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Lemon zest substitutes (4 sublime alternatives to choose from!)

Lemon zest substitutes (4 sublime alternatives to choose from!)

Lemon zest is one of the most versatile ingredients to use in cooking. It can be used to make anything – from lemon chicken to lemon meringue pie. The sweet and citrusy flavor of lemon zest gives any dish a taste so unique that without it, the dish would simply feel incomplete. 

Unfortunately, though, lemon zest isn’t something you always have lying around in your pantry. 

Substitute IngredientRatio to Replace Lemon ZestIdeal Usage
Dried Lemon Peel1/3 tsp for each tsp of lemon zestMarinades, concentrated lemon flavor
Lime Zest1:1Recipes where a citrusy, slightly pungent flavor is fine
Lemon Oil or ExtractA few drops of oil or half the amount of extractRecipes needing a strong lemon flavor; use sparingly
Lemon JuiceDouble the amount of lemon zestRecipes that can accommodate additional liquid, tangier flavor

While there’s nothing quite like the tangy flavor that lemon adds to any dish, there are a few ingredients you might have available in your pantry that you can use as alternatives. These substitutes for lemon zest do their job and add a similar “zing” that lemon zest adds.

However, before you begin to use any of these substitutes, you must first consider the recipe that you’re making and identify what the flavor of lemon zest brings to it. 

This will allow you to determine which of the replacements of lemon zest would be the most suitable. To do this, you must first understand what lemon zest basically is and how it is different from lemon and lemon juice.

A close-up of a bowl of grated lemon zest on a wooden cutting board.

Substitutes for lemon zest

1. Dried lemon peel

Since lemon zest comes from the outermost layer of a lemon, you can get away with using dried lemon peel instead of lemon zest. The peel is dried to eliminate the bitterness, so this may not be as bitter as lemon zest, but since it’s chopped or ground, the flavor becomes more concentrated. You can use the dried lemon peel as a spice or in marinades.

To use this substitute, you’ll have to finely chop the peel and put it in a grinder. This gives you a lemon peel powder. 

Since it’s concentrated in flavor, use only 1/3 tsp of dried lemon peel in place of 1 tsp of lemon zest.

  • Ratio: Use 1/3 teaspoon of dried lemon peel for each teaspoon of fresh lemon zest.
  • Usage: Effective in recipes where a concentrated lemon flavor is desired, like marinades.
A pile of orange peel on a wooden cutting board.

2. Lime zest

Since lemon zest comes from the outermost layer of a lemon, you can get away with using dried Both lemon and lime are citrus fruits that are known for their tart and acidic flavor. Though both have a distinct appearance from each other, seeing as lime is green and lemon is yellow, the two have a similar taste. Lime zest may be more pungent and bitter than lemon zest, which is slightly sweeter. You can use this ingredient in the same amount as you would lemon zest. For example, if the recipe asks for a teaspoon of lemon zest, use a teaspoon of lime zest.

  • Ratio: Substitute lime zest in a 1:1 ratio with lemon zest.
  • Usage: Suitable in recipes where a citrusy, slightly more pungent flavor is acceptable.
Lime zest on a grater on a cutting board.

3. Lemon oil or extract

Lemon oil is what gives flavor to the lemon zest, which is why it can be an excellent substitute for lemon zest. However, it may be a bit too strong and pungent. Lemon extract, on the other hand, is typically diluted with water and has some food coloring in it as well. Both can be used as appropriate replacements for lemon zest. Simply add a few drops of lemon oil for every teaspoon of lemon zest that the recipe calls for. You’ll have to be more careful when using lemon oil as it is very strong. When using lemon extract instead of zest, add half the amount that the recipe requires.

  • Ratio: For lemon oil, use a few drops for every teaspoon of lemon zest. For lemon extract, use half the amount that the recipe requires.
  • Usage: Ideal for recipes where a strong lemon flavor is needed, but use sparingly due to its intensity.
A bottle of lemon oil next to a sliced lemon on a white background.

4. Lemon juice

This ingredient is not as concentrated as lemon extract or juice and is more acidic and tangy. So if you’re looking to add the sweet and bitter flavor that comes from the zest, i wouldn’t recommend this substitute. To use lemon juice instead of lemon zest, simply add double the amount of lemon juice that the recipe requires for zest.

  • Ratio: Use double the amount of lemon juice to replace lemon zest in a recipe.
  • Usage: Best when the recipe can accommodate additional liquid and a more tangy, less sweet flavor.
A glass of lemon juice surrounded by sliced lemons on a table.

What is lemon zest

Zest is an ingredient that you get by manually scraping or cutting from the rind or skin of citrus fruits, such as lemon, orange, lime, etc. It’s the outer layer of all citrus fruits, also known as the flavedo, which contains the entire flavor because it’s located right on top of the natural citrus oils from the fruit. Thus, the scraping of the outer, yellow skin of the lemon produces lemon zest, the most flavorful part of the fruit.

Is lemon juice and lemon zest the same thing?

Lemon zest is the yellow part of the peel, which holds all the essential, citrusy, and flavorful oils. Lemon juice, on the other hand, is an acidic and tangy liquid you get by squeezing the lemon. 

In other words, the lemon zest is obtained from the outermost layer of the fruit, while the juice is obtained from the innermost layer. 

While the two come from the same fruit, they’re quite distinct from each other in terms of texture and flavor. A zest gives a more bitter yet subtle note to a dish, while the lemon juice provides an acidic kick.

The bottom line

So, that was my complete list of substitutes for lemon zest! 

Most of these will probably not give you the distinct and unique flavor that the zest gives, but should achieve something similar. 

The choice of which substitute to use largely depends on what you’re making and how you plan to incorporate the bitter flavor. 

If you plan on adding the lemon zest at the end of a dish or on top, you can consider using lime zest or dried lemon peel as a substitute. However, if you planned to incorporate the lemon flavor within the dish, then we recommend using lemon oil, extract, or juice.

A bowl of freshly grated lemon zest next to lemons on a wooden table.