Simple Lemon Zest Substitutes

Lemon Zest
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Lemon zest can add a lot of flavor to a recipe. Unless you're lucky enough to have a lemon tree growing in your backyard, fresh lemons probably aren't something you have on hand all the time. If you're preparing a recipe that calls for lemon zest, and you don't have any lemons (or you just don't like the texture of the zest), try one of these simple substitutes.

Possible Lemon Zest Substitutes

The right substitute depends on your recipe, how much you need and what you have available.

Illustration of lemon zest substitutes.
The Spruce / Ashley Deleon Nicole

How to Make a Successful One

Replace each teaspoon of lemon zest called for in your recipe with 1/2 teaspoon of lemon extract or two tablespoons of lemon juice. It will give you the closest flavor match possible.

If you have dried lemon peel in your pantry, it can also stand in for fresh lemon zest. Since the flavor is more concentrated than fresh zest, use one-third as much as the recipe calls for. So, if your recipe calls for a tablespoon, you'll want to use one teaspoon of dried peels.

Have fresh oranges or limes on hand? You can use the zest of those fruits in place of the lemon zest called for. It will make your recipe taste like oranges or limes, instead of lemons, but you'll still have the look and texture of zest in your recipe.

If the zest is only being used as a garnish, another option is to leave it out simply. You can also omit the zest from your recipe if it only calls for a small amount. Your recipe may not taste quite as lemony, but it'll save you from having to run to the store.

When to Avoid Making a Substitution

If your recipe calls for a large amount of lemon zest, don't try to replace it. It plays an important role in the finished product. Adding a bunch of lemon extract or lemon juice won't have the same effect. They will, however, add a significant amount of liquid, and it may be enough to ruin your recipe.

It's a better idea to set that recipe aside until you have a chance to buy lemons. One exception to this rule is if you're okay with shifting the flavor to orange or lime zest. It won't work for every recipe, but it can work for some, and you might be delightfully surprised with the result.

How Much Does One Lemon Yield?

You can typically expect to get one tablespoon of zest from a medium-sized lemon. It is helpful information if you're trying to determine how many lemons to buy, or if you're trying to get your substitution right, and the recipe says something vague like, "the zest of half a lemon." Base your substitutions on this rule of thumb, and you should be pleased with the results every time.

A Substitution for Every Situation

Often find yourself out of an ingredient that you need? Be sure to pin or bookmark my complete ingredient substitution list before you go.