Vietnamese Balsam or Kinh Giới is a popular herb used in Vietnamese cuisine. It is usually added to fresh Vietnamese sandwiches, meat dishes, soups and spicy dishes. The grass brightens up heavy foods and has a strong menthol and lemony flavor – it tastes like basil with a hint of lemon.
If you can’t get your hands on Vietnamese balm, you need an alternative. We’ve listed our best substitutes for Vietnamese balsamic, so you can finish any recipe without the original ingredient.
What can I use as a substitute for Vietnamese balm?
To replace Vietnamese balsamic, lemon basil or Thai basil are best. While they don’t match perfectly, they have similar flavors and wouldn’t be out of place in most recipes. If you have a pinch, try sweet basil combined with lemon thyme or lemongrass. For those who do not like Vietnamese balsamic, Vietnamese coriander or dangerous leaves, adds a special flavor.
1. Lemon basil
Lemon basil is a handy substitute for Vietnamese lemon balm because of its fresh lemon flavor. The clean, spicy and sweet notes are similar, although there is an added aniseed note that is a bit different.
Use lemon basil to flavor soups, curries, stews or to liven up a sauce. It also has a wonderful raw flavor and can be added fresh to salads, pork rolls or as an accompaniment to a main dish.
Of course, this herb can also be used in other cuisines, so it never goes to waste. For example, add lemon basil to traditional pesto to add depth of flavor. It is also a popular ingredient in Indonesian and Persian cuisine.
2. Thai basil
Thai basil has a similar taste to Vietnamese balsamic and is widely used in Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. It is best added to dishes such as stir-fries at the end of cooking to tame its aggressive and pungent flavor.
Compared to Vietnamese balsamic, Thai basil lacks a lemony flavor and provides hints of anise, but its flavors are still suitable for many Asian dishes. To avoid flooding your dish with unexpected flavors, we recommend using half the amount of Thai basil. Try the test if possible and add more if necessary.
3. Sweet basil
Sweet basil is a common variety sold in the herb section of most supermarkets. It’s a common addition to pesto, but it’s not necessarily the only use! Basil has a sweet and mild flavor, with hints of pepper and mint.
The notable difference of this herb is the absence of lemon flavor. You can add lemon thyme or lemongrass to solve this problem if the dish you are preparing is suitable. If you are serving it raw as a side dish, use only the basil. Note that this herb can quickly overwhelm your diet, so use in moderation.
4. Vietnamese coriander
Vietnamese coriander has many names, including Vietnamese mint, spicy mint, Rau Ram, crab leaf, sea leaf and pepper scent. It has a spicy, minty and peppery flavor that resembles regular cilantro when cooked. This spice is often added to salads and rice paper rolls, or served with sauce and lettuce to heavier dishes such as spring rolls.
Although Vietnamese coriander has a different aromatic profile than Vietnamese balsamic, it can be used in many similar applications. Use this alternative if you want something with less lemon flavor and more heat and spice in your food.
5. Periwinkle leaves
If you have a penchant for Korean food, you may have stumbled upon some dangerous leaves. They give a taste of aniseed with a touch of basil and mint. Perilla leaves can be boiled or chopped and eaten raw as a tasty garnish. This option doesn’t taste the same as Vietnamese balsamic; it’s a great option if you don’t like the taste and want something that works well in recipes that use Vietnamese balsamic.
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Vietnam Balm Quick Facts
- Alternative names: Kin Giới, Vietnamese lemon balm, Vietnamese lemon mint, spearmint or heart leaf. It belongs to the Lamiaceae family and carries the scientific name Elsholtzia ciliata.
- It goes perfectly with sandwiches, foo, poultry, fish and beef dishes and adds a hint of lemon to tea.
- Vietnamese balsam is a plant native to Southeast Asia that is used for culinary and decorative purposes. It produces light green leaves with sawdust and looks like a large version of a mint leaf.
- This plant is easy to grow and thrives in a warm climate. It can also be grown as a perennial in areas with mild winters. The leaves give off a refreshing and very pleasant aroma.
If you live in the United States or other parts of the world outside of Asia, some of the ingredients on this list may be difficult to find. We recommend going to the nearest Asian grocery store, as that is where you are most likely to find what you are looking for. Another option, if you want to use these herbs often, is to grow your own at home. If space is limited, invest in a few pots and you’ll be fine.
Instead of Vietnamese balsamic, there are two options – lemon basil or Thai basil – that are excellent for cooking. You get the aroma of basil with the essential notes of lemon that brighten any meal it is paired with.
In which recipe would you like to use the Vietnamese balsamic? Let us know in the comments below.
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