Aroma- Lemon, Vegetal, Sweet
Flavour - Sweet, Citric, Tangy
Origin and Names
Unsurprisingly Lemongrass gets its name from its lemony aroma and flavour which it gets from the abundance of the oil citral in its leaves. Lemongrass is any of a group of tropical grasses belonging to the genus Cymbopogon, coming from the Greek for “boat” and “beard”, referring to the boat-shaped base of the spiky leaves. Cymbopogon citratus or West Indian Lemongrass is the most commonly used species in cooking, it is native to the tropical islands of Southeast Asia where it grows wild. The long spiked leaves are trimmed and discarded leaving the white stem portion which is packed with sweet citrus flavour.
The soft lemony flavour notes of lemongrass are essential in Thai and other Southeast Asian cooking, where it is known as Takrai or Sereh. Dried and powdered lemongrass can be purchased as Sereh powder.
Lemongrass has been used in traditional medicine in Asia for centuries. A traditional remedy for sickness in Sri Lanka and India is a “fever tea” made from stewed lemongrass and other natural aromatics. It also has a history as a highly desired perfume amongst the upper classes of Europe in the Middle ages and Renaissance period.
Geography and Cultivation
The lemongrass plant grows in densely packed clumps with it’s long blade-like lead reaching up to a metre in length. It is a perennial plant and can be grown in some warmer temperate countries like the UK however it is not frost resistant and will soon die in winter conditions. It has been introduced and naturalised to many tropical regions outside of its native Southeast Asia. Today the largest producer and exporter of lemongrass is India with Bangladesh, China and Guatemala also producing notable quantities.
Lemongrass is one of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine, the sweet citrus flavours without the bitterness of lemon bring a zesty and tangy flavour which isn’t overpowering like some of the sharper citrus fruits. This softer flavour profile provides the base for delicious and aromatic dishes like Thai Green Curry and the hot and sour soup, Tom Yam.
Lemongrass can be used fresh or dried. Because it is robust and fibrous it is best to slice the stems into thin disks, this helps prevent the hair like fibres causing an unpleasant texture. Whole lemongrass stems can be added to dishes much like bay leaves, where they are bundled together and allowed to stew, being removed before serving.