalks. This is a lot like shucking corn. The outer leaves are very tough, but the insides of the stalks are a little softer. Most cuisines only use the whitish part of the stalk, as it is the most flavorful and the meatiest. Slice the stalks at about a half-inch from the bottom. Then, slice them again a few inches upward, where the white color begins to turn green. Be sure to use a sharp knife, as lemongrass is very tough!
The tough stalks are generally too fibrous to chew without being finely chopped. Once you’ve removed the best portion of the stalks, slice them very thinly before chopping them into small pieces. You also have the option of putting the pale yellow-green stalks through a food processor. Lemongrass stalks can also be grated or smashed into a paste. That’s how it is commonly prepared in Cambodian cuisine.
Finely chopped lemongrass goes especially well in stir fries, while pastes work beautifully in marinades. Make sure you take your recipes into account before you start preparing!
Alternatively, you can purchase dried and powdered lemongrass. This simplifies things, and dried lemongrass keeps longer than fresh lemongrass. However, lemongrass is at its most fragrant and flavorful when it’s fresh.
Want a video taking you through how to prepare lemongrass for cooking? Check this out!
What Are Some of the Health Benefits of Lemongrass?
Each lemongrass stalk is packed with plenty of nutrients. It’s a source of these vitamins and minerals:
- Vitamins A, B, and C
- Folic acid
Some people consider lemongrass to be a superfood. So naturally, it has a host of health benefits. Here are a few:
It supports skin health. Like many superfoods, lemongrass is rich in antioxidants. Antioxidants can help reduce the effects of aging. Plus, its many vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin A) help keep skin at its healthiest.
It supports the immune system. The antioxidants and vitamins in lemongrass offer support for your immune system. So if you use it regularly, you just might find that you get sick less often. You can simply add lemongrass to your daily chai lattes
It has antifungal and antimicrobial effects. In particular, lemongrass may be helpful in treating urinary tract infections, sores, and athlete’s foot.
It may help manage diabetes. Some evidence suggests that lemongrass may optimize and regulate insulin levels. Though it wouldn’t cure diabetes on its own, it might help manage insulin and keep symptoms at bay.
It can help minimize anxiety. Some research suggests that lemongrass has mildly sedative and hypnotic properties. That makes it a healthy, natural way to help reduce anxiety and depression.
It supports healthy cholesterol. Like some other healthy foods, lemongrass can help promote healthy levels of cholesterol. This is especially important for avoiding heart disease and other cardiac issues.
Where Can You Find Lemongrass?
Lemongrass may not be carried everywhere, but it’s a mainstay in Asian grocery stores. Most chefs prefer to purchase fresh stalks. You can find dried lemongrass in the spice section. Some online grocers will even ship frozen stalks and bulbs. Depending on where you live, you might be able to find lemongrass in a standard grocery store, too.
Alternatively, you can grow your own lemongrass. Doing so is pretty easy. To start, you just need a bulb. Like some other members of the grass family, lemongrass will grow roots when submerged in water. Place the bulb in water in an area where it will get enough sunlight. Once the roots grow (it can take up to a month) you can plant your lemongrass stalk in a pot or outdoors depending on the climate.
Revitalize Your Cooking!
Nothing pushes you to create memorable new dishes more than adding in a new ingredient. Lemongrass makes just about every dish better, whether it’s spicy, sweet, or savory. If you want to take advantage of the health benefits of this herbal plant and keep your taste buds on their toes, add lemongrass into your next recipe!
If you’re new to using lemongrass in cooking, you might have a few more questions to answer before you start. Here are some answers:
How would you describe the taste of lemongrass?
The lemongrass flavor is hard to describe, but its main note is that of lemon. The taste also combines flavor notes of ginger and a little bit of mint. It often has a somewhat floral taste as well.
What flavors go well with lemongrass?
The aromatic citrus scent of lemongrass can “lift up” dishes, especially spicy ones, without becoming overpowering. It goes well with curries as well as savory meats and vegetables. Lemongrass is also used in a range of soups and herbal teas.
How does lemongrass taste like lemon?
The lemongrass plant is not actually related to the lemon tree. It just so happens that its most intense note of flavor tastes lemony. However, this plant has very complex flavors (like ginger and mint) that go beyond that of lemon juice or lemon rind.
What is lemongrass used for?
Lemongrass is most famous for its various culinary uses. However, it is also used to produce fragrances for a variety of products. It has historically been used in Ayurveda and other types of traditional medicine as well.