Substitutes for Lemon Zest in Baking & Cooking

Lemon zest can add the bright fragrance of lemon to your recipes without all the acidity. You’ll find it utilized as a garnish and mixed in with recipes. 

Working in bakeries and high-end restaurants as a pastry chef, lemon zest shows up daily in my baking. It can be in anything from cakes to scones to buttercreams. It can also be peeled off in wide strips and candied.

You’ll find lemon zest in savory recipes, too. It’s used in pastas, seasonings for meats, salad dressings, and vegetable dishes. It also ends up in cocktails, whether it gets infused in a sugar syrup or muddled just before serving. 

If you’ve run out of lemons and your recipe calls for the zest, no need to worry. There are many available to you that can capture that fresh, lemony essence. This article will offer options from simple to creative, and let you know when it’s best to use each one. 

10 Ultimate Substitutes for Lemon Zest

Lemon Juice

jug and glasses with lemon juice

Do you have fresh lemons but have already used their zest for another recipe? Try substituting with lemon juice.

Fresh lemon juice will be your best bet compared to pre-bottled lemon juice. Packaged lemon juice tends to have citric acid added as a preservative. That means increased acidity, and less of that fresh lemon fragrance.

Lemon juice is the best substitute in recipes that can take extra liquid. It’s also a good choice for recipes that can handle the sour tang of lemon juice. I’d use it in salads and salad dressings, vegetable dishes, and in fruit-based pie fillings. 

I wouldn’t recommend using lemon juice in recipes that can’t handle additional liquid. You’ll also want to avoid using it in recipes with dairy. In recipes like cheesecake, its acidity may cause unwanted curdling. 

Use a ratio of 2 tablespoons of lemon juice to 1 teaspoon of zest. You can always add a touch of sugar or another sweetener to your recipe to balance out the tartness of the juice. 

Lemon Extract

Bottles of Lemon Essential Oil on Table

Lemon extract is an alcohol-based extraction of lemon. It is potent and won’t take much to use in place of lemon zest. 

Use lemon extract in baking recipes such as cookies, cakes, and buttercreams. In a pinch, it can also replace lemon zest in recipes for meat marinades (lemon chicken, anyone?).

For each teaspoon of lemon zest, substitute ½ teaspoon lemon extract. 

Lemon Oil

Lemon essential oils in bottles with lemon

Lemon oil is an oil-based extraction of lemon, and is even stronger than lemon extract. 

It can stand in for lemon zest in any baking recipe. The only exceptions are egg-white-based recipes like meringues. 

Why? The lemon oil inhibits the ability of egg whites to whip up.

Try it in savory recipes, too, for that aromatic lemon fragrance. 

To replace one teaspoon of lemon zest, use 1/16 teaspoon of lemon oil (that’s half of ⅛ teaspoon- only a few drops). 

Other Citrus Zests

Cutting board with orange zest

It’s easy to make the leap from lemon zest to lime or orange zest for substitutions. But have you considered using other forms of citrus? 

There is a great variety of different types of citrus available these days. Each has its own specific qualities. Here’s a list of types of citrus than can replace lemon zest. 

  • Orange and Grapefruit – Think Mediterranean flavors like olives, fennel, and fish. Orange makes for scrumptious pastries. Both orange and grapefruit can be tasty in salad dressings, too.
  • Lime – It matches well with Asian flavors (especially Vietnamese and Thai) and Latin American flavors
  • Pomelo – Think grapefruit, but a little sweeter
  • Yuzu – This citrus fruit is delectable in jams, pastries, and cocktails. It also goes well with Asian-inspired dishes.
  • Buddha’s Hand Citron – A great substitute for candied lemon peel. It’s also delicious in sauces, zested over salads, and in desserts. It can make fragrant liqueurs and citrus-infused sugar syrup for cocktails.

One medium lemon yields roughly 1 tablespoon of zest. Use this proportion to start experimenting with other citrus zests. Lime and grapefruit have more bitter flavors, so you may want to use a little less than a 1:1 ratio for them. 

Pro Tip: Use a Microplane zester for fast, easy zesting that avoids the bitter white pith. 

Dried Lemon Peel

Dried lemon slices and grated lemon peel

Dried lemon peel may not be something you already have around the house. But in case you do, it’s a great substitute for lemon zest since it’s simply the dried version.

Replace lemon zest with dried lemon peel in any recipe, sweet or savory. You may want to rehydrate it for 5 minutes in whatever liquid your recipe will use. 

Like any dried herb, dried lemon peel is quite strong. Use ⅓ teaspoon dried lemon peel for every teaspoon of lemon zest you’re replacing.

Lemongrass

lemongrass on a wooden surface

Lemongrass is a stalk commonly used in Thai and Chinese cuisine. It has a bright, citrusy fragrance that also smells floral and a little grassy. 

This herb is a prime choice if you’re making teas, sugar syrups, or savory dishes with meat, tofu, and/or vegetables. It also can make a great substitute in lemony soups. 

Use fresh lemongrass to replace lemon zest at a 1:1 ratio. Use half that amount if using dried lemongrass. 

Vinegar 

vinegar in a cup

Vinegar can be a fast and easy stand-in for lemon zest if you have some on hand at home. Depending on the type of vinegar, it can add some zing and life back to your dish. 

Use vinegar in savory recipes only to replace lemon zest. I wouldn’t recommend it in any baking or pastry items, since it can be overpowering. 

Avoid aged vinegar and wine vinegar here. Try apple cider vinegar, white vinegar, and light, fruit-based vinegar in place of lemon zest. 

Start by using ½ teaspoon of vinegar for every teaspoon of lemon zest in your recipes.

Herbs 

Lemon herb butter ingredients

Certain herbs can make interesting and fragrant replacements for lemon zest. These herbal substitutions are only limited by your imagination (and perhaps your garden).

To get an easy start, try herbs that already have lemon in their name. 

These would include lemon basil, lemon balm, lemon verbena, and lemon thyme. They all add their own unique flavors and some are very strong- so sniff and choose wisely! 

Infuse herbs into syrups for cocktails. Or mince them up to use in marinades. You can also sprinkle them on top of a savory dish right after serving to replace lemon zest. Add them to soups for surprising flavor combinations that will “wow” your guests. 

Herbs can also stand in for lemon zest in jams, pastries, and pie fillings, giving them a certain “je ne sais quois.” They have the ability to make a recipe taste special and unique. 

There’s no direct ratio here for substitution since all herbs are different and should be used according to personal taste. Start small and taste as you go- better to have to add a little more later than to have added too much!

Lemon Pepper Seasoning

Teaspoon of Lemon Pepper Seasoning Blend

This pre-mixed spice is something you may already have stashed in your kitchen cabinet. Lemon pepper seasoning can be a quick replacement for lemon zest with a little kick. 

It’s best for savory recipes only due to the pepper, and it tends to contain some salt as well. Try it in marinades and on grilled meats and vegetables when you’re out of lemon zest. 

Remember, you’ll want to be sure to reduce the salt in your recipe if your lemon pepper mix contains salt already. 

Use about ⅓ the amount of lemon pepper seasoning for the amount of zest in your original recipe. 

Tajín Seasoning

Tajín Seasoning in a spoon

Tajín seasoning is a Mexican spice blend with lime, chili peppers, and salt. Given that it contains lime zest, it can stand in for lemon zest in certain instances.

You’ll want to make sure you don’t mind the extra spiciness that this seasoning will bring to your recipe. The chili powder will not only add heat, but also has its own flavor that can border on fruity. 

If needed, you can take the spiciness of Tajín down a bit by adding some sugar to your dish. Also consider adding cream, sour cream, or yogurt to counterbalance the heat and keep the flavor. 

This mixture goes best with savory dishes. It can also be an exciting addition to fruit salads and sliced mango, in the true Mexican culinary style.

To replace lemon zest with Tajín seasoning, use ⅓ the amount of Tajín seasoning to lemon zest.

Final Considerations for Substituting Lemon Zest

When substituting lemon zest, consider the purpose the lemon juice serves in the original recipe.

Is it to add a nice fragrance, like in a pastry? Was it to add a lighter flavor and sense of freshness? Or was it a primary flavor?

If lemon is serving as a primary flavor in a recipe, you may want to hold off on substituting it. In recipes like lemon vinaigrette or lemon chiffon pie, changing the main flavor will result in a different dish altogether. 

When using spicy substitutions like lemon pepper seasoning and Tajín, stick to savory recipes at first. Think about pairing them with meats and veggies to get that citrusy flavor with a bit of punch. 

If you want to keep lemon zest on hand at home in the future, it’s easy to do. Zest a few lemons and store the zest in your freezer in a freezer-safe plastic zip bag. It will be ready to go when you need it– scoop a spoonful out as needed and reseal. 

Frequently Asked Questions

How much lemon juice equals the zest of one lemon?

Use 6 tablespoons of lemon juice to replace the zest of one medium lemon.

Can I use lemon pepper in place of lemon zest?

Yes, though it’s best for savory recipes. Start by trying ⅓ the amount of lemon pepper compared to the amount of zest called for in your recipe. 

Can you leave lemon zest out of a recipe?

Yes. As long as it’s not a primary flavor in your recipe, you can leave lemon zest out. But do consider trying out a substitution for great depth of flavor.

About the author

Freya is a trained pastry chef with over 20 years of professional kitchen experience, cooking and baking everywhere from high-end restaurants to classical bakeries. Some of her interests include Qigong, foreign languages, and songwriting.