Lemon balm and lemongrass are lemon-scented herbs often used to provide lemon and herbal notes in different foods. Aside from the fact that they both offer a lemon flavor, there are some significant differences between them. Let’s compare these two herbs so you can make the best choice for your cooking.
Table of Contents
- How do lemon balm and lemongrass differ?
- Can you use lemon balm in place of lemongrass and vice versa?
- When should you use lemon balm? And when should you use lemongrass?
- Must-read related posts
How do lemon balm and lemongrass differ?
Lemon balm and lemongrass are different plants originating in different parts of the world. Lemon balm belongs to the Lamiaceae family, to which other popular herbs like mint and basil also belong. As a result, it has a mildly minty and floral taste to go with its lemon notes. Further stressing its mint heritage is that one of its names is balm mint. Lemon balm’s origins lie in Europe and the Middle East; specifically in Southern Europe and Iran. Fresh lemon balm is not easy to find in most grocery stores.
Lemongrass is grass, not a shrub like lemon balm. This means that it consists of long stalks of tightly wrapped fibrous layers. It belongs to the same general family as maize and bamboo. Unlike lemon balm, lemongrass does not have a strong minty undertone. The flavor profile is primarily the lemon note against a mildly herbaceous background, resulting in a more astringent flavor profile than you would get from lemon balm. Lemongrass is a tropical plant that comes from Southeast Asia and surrounding regions.
Can you use lemon balm in place of lemongrass and vice versa?
Lemon balm and lemongrass are not typically interchangeable, but they can substitute for each other in a pinch. Just be mindful of their differences and how they handle being cooked.
Lemon balm’s sweeter flavor profile may not work well in all of the savory dishes that require lemongrass. For example, some spicy Thai stir-fried dishes may require a source of lemon flavor with a much less floral flavor profile; other dishes might benefit from sweeter notes. Like many members of the mint family, lemon balm is a more delicate herb and cannot stand up to long cooking times. You can compensate for this tendency by adding it at the end of your cooking.
The astringency of lemongrass may not be ideal for sweet preparations, though it may work in some and should work in most savory ones. Note also that the outer leaves of fresh lemongrass are fibrous, so they will have to be removed before serving the dish. This may mean it will not work as a good substitute for lemon balm in baked goods. To get around this, ground lemongrass leaves or the tender inner leaves of the stalk could be used instead.
Both herbs are good for making tea; however, lemon balm has a specific benefit in that it has anti-anxiety properties that lemongrass will not have.
When should you use lemon balm? And when should you use lemongrass?
Use lemon balm leaves in salads or to add a citrus and floral note to salad dressings. The herb is versatile in that it makes a good addition to desserts as well due to its sweetness. Lemon balm in cookies and cakes can be both visually attractive and provide a delightful flavor. Use in cocktails, both for flavoring and as a garnish.
Lemongrass has an astringency that makes it better in savory preparations, which is where it is traditionally used. Use it in green curry and tom yum soup as well as for seafood.