Lemon zest is the outermost layer of lemon skin, which can do amazing things to food. Using a little lemon zest adds fragrance, brightness, tangy zip, zing, and levels up the flavors of your dish.
But what can you do if you’re out of lemons or feel like using some other options in place of lemons but have no idea of what they are? Well, this can happen.
Though you can substitute other ingredients for it depending on your recipe, none of those will exactly replicate the taste and texture of lemon zest. Also, you may prefer the alternatives even more than the lemon zest based on your palate.
Here is a quick view of the great substitutes for Lemon Zest:
- Other Citrus’ Zest
- Lemon Extract
- Dried Lemon Peel
- Lemon Pepper
- Lemon Juice
Let’s dive into more details:
1. Other Citrus’ Zest
- perfect for savory recipes
- provide the same texture and look
- works well in baking recipes
- great for desserts
- an equal amount needed
Zest from another citrus can be one of the best available substitutes for lemon zest. And there are so many options you can choose from. But using lime or orange zest instead can be a good call.
Comparatively, lime zest adds a flavor closest to lemon. Though lime zest would be perfect for savory recipes, you can use it in any recipe that calls for lemon zest on a 1:1 basis.
On the contrary, orange and lemon will provide the same texture and look; orange has a different flavor profile than lime. However, orange zest works well in baking recipes, especially for desserts. To replace the lemon zest with orange zest, use an equal amount.
2. Lemon Extract
- excellent substitute for lemon zest
- more intense than lemon zest
- has a more concentrated flavor
- half of the amount of lemon extract
- best in baking
- provides a lemony flavor without tartness
- perfect for lemon-based muffins
Lemon extract is made by soaking lemon peels in alcohol for several hours, an excellent substitute for lemon zest. Also, if you want to use alcohol-free lemon extract, you can use oil instead of alcohol.
However, the lemon extract is significantly more intense than lemon zest as it has a more concentrated flavor, so it’s better to use half of the amount of lemon extract in place of the required lemon zest.
The lemon extract works best in baking as a substitute for lemon zest. It provides a lemony flavor without tartness, just like lemon zest. For example, it is perfect for lemon-based muffins or pound cake. But you can easily choose to use it in savory marinades that call for lemon zest.
3. Dried Lemon Peel
- can be dried lemon peel
- intensifies their flavors
- works well in both sweet and savory recipes
Another excellent substitute for lemon zest can be dried lemon peel, which is made by dehydrating lemon peel. So, lemon zest and dried lemon juice are pretty much the same, but the drying process intensifies their flavors. You should use only 1/3 tablespoon of dried lemon peel to replace the 1 tablespoon of lemon zest required in a recipe.
The dried lemon peel works well in both sweet and savory recipes, and you can either use homemade or store-bought dried lemon peel.
4. Lemon Pepper
- used for garnishing
- savory dishes
- start with a 1:1 ratio
- use salt and pepper
This one is an easy substitute because you may already have a jar of lemon pepper in your pantry, or you can easily buy it from stores or make your own by using dried lemon zest, pepper, and salt.
Whatever lemon pepper you use instead of lemon zest, it can only be used where lemon zest is only used for garnishing or seasoning, presumably on savory dishes.
Though there is no fixed proportion for such a substitution, it’s better to start with a 1:1 ratio and use salt and pepper accordingly.
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- spicier than lemon
- used to season meats
- used in desserts.
- may not be as intense as lemon zest
You can consider Tajin, a Mexican seasoning blend made of salt, lime, and chili peppers that is spicier than lemon pepper, as a lemon zest substitute if you want to take your dish in a bold new direction. It’s commonly used to season meats and vegetables, but nowadays, it’s being used in desserts.
You can use Tajin instead of lemon zest wherever and whenever you dare. To begin with, use an equal amount of Tajin and reduce the salt in the recipe to taste. Though there is no official ratio, keep in mind that there will be a notable amount of salt and chili flavoring.
While the citrus flavor may not be as intense as lemon zest, Tajin’s heat will compensate.
6. Lemon Juice
- adds sourness
- avoid using it directly on milk and cream
Fresh lemon juice is the ultimate substitute for lemon zest. You may wonder why you should use lemon juice when you have lemons to collect the zest. Well, it’s only suitable to think that. But suppose you have lemons but don’t feel like extracting lemon zest; you can easily use fresh lemon juice in your dish instead.
Or, if you’re looking for some sourness, try substituting lemon juice for lemon zest in a recipe. You can substitute 1 tablespoon of lemon juice for the 1/2 tablespoon of lemon zest in your recipe.
However, we don’t recommend using bottled lemon juice as it has an off-flavor. And since lemon juice is acidic, try to avoid using it directly on milk and cream.
Make a Trip to the Store
Don’t think of using substitutes if lemon zest is an essential part of your recipe and you need to use more than two tablespoons. Instead, go to the store and buy some lemons; otherwise, you may ruin the recipe.
For example, if you substitute lemon juice or extract for a large amount of zest, it will change the consistency of the recipe as you will be adding too much liquid.
Furthermore, because the juice is acidic, it can react with baking soda and baking powder, producing more air bubbles and altering the overall texture.
Omit the Lemon Zest from Your Recipe
Lemon zest is used to add brightness and lift the flavor. But if lemon zest isn’t a must-have in your recipe or if its absence doesn’t ruin the recipe’s taste, you can choose to leave it out if you have neither lemon zest nor any other substitute to use instead.
The Best Ways to Zest Lemons
You can use a zester to scrape off tiny bits of peel. A zester is pretty much easy to use.
But if you’re wondering how to zest a lemon without a zester or what tools can be used when your zester isn’t functioning, Well, if you have a Microplane grater, a chef’s knife, or just a vegetable peeler, then relax because all the tools work just fine as well.
Just an important reminder. No matter which tool you use, don’t grate too far into the white pith because a bit of center in your lemon zest can make your dish extremely bitter.
However, if you have a lot of lemons on hand, grate them, wrap them tightly in plastic wrap, and store the zest in the fridge. You can store the zest for a while, and that way, you may never run out of lemon zest.
Yes, you may find yourself in situations where you need to look for lemon zest substitutes. And to your relief, there are some alternatives available that work well in place of lemon zest. But not all the options will bring the exact flavor and color to a dish as lemon zest does.
So, you need to be careful while choosing a suitable substitute for your recipe, and if your recipe can’t do without lemon zest, don’t use any substitute. Just buy a few lemons, get your lemon zest, and enjoy your desired recipe.
Eva M. Smith is the owner of this website. She is a 4 year old mother of two kids and a professional chef. Eva loves to cook for her family, but being a working mom has a lot of challenges. From squeezing in time to do the groceries to make three meals for the day. Eva knows how challenging cooking can be without a kitchen game plan.
That’s why she perfected techniques of preserving staple ingredients and several foods so that you have something pre-cooked or pre-baked to use for an array of meals. And they do not come short in flavor! And she does not want to sacrifice flavor with convenience. That’s why she is the best person to ask.