Lemon zest is a great way of introducing a tangy and citrus-like flavor without bitterness. You’ll typically find it in the other parts of the fruit.
If you don’t have any lemon zest, there are a few different substitutes you can use.
What Is Lemon Zest?
Lemon zest refers to the outer portion of a lemon’s peel. This versatile ingredient works well in sweet and savory recipes and introduces a unique tangy flavor.
You can zest lemons with a citrus zester to create long strips of lemon peel. If you don’t have this specialized kitchen tool, you can use a cheese grater to create small shavings with the peel of the lemon.
You might need to boil your lemons to remove the wax coating that often protects fresh fruits.
Best Lemon Zest Replacement
If you have a recipe that calls for lemon zest but you don’t have this ingredient on hand, there are a few different alternatives you can use.
1. Orange or Lime Zest
The easiest way to replace lemon zest is to use the zest of another citrus fruit. Oranges and limes are excellent options since these fruits have the same sweetness you’ll find in lemon zest.
Orange zest will introduce some tangy notes to your dish, but it will emphasize sweetness. Lime is a better alternative if you’re looking for an intense citrusy flavor or want to add some exotic notes to a recipe.
You can also use the zest of a mandarin, tangerine, or kumquat for a sweet and tangy flavor. However, citrus fruits like pomelos or grapefruit might introduce too much bitterness.
Replacing lemon zest with the zest of another citrus fruit is easy since you can keep equal quantities.
Berries are an excellent substitute for lemon zest because these fruits have complex flavors that range from sour to sweet. You can emphasize the tartness that lemon would bring to a recipe by replacing this ingredient with cherries.
Blueberries are a fantastic option if you want sweet and slightly acidic notes while ripe blackberries can add tanginess to a recipe. Raspberries are the perfect combination of tart and sweet and strawberries will sweeten your preparation while adding a discreet hint of sourness.
The great thing about using berries is that you can mix and match different fruits to create unique flavors. For instance, a preparation with two-parts strawberries for one-part cherries will balance the tartness of the cherries with some sweet notes.
Plus, berries are an excellent source of vitamins and antioxidants.
Using berries as a substitute for lemon zest will work best in desserts. For recipes that call for using lemon zest as a topping, you can easily replace this ingredient with a handful of berries.
However, if your recipe calls for incorporating lemon zest into your preparation, your best bet is to reduce the quantity by half and use berry puree instead.
Note that using berries will introduce a semi-liquid ingredient to your preparation. You might have to reduce the quantities of liquid ingredients you’re using to compensate.
Depending on the quantities of berries you’re using, try reducing your quantities by 5 to 10% for the different liquid ingredients.
3. Lemon Pepper
Lemon pepper is a seasoning that typically uses lemon zest and peppercorns. It’s a common ingredient for seasoning seafood, but it’s a versatile ingredient that you’ll find in meat rub recipes and other dishes.
If you’re out of lemon zest, lemon pepper is one of the closest substitutes since it contains dried lemon zest.
Because the peppercorns introduce a spicy flavor, the result will taste a little different. You can use the same quantities if you don’t mind the spiciness of the peppercorn or use two-thirds of what the recipe calls for to prevent the peppercorn from overpowering your preparation.
It’s also a popular ingredient in Thai and Chinese cuisine, and you might find that substituting lemon zest for lemongrass introduces a fun Asian-inspired twist to your cooking.
You can find lemongrass as a dried spice, but you can also cook with fresh lemongrass. After removing the outer leaves of the plant, you should cut the bulb and discard it.
You should also remove the upper stalks. Slice the middle portion of the plant and use a food processor to turn it into flakes.
You can then substitute lemon zest for lemongrass flakes. It’s fine to use the same quantity.
If you want to give your dish an extra kick, add the upper stalk to your preparation and let it simmer over low heat for a while. The stalks will release a fragrant and citrusy aroma into your dish, and you can remove them before serving.
Tajin is a spice you’ll often find in Mexican dishes. The main ingredients are lime, salt, and chili peppers.
Chili peppers can add a strong fruity or grassy taste to a dish that you wouldn’t normally find with lemon zest. However, the lime will add a citrusy aroma that makes for a good lemon zest substitute.
Tajin will transform your recipe by introducing spiciness, but the result can be interesting. Plus, you can balance the spiciness of tajin by using sugar or a dairy product of your choice.
For instance, serving your dish with a side of sour cream can help neutralize the heat of the spice.
Because tajin is much stronger than lemon zest, you should adjust the quantities. Add a third of the quantity you would use for lemon zest and adjust according to taste.
Tomatoes are a great way of adding acidity and tanginess to a dish. Plus, many tomato varieties have unique flavors and characteristics.
Cherry tomatoes can be an interesting substitute if you’re looking for sweetness. A variety like Brandywine will usually provide you with an unparalleled mix of sweetness and acidity while red heirloom tomatoes like the Druzba variety will have more acidity.
Costoluto tomatoes are also an ideal choice for tartness.
The main issue with using tomatoes as a substitute is that they will introduce water content to your recipe. Plus, some varieties can taste bland or introduce a new texture to your dish.
You can avoid these potential issues by using sun-dried tomatoes instead. You can use a cheese grater to create flakes and use a similar quantity as you would with lemon zest.
7. Tartar Sauce
Tartar sauce typically includes mayonnaise and ingredients like pickles, dill, and tarragon. The result is a tangy condiment that goes well with seafood.
Tartar sauce can make a great substitute for lemon zest in savory recipes. Using mayonnaise as a base gives tartar sauce a tangy and slightly tart flavor while the pickles and herbs add acidity.
You can serve tartar sauce as a condiment and let guests decide how much they want to use, but you can also use half a tablespoon for one tablespoon of lemon zest.
Lemon juice can be a good replacement, but you should know that the juice of a lemon is more acidic than its zest. Acidity often overpowers the tangy notes, and you won’t get the same delicate sweet notes that lemon zest would bring out in your preparation.
However, lemon juice can be an easy option if you mostly want to use lemon zest to get a strong citrusy flavor.
You can use a similar quantity of lemon juice or reduce it by half if you don’t want too much acidity. You can also add some sugar or honey to reduce the acidity.
Dried lemon peel is an excellent alternative since it’s essentially the same thing as lemon zest. However, drying the peel can bring out the bitterness of the citrus fruit.
However, dried lemon peel is very easy to make. You can zest a lemon and keep the peel for up to three years in an airtight container.
Keeping some dried lemon peel around ensures that you will never run out of lemon zest, even though the taste might be slightly different.
Because dried peel can taste a little more bitter than fresh lemon zest, consider adding sugar or honey to your recipe.
While lemon oil has many health benefits when applied topically, it’s not necessarily a good substitute for lemon zest.
First of all, you need to make sure you’re using food-grade essential oil. These oils tend to cost more and can be hard to find. Most manufacturers offer oils that are safe for aromatherapy but not for cooking.
Secondly, lemon oil comes from the skin of the fruit. Manufacturers use the entire skin, including the outer layer and the white part known as the pith.
The pith is not an ingredient used in cooking because it’s extremely bitter. As a result, lemon oil can have a bitter taste that is unpleasant in cooking.