9 Best Substitute For Lemon Zest

Lemon Zest Substitute

Lemon zest is the fragrant, tangy outermost part of a lemon peel that, when grated, can elevate any dish with its refreshing citrusy notes. It’s a versatile ingredient, lending its distinctive flavor to a myriad of both sweet and savory dishes. But what happens when you’re in the middle of a recipe, and you find yourself out of lemons? Or perhaps your dish calls for a subtle variation in the citrus profile? There’s no need to fret, as there are multiple substitutes that can ably step into the role of lemon zest.

From other members of the citrus family to different extracts and spices, these alternatives each offer unique flavor profiles and applications that can make your dishes sing. Our guide will walk you through the best substitutes for lemon zest, their uses, and even their nutritional profiles. Whether you’re a seasoned chef or a home cook, understanding these lemon zest substitutes can empower your culinary creativity, allowing you to navigate your recipes with confidence and flair.

What is Lemon Zest?

Lemon zest refers to the outermost layer of a lemon’s peel, grated into tiny shreds. It is rich in essential oils, making it incredibly flavorful and aromatic. Unlike the white pith underneath, the zest is not bitter, and it’s often used in both sweet and savory recipes to infuse a zingy citrus note. Zesting a lemon can bring a refreshing and tangy complexity to various dishes, from cakes, cookies, and pies to pastas, marinades, and cocktails.

Quick Citrus Swap: Substitutes For Lemon Zest

  1. Lime Zest
  2. Orange Zest
  3. Grapefruit Zest
  4. Lemon Extract
  5. Lemon Juice
  6. Lemon Verbena Leaves
  7. Citric Acid
  8. Sumac
  9. Dried Lemon Peel

Best Substitutes For Lemon Zest

Finding an apt substitute for lemon zest depends heavily on the flavor profile you’re trying to replicate or create. Each alternative comes with its unique flair, and understanding these nuances can help ensure culinary success.

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Lime Zest

The closest relative to lemon in the citrus family, lime zest, comes in as our first substitute. Packed with tanginess similar to lemon zest, it’s an excellent substitute, especially when the recipe calls for a vibrant, citrusy note.

The flavor of lime zest is slightly more tropical than that of lemon zest. It adds a fresh, tart, and mildly sweet flavor to dishes that can turn a mundane meal into a tropical delight. It’s perfect for Mexican, Thai, and other Asian cuisines, where it’s a staple.

Lime zest works brilliantly in desserts too. It can provide a twist to your traditional lemon bars or lemon meringue pie. However, due to its bold flavor, it’s wise to start with a smaller quantity and adjust according to taste.

Orange Zest

Orange zest provides a sweeter and less tart alternative to lemon zest, making it perfect for recipes requiring a milder citrus note. It is the grated surface of an orange peel and carries a sweet, slightly tangy flavor that pairs well with both sweet and savory dishes.

Orange zest is a staple in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cuisines, often used in marinades, salads, baked goods, and even in tea or coffee for a citrusy twist. Its sweet undertone makes it an excellent addition to desserts like chocolate cakes, where it complements the richness of the cocoa beautifully.

When substituting lemon zest with orange zest, use a 1:1 ratio. However, since orange zest is less tart, you might want to add a splash of vinegar or a tart fruit juice to balance the sweetness.

Grapefruit Zest

Grapefruit zest is another citrus family member that can substitute lemon zest in recipes. Its flavor is somewhat bitter, slightly sweet, and less tangy compared to lemon zest.

Grapefruit zest is best suited for dishes that can benefit from a more nuanced citrus flavor. It can be used in baking, sauces, salads, or seafood recipes, adding an unexpected twist to the dish.

Due to its slightly bitter note, it’s best to add grapefruit zest sparingly and adjust as per taste. Also, since it’s less tangy than lemon zest, consider adding a dash of lemon or lime juice to achieve the desired tanginess.

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Lemon Extract

Lemon extract is a more concentrated source of lemon flavor and can effectively replace lemon zest in a pinch. Made by soaking lemon peel in alcohol to extract the flavors, it provides a potent and intense citrus punch.

Lemon extract works particularly well in baking recipes, where it can infuse a strong lemon flavor without altering the texture, as zest might. While it does lack the fresh and bright note of lemon zest, it’s a small price to pay for its convenience and intensity.

Keep in mind, lemon extract is quite potent, so you’ll need less of it. Start with half the amount of zest required and adjust according to your preference.

Lemon Juice

While lemon juice doesn’t have the concentrated citrus oils found in the zest, it still serves as a decent substitute in a pinch, providing tartness and brightness to the dish. Fresh lemon juice can be used in any recipe calling for lemon zest, but it’s especially effective in salad dressings, marinades, or other recipes where a liquid won’t affect the overall texture.

Despite being a convenient substitute, it’s worth noting that lemon juice offers a slightly different flavor profile than zest. It lacks the fragrant, floral notes that zest provides, and its acidity is more prominent. To use, substitute twice the amount of lemon juice for the zest called for in the recipe.

Lemon Verbena Leaves

Lemon verbena leaves are an unusual yet effective substitute for lemon zest. These leaves are highly aromatic and offer a sweet, lemony flavor that can impart a lovely citrus note to your dish.

Lemon verbena is often used in French cuisine and can be an excellent addition to dishes like poultry, fish, marinades, and salad dressings. Its sweet and slightly minty flavor also works well in desserts and beverages.

Use one teaspoon of dried lemon verbena leaves for one teaspoon of lemon zest. Remember, the leaves are quite potent, so it’s best to start small and add more as needed.

Citric Acid

Citric acid is a natural preservative and flavoring agent that can substitute for lemon zest when you’re in a pinch. It provides a tart, tangy taste similar to lemon zest, although it lacks the fresh, fragrant note that zest offers.

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Citric acid is best used in recipes where the tanginess of lemon zest is the primary requirement, such as in canning, making homemade sour candies, or preserving fruits. However, be careful with the quantity, as it’s highly concentrated. For one teaspoon of lemon zest, you’d need just a pinch or 1/8th of a teaspoon of citric acid.


Sumac, a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, is a spice derived from the berries of the wild sumac flower. It has a tangy, lemony flavor but less tart, making it a decent substitute for lemon zest.

Sumac can be used in a variety of savory dishes including salads, rubs for meat and fish, or sprinkled over dips like hummus. Its deep, reddish-purple color also adds a beautiful hue to dishes.

As a substitute for lemon zest, use sumac in a 1:1 ratio, but remember that its flavor is less citrusy and more earthy and slightly sweet.

Dried Lemon Peel

Dried lemon peel can be a great substitute for lemon zest, especially in baked goods or recipes where the moisture content matters. The flavor is more concentrated and less fresh compared to fresh lemon zest, but it still provides a robust citrus note.

Dried lemon peel can be added to marinades, baked goods, teas, or even homemade spice blends. However, being dried, its flavor is intense, so start with half of what the recipe calls for and adjust to taste.

Substitutes for Lemon Zest: Nutritional Profile

Lime ZestGluten-free80.1g2.8g1.8g0.6g
Orange ZestGluten-free160.1g4.4g2.2g0.4g
Grapefruit ZestGluten-free160.2g4.1g1.7g0.6g
Lemon ExtractGluten-free00g0g0g0g
Lemon JuiceGluten-free40g1.3g0.1g0.1g
Lemon Verbena LeavesGluten-free20g0.6g0.3g0.1g
Citric AcidGluten-free00g0g0g0g
Dried Lemon PeelGluten-free160.1g4.8g2.8g0.4g

Note: The nutritional information is for a ¼ cup serving.

In Conclusion

While lemon zest is a unique ingredient that brings a refreshing tang to a myriad of dishes, we hope this guide has shown you that there are numerous possible substitutes. Each alternative has its flavor profile, usage, and nutritional values. Understanding these attributes will enable you to choose the right substitute that best matches your culinary needs. Happy experimenting in your kitchen!

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