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There are several options if you can’t use lemon zest! Here’s the best lemon zest substitute to use in savory recipes and baked sweets.
In the middle of making a recipe and don’t have a lemon on hand? Here’s what you can do. Lemon zest adds a zing and brightness to everything it touches. It’s the yellow portion of the lemon peel and it tastes like pure lemon. The zest holds this citrus fruit’s essential oils, giving it the most pure lemon flavor. A little goes a long way!
Quick question before you start: is lemon in the title of your recipe? Like Lemon Vinaigrette or Lemon Aioli? If so, the lemon flavor is essential and you probably want to hold out until you can find this bright citrus. But what’s the best way to conjure it up for a recipe where it’s in a supporting role? Here’s the best lemon zest substitute.
Pro Tip: Here’s how to zest a lemon!
Best lemon zest substitute
Note that how these options work depend on the type of recipe and how the lemon zest is used.
1. Fresh lemon juice (in some cases).
The best lemon zest substitute to bring a zing to a recipe? Fresh lemon juice. Of course, if you don’t have lemon zest it’s highly unlikely you’ll have lemon juice on hand. But we had to mention this easy swap! As a note, we don’t recommend using bottled lemon juice: it can’t hold a candle to the flavor of a real fresh lemon.
Keep in mind that the juice is acidic, so it can have a sour flavor. Avoid substituting lemon juice if the liquid would hurt the recipe: for example, in a whipped cream that needs to stay fluffy and light. What’s the conversion? 1 tablespoon lemon juice = ½ teaspoon lemon zest
2. Lime zest or orange zest.
The next best substitute for lemon zest? The same amount of lime zest or orange zest. Keep in mind this changes the flavor (to lime or orange…naturally!). You can also use the zest of any citrus fruit, but these are the most common and closest flavor match. This substitution is especially useful in baking recipes and recipes where the texture matters. It can work in savory recipes too, but keep the following in mind:
Be aware: Lime has a strong connotation with Asian and Latin flavors, whereas lemon is mostly Mediterranean. It would not make sense to add lemon zest to arugula Parmesan salad or lime zest to cilantro lime dressing. So make sure to think through the flavors of your dishes to see what makes sense.
3. Dried lemon peel.
Another good substitute for lemon zest? Dried lemon peel. It’s just what it sounds: the peel of a lemon that’s been removed and dried. This is a pretty niche ingredient: in all of our 10+ years developing recipes, we’ve never stocked the stuff in our pantry. But just in case you do… What’s the conversion? ½ teaspoon dried lemon peel = 1 teaspoon lemon zest
4. Leave it out.
Lemon zest is an important ingredient to add brightness and lift to recipes. We often use it in our recipes and it adds a sparkle that makes people say: Wow, what’s in this? But don’t have any of the substitution ingredients above? You can omit lemon zest. This small and mighty flavor-packed peel won’t ruin your recipe without it (unless of course, you’re making Lemon Poppyseed Pancakes).
Here are some of our favorite recipes featuring lemon zest: