Spices of the Indian Ocean: Lemongrass

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The citrus tang of lemongrass with its warm lemon aroma is a popular flavouring for traditional soups, curries and sauces across the Indian Ocean islands.

Constance Ephélia’s lemongrass prawns

Originating in Asia, Africa and Australia, it is likely that lemongrass was brought to the Indian Ocean by early settlers who cultivated the flavoursome, tufted grass in the tropical fertile soil of the islands where it has been thriving ever since.

A key feature in Indonesian, Sri Lankan and Indian cooking, especially when blended with coconut, lemongrass has become a central part of Indian Ocean cuisine thanks to the influence of Asian settlers.

Uses across the islands

Known locally as citronelle, it is used in Mauritius and Seychelles in both savoury and sweet dishes thanks to the earthy lemon sweetness of the fresh grass stalks.

In Maldives lemongrass is known as sera and it is used to add warmth and citrus flavour to the island nation’s popular fish curries.

In Madagascar as well as being used in archards (the spicy, flavoursome chutneys served with most meals), lemongrass stalks are brewed in hot water to make the popular thé citronelle or lemongrass tea.

Across the region the fresh, lemony fragrance of citronelle oil, an essential oil pressed from lemongrass, is used as an effective natural mosquito repellent.

Recipes to try at home

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