Lemongrass, a root that looks like a tougher scallion, is widely used in Asian cuisine. It's named after the citrus fruit, thanks to its lemon-like scent — but how do the two stack up when placed side by side? To find out, Brad Farmerie, executive chef of The Thomas restaurant in Napa, CA, and member of the Lean Cuisine Culinary Roundtable, put both ingredients to a sensory test.
Find out what the results were — and how to conduct a similar test yourself — when you read on.
Brad's theory: after taking a whiff of lemongrass, the scent of lemon would be disappointing. I didn't believe him until he placed the two side by side and I smelled each for myself. Sure enough, he proved me wrong.
The lemongrass told a riveting tale, with its lemon yet orange-blossom-like scent, grassy quality, and hint of spiciness, similar to ginger. Visually, lemon appeared more desirable, with its sunny hue and juicy flesh, but to my amazement, its scent fell flat when compared to the lemongrass. It was like comparing a fine bottle of Cabernet to a boxed wine: the lemon smelled weak and one-dimensional. It was almost like lemongrass smelled like the true lemon and the lemon fruit was just a poor, subpar imitation of itself, lacking the complexity and layers of the root.
Flavor-wise, lemon zest and juice will always have a place in Mediterranean, Italian, and California cuisine for its zingy freshness. When it comes to Asian cuisine, however, lemongrass is the way to go. In Thai soups and stews and chicken and fish dishes, lemongrass offers a distinguishable citrus flavor without the bitterness or acidity found in lemons. Lemongrass also has the unique ability to balance the spiciness of chiles.
Try the lemongrass and lemon scent- and taste-off yourself, and tell us if you can detect the differences.