9 Best Lemon Zest Substitutes for That Citrusy Zing

Quick summary: Lime or orange zest, lemon juice or extract, lemon oil, or marmalade are all excellent substitutes for lemon zest. If you are out of lemon zest, several substitutes can help you out without changing the outcome of your recipe too much.

Fresh lemons bring bags of flavor to sweet and savory dishes. Whether using the juice, slices, or zest, each component can be used for flavor, acidity, visual appeal, and even for its organic reactive properties in baking or ceviche.

The zest especially adds a punch of flavor without the extra liquid or bulkiness of a wedge. If your recipe calls for lemon zest and you’re all out, we don’t recommend just leaving it out entirely.

So what do you do? Simply choose a lemon zest substitute from our list below and continue as planned. Here are our top choices to replace lemon zest.

How Is Lemon Zest Used?

The zest is removed from the lemon using a zester. This little tool scrapes fine pieces of rind into strands (almost like a grater). It’s a great way to get the strong citrus flavor without the bitterness of the underlying white pith.

Lemon zest is used in baking, marinades, sauces, and salad dressings. Larger pieces can also be used as a garnish for cakes, sweet pies, and cocktails. Additionally, it is used to make tea, lemonade, and syrup when steeped in hot water or heated with sugar.

How to Choose a Lemon Zest Substitute

When choosing your replacement, you’ll need to consider whether it will change the flavor or consistency of your recipe in a way that will affect the finished product.

If the specific flavor is essential, choose a different lemon-flavored product. If the texture or visual appearance is important, you could opt for something with a slightly different flavor profile.

Keep in mind that if you use a liquid alternative, it can thin out the consistency of a batter or sauce. Below we provide tips on the best way to incorporate each ingredient for a successful and delicious outcome.

Best Substitutes for Lemon Zest

#1. Lime Zest

If you have limes on hand, you have a perfect substitute. Since they’re also citrus fruit, you’ll get similar tangy notes. Limes do, however, have a slightly more acidic punch.

Although the taste is not identical, you’ll have the same zing, texture, and appearance as the fresh zest.

Substitute quantity: Replace the citrus zest with an equal amount.

Suitable for: Garnishing salads and savory dishes, whipped toppings, baked goods, cooked dishes, decorating tarts, cakes, and cupcakes, adding to sauces, or making syrup.

#2. Orange Zest

Orange zest is another favorite substitute and can be used in exactly the same way as lime zest. Oranges will add a sweet rather than tangy citrus taste.

Substitute quantity: Replace it with the same amount. You can also use the zest of other citrus fruits.

Suitable for: Garnishing salads and savory recipes, baked goods, whipped toppings, decorating tarts, cakes, and cupcakes, adding to sauces, or making syrup.

#3. Fresh Lemon Juice

If you have lemon juice (or lime juice) in the refrigerator, you can use this in some applications for the same tangy flavor.

The fresh juice will give you the closest flavor match. If you only have commercially bottled lemon juice, you can use that too, however, it is a very acidic juice.

The juice won’t be suitable for use in cream-based dishes as the acid will cause curdling. For something like whipped cream, it is better to use essence or zest.

Substitute quantity: For even one teaspoon of zest, use two teaspoons of lemon juice. Lime juice is more acidic so start with equal quantities.

Suitable for: Syrup, non-dairy sauces, glazes, baking, and salad dressings.

Read more on lemon juice’s shelf life and how to tell if it’s spoiled.

#4. Lemon Extract

The extract (not to be confused with essence) is made by letting lemon peel soak in ethyl alcohol. The liquid is infused with a concentrated bright citrus flavor.

As with the juice, this won’t work for garnishes or other applications where the dry ingredient is needed. It is very concentrated, so you will only need a few drops.

Substitute quantity: Use with caution. Start with only a few drops and slowly add more if needed. You shouldn’t need more than half a teaspoon of extract to replace one teaspoon of zest.

Suitable for: Syrup, glazes, frosting, sauces, and baked goods.

#5. Lemon Essence

Unlike the extract, the essence is manufactured using artificial flavors. The extract does not have bitter notes and can taste a little artificial, but is superb when making sweet baked goods and frosting.

It is not ideal for savory sauces, dressings, or meaty dishes. It is also very potent so use with caution.

Substitute quantity: Start with only a few drops and slowly add a drop at a time if more is needed.

Suitable for: Sweet baked goods and frosting.

#6. Pure Lemon Oil

This oil can add a great pop of flavor and delicious aroma to your dish. Make sure you only use edible oil, as you also get non-edible oil that is used for aromatherapy.

The edible oil will be available with other cooking oils in many grocery stores or delis. Williams Sonoma is a reputable pure oil brand to use for cooking.

Substitute quantity: Use ¼ teaspoon of the oil as a replacement for one teaspoon of zest.

Suitable for: Dressings, poultry dishes, vegetables, and pancakes.

Tip: Mix a few drops of lemon oil with your cooking oil for cooking savory recipes. Don’t use the citrus oil alone as it will be too strong.

#7. Dried Lemon Peel

If you don’t have fresh citrus, you can opt for dried lemon peels. The great thing is that they have a long shelf life if stored in an airtight container or sealed packet.

The peel has a leathery texture, meaning it won’t be suitable to incorporate directly into a batter or whipped cream. It can be rehydrated to flavor sauces or ground up into a powder.

Substitute quantity: Use only 1/3 teaspoon of dried peel for every teaspoon of zest

Suitable for: Tea, sauces, stews, soups, and syrups.

Tip: Depending on the size, you will want to strain out the dried pieces after cooking to avoid an unpleasant chewy texture.

#8. Lemon Marmalade

This marmalade has sweet and bitter notes. It is made from lemon peel, water, and sugar. If you have some on hand, it can be a good substitute for baked goods.

Substitute quantity: Replace the marmalade in equal quantities.

Suitable for: Baked goods, fillings, and drizzled over frosting. Sweet sauces, marinades, and dressings.

#9. Candied Lemon Peel

The candied peel is sweet and best for desserts and confections. Unlike dried peels, this product is slightly softer with a chewy texture.

While some people enjoy eating candied peels, others don’t like the sweet-bitter chewiness in their baked goods. We suggest chopping it up very finely to get a closer match for zest.

Substitute quantity: Replace the candied peel in equal quantities.

Suitable for: Baked goods sprinkled over frosting.


Can I use lemon pepper to substitute lemon zest?

Yes, for savory recipes such as fish, chicken, vegetables, and salads, lemon pepper will give you the same citrusy flavor with added peppery notes.

How much zest will I get from one medium-sized lemon?

One fruit usually yields around one tablespoon of zest.

Can I use a grater to zest citrus?

Yes, using the fine holes on a box grater can zest your citrus just as well as a zester. Make sure to turn the citrus fruits as you go to avoid getting any of the white pith. You only want to grate the very top layer.

Lemon zest can add a delicious pop of flavor to sweet and savory dishes alike. Whether you make lemon chicken, your favorite citrus syrup cake, flavored whipped cream, or cookies, it’s a wonderfully versatile ingredient.

If you don’t have any on hand, there are a few easy substitutes to grab instead. Remember that many of the replacements have a more concentrated flavor, so err on the side of caution and always start with small amounts.

*image by urban_light/depositphotos

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