5 Best Lemon Zest Substitutes

26 August 2022

What to do when you don’t have lemons around? Try these lemon zest substitutes.

Lemon Zest SubstitutesPhoto By Canva

Lemon zest can turn a dish from good to great. It’s incredible what the fragrant citrus peel can do. The best part? Using lemon zest is easy as long as you have some lemons around.

What to do when you don’t? Here are the best lemon zest substitutes. Every substitute for lemon zest is different, but they’re all wonderful!

What Are The Best Lemon Zest Substitutes?

Grate lemon, and you get fine peel shavings. That’s what we call lemon zest. The zesty ingredient is interesting, not only for its bright color that makes a lovely garnish but for the aromatic oil trapped in the fruit’s peel. The zest is called flavedo, the layer in citrus fruit that contains its flavor — better said, its aroma.

Zest is ideal for flavoring sauces, marinades, salads and salad dressings. And although the ingredient is deliciously fragrant and hard to substitute, there are some alternatives. These are the best substitutes for lemon zest.

5 Substitutes for Lemon Zest

Let’s review 5 substitutes for lemon zest: other citrus zest, dried lemon peels, lemon juice, lemon extract and other flavorings.

Lemon zest is a wonderful cake topping; it can make any bake deliciously summary. The fragrant ingredient also has a place in savory meals and can give life to soups and broths — it can even be the secret ingredient for a dry rub!

The thing is, not everyone has access to fresh fruit, and if you’re in a hurry and are trying to make a recipe with lemon zest, you’ll need to use a substitute.

The good news is that many lemon zest substitutes are standard items, and you might already have them in your pantry. The bad news? There’s no perfect substitute for lemon zest; although some alternatives will do the job just fine, they produce different results.

1. Dried Lemon Peel

Lemon PeelPhoto By Canva

If you don’t have fresh citrus fruit in hand, you’ll need a different zest substitute, and dried lemon peels are the closest thing to the real deal.

Dried peels often come with albedo and zest, so they’re more bitter than only the zest. Since the peels are dried, you can’t separate these elements. Having said that, lemon peels are a reliable zest alternative and are just as easy to use. Besides, dried lemon peels have an infinite shelf-life, so having a small bottle in your pantry is a good idea.

Keep in mind lemon peels are not nearly as aromatic as freshly grated zest. Essential oils tend to dissipate over time. Needless to say, dried citrus peels will work nicely in every recipe that needs zest. You’ll even find zest combinations made with several fruits on the market, which can give your food a more complex flavor.

2. Other Citrus Zests

Lemons are the most common citrus fruit used for their zest, but they’re not the only ones. Actually, you can use any citrus zest as a substitute for lemon zest for exciting results. Lime zest is bright and aromatic, and orange zest is richer. Grapefruits, tangerines and yuzu — all produce colorful and fragrant zest.

Citrus fruit is aromatic, thanks to the fragrant oil in its peel. We rarely find these aromas in fruit juice and pulp. All citrus fruit has a white layer right below the zest, and you should avoid grating it, as it is bitter. This is called the albedo, and you should stop grating as soon as you see it. Inexperienced cooks over-grate their fruit, removing the albedo along with the zest. When it comes to zest, any citrus fruit delivers, so choose with your eyes closed.

3. Lemon Juice

Lemon JuicePhoto By Canva

Lemon juice is an easy substitute for lemon zest. Of course, if you have a lemon around and need zest, zest it, not squeeze it. Interestingly, many lemon-scented recipes call for both the lemon zest and juice.

Lemon juice is tangy, so it will change your food’s flavor. Also, the juice is not as aromatic as the zest, as the fruit’s essential oils are not in contact with the pulp. Still, lemon juice tastes like lemon, and it will give a lemony feel to your meals, just like zest would do, just not as effectively.

Lemon juice will also add more liquid to the recipe. In the case of salad dressings, you don’t have to worry, but if you’re making a cake, the moisture matters. On the other hand, an ounce of juice won’t change your cake batter’s composition much.

4. Lemon Extract

We add lemon zest to food for its aromatic oil. These essential oils are only found in the citrus fruit’s peel, but people have extracted them for centuries. Lemon essence is naturally extracted from lemon peels, but artificial versions exist.

Natural or artificial, lemon extract, AKA lemon essence, will give your food the scents you’re looking for, although you’ll be missing out on the zest’s texture and color. Extracts are an ideal lemon zest substitute for muffins, cakes, tarts or any other sweet bake.

Lemon extract can be very concentrated, so read the back label and only use a few drops. Also, taste the extract first, as some might not smell or taste as you expect. You’ll find the most refined lemon extract in bakery supply stores. In this case, splurging a little might be worth it since good essences can be expensive.

5. Other Flavoring Agents

Most of the time, lemon zest is not the main ingredient in a recipe, but the flavoring agent. With this in mind, you don’t always have to substitute lemon zest with other lemon-flavored ingredients.

Almond extract, vanilla, nuts, dried fruit and seeds, and even chocolate are excellent flavorings that can give personality to your food. Lemon zest is delicious, but strawberries are too, if you know what we mean. After all, cooking is about experimentation, and improvising is always encouraged.

If you need lemon zest for a cake or muffins but don’t have any, why not use chocolate chips or crushed walnuts instead? If you’re making a salad dressing, add fresh basil instead of lemon zest — the result might surprise you. Yes, lemon zest is tasty, but hard to substitute; it’s not the only flavorful ingredient at your disposal. If you don’t have lemon zest, tweak your recipes a little.

Use Lemon Zest Creatively!

Lemon zest is absolutely wonderful, perhaps more than any other zest. It’s comfortable, familiar and easy to love. Use zest in sweet and savory meals, and use it as a garnish or as the main flavor. Zest is a versatile ingredient, and it can help you make your meals more attractively fragrant.

And don’t throw away those lemons after zesting. Make yourself a lemonade, use the lemon juice for a marinade or salad dressing. Drizzle the tangy juice over your favorite snacks and enjoy its lemony flavor.

Lemon zest might not be the easiest ingredient to substitute, but now you know five ways of working around the aromatic ingredient.

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