Lemon is one of the most popular ingredients in the world and adds so much dimension to food. You will almost certainly find it makes multiple appearances in every restaurant menu and in a variety of dishes around the world.
Many recipes use lemon extract in particular because it has a very concentrated lemon flavor and a long shelf life.
However, like so many things, you may run out of lemon extract precisely when you need it the most. That’s life for ya.
So, what are the best substitutions for lemon extract? Fresh lemons (for the juice and zest), fresh limes (also for juice and zest), lemon essence, and orange juice all make the best substitutions for lemon extract in recipes.
In this article, we will rank and discuss these 5 substitutions for lemon extract as well as how to substitute using each of them.
What is Lemon Extract?
Lemon extract is a lemon-flavored liquid made from lemons and usually has an oil or alcohol base. The way the lemon extract is made is by soaking lemon peels in a neutral-flavored clear spirit, usually vodka.
The essential oils from the peels are released, allowing them to infuse in the alcohol. Thereafter the alcohol is distilled, creating a pale yellow or transparent liquid that has a percentage of about 77%.
This process creates a beautiful lemon flavor profile without the acidic and tart taste of fresh lemon juice.
Lemon extract can be used in several culinary dishes, both sweet and savory. These can be baked goods, set desserts, frozen desserts, marinades, pickles or dressings to name a few.
But if your McCormick’s Pure Lemon Extract has run out, you’ll need something to save the day – and the dish!
That’s why we’ve got you covered with a handy list of substitutes.
Substitutes for Lemon Extract
Just because something is lemon-flavored, doesn’t mean it’s a great substitute for lemon extract!
There are a lot of factors to take into account when substituting lemon extract. The most important are:
- How the consistency of the final product will be affected.
- How the taste will be affected.
- How the texture of the final product will be affected.
Because we’re working with acidic ingredients here, some substitutes could curdle dairy which will result in a failed recipe. Blech.
Some substitutions might also have a weaker taste and therefore need to be used in higher amounts – but that can alter the cooking, freezing, or setting times.
Yep, it’s not just a general lemon flavor that we’re going for here. Cooking is a science as well as an art, which means you have to consider multiple factors when making substitutions.
But don’t worry, there ARE solutions.
Below we have ranked substitutes for lemon extract and exactly why we believe they deserve their rankings.
1. Lemon Zest
Lemon zest is the finely grated skin (peel) of a lemon. You achieve this by using a zester/microplane zester or the finest side of a box grater.
Be careful to not grate the pith (the white part underneath the skin) as it is extremely bitter and will carry that taste through the cooking process.
Lemon zest is by far the best substitute for lemon extract or any other lemon flavoring for that matter. It is not acidic and its flavor is very concentrated – just like lemon extract.
It is not in the form of a liquid, meaning you can typically add plenty of extra zest without possibly changing the consistency of your dish or dessert. It will also not cause any dairy to curdle due to the lack of acidity.
Another bonus is that you can still keep your lemons after zesting them – essentially using as much of the lemon as possible and reducing your food wastage.
You can substitute the lemon extract with an equal part lemon zest and easily add more to alter the flavor.
2. Lemon Juice
Freshly squeezed lemon juice is obviously the most authentic lemon flavor you will ever get. It is much more tart and acidic than lemon extract.
However, lemon extract is much more concentrated than lemon juice so you will need to use more juice than extract to achieve the same flavor. You can substitute 1 teaspoon of lemon extract with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice.
This is where you might find difficulties with this substitute.
You can easily use this substitute in dressings, marinades or pickles without a problem, but as soon as you use it in pastry-related recipes (baked goods, set desserts, frozen desserts, etc.) you might run into more trouble.
Because you need to use a lot more lemon juice, the volume of liquid could drastically change the recipe. You can solve this problem by removing the difference from another liquid ingredient.
Another factor, as we initially mentioned, is that lemon juice is much more acidic than lemon extract.
This means that if you do not know how to properly incorporate acid into dairy, your dairy will curdle and your recipe will not work. A quick Google search will help you solve this problem.
We prefer fresh lemon juice over bottled, but others might not. Both have pros and cons. Bottled lemon juice has fewer nutrients and sometimes contains chemicals. However, it is convenient to use if you hate squeezing lemons.
That being said, you will not be able to imitate lemon flavor more accurately than by using freshly squeezed lemon juice.
3. Lime Juice or Zest
Lime juice is very similar to lemon juice. They have similar tastes, the main difference being that lemons are much sourer whereas limes are more bitter.
Their acid pH level is almost the same meaning it can be substituted for lemon extract in the same way – for every 1 teaspoon lemon extract, you can use 2 tablespoons lime juice.
This also means that you will have some of the same problems when substituting that we discussed with lemon juice, such as the possibility of a change in consistency or curdling dairy.
This is easily avoided by knowing how to incorporate lime juice into dairy products or reducing the liquid of another ingredient.
For savory dishes, it shouldn’t be a problem and will make a fantastic substitution in dressings and marinades.
The zest of a lime will work better as a substitute for lemon extract as you can use plenty of lime zest without having any risks. You can start by using an equal part lime zest to extract and add more if needed.
4. Lemon Essence/Flavoring
Most people have the misconception that lemon extract and lemon essence is the same thing. It is not.
Lemon essence is a product that is made using artificial colorants, flavorings, and other chemical components. Lemon extract is just extracted directly from the lemon itself.
However, lemon essence does have some advantages. It lasts much longer than lemon extract, it is a budget-friendly product and very easy to find. It will also add a yellow hue to your products, which can liven some desserts.
To substitute lemon essence, there isn’t an exact ratio to use since it is an artificial flavoring and varies.
Every brand of essence will have an entirely different taste – some will taste more like real lemons and be very concentrate, while some will taste comparatively bland and diluted.
You can start by substituting equal parts lemon essence to lemon extract and add more if needed.
This Lemon Flavoring from Hobbyland is one of the best products on the market.
Its flavor is more accurate to that of a lemon, so you don’t need to add the whole bottle just to taste it. It is very affordable and has a squeezy nozzle so you have more control over the amount you want to use.
5. Orange Juice and Zest
For those of you who are not a fan of all things lemon, orange juice is the perfect substitute. It is not as acidic or tart and is also much sweeter than lemon extract. You still have all the citrus components without the sour tartness.
To substitute lemon extract with orange juice, for every teaspoon of lemon extract, use 2 tablespoons orange juice.
Keep in mind that because the orange juice is very sweet, your product might come out much sweeter than intended. You can add less sugar than the recipe calls for or use orange zest instead.
You can substitute equal amounts of orange zest to lemon extract and adjust the flavor from there.
|Substitute||Quantity (For 1 tsp Lemon Extract)|
|Lemon zest||1 teaspoon or as needed|
|Lemon juice||2 tablespoons|
|Lime juice||2 tablespoons|
|Lemon essence||1 teaspoon or as needed|
|Orange juice||2 tablespoons|
Can I Use Citric Acid Powder Instead of Lemon Extract?
Citric acid is a natural acid that is found in lemons. This means that using its powdered form will mimic the acidity beautifully, but not the lemon flavor.
For every teaspoon of lemon extract, you can use a ¼ teaspoon (0.04 ounce or 1.25ml) of citric acid.
Are Lemon Oils Safe For Consumption?
There are a lot of different oils on the market. Lemon-flavored olive oil should be safe to consume, although it might taste more like oil than lemon. Lemon extract in an oil base is also safe to consume.
There are also essential lemon oils that are not always safe for consumption. Check the bottle to see whether or not it can be consumed orally.
What is the Shelf-Life of These Ingredients?
Here is a table that shows the average shelf life for each of these substitutes. You can choose what suits your lifestyle and needs better. Keep in mind, the older the ingredient, the weaker the flavor will become.
|Lemon extract||6 months to 1 year (loses flavor) |
3-4 years (goes rancid)
|Freshly squeezed lemon juice||2-4 days|
|Bottled lemon juice, opened||6 months|
|Lemon essence||3-4 years|
|Bottled orange juice, opened||3-4 days|