Lemon extract is best described as a lemon concentrate since it has a much stronger flavor and aroma. Depending on the amount you use, it can be both the focal point of the dish or beverage, or add just a subtle hint of freshness.
It is an extremely convenient, easy way of adding acidity and lemony aroma without having to juice lemon each and every time.
If you don’t happen to have lemon extract at the moment and you need a quick fix, you’ll find a solution in our list of best substitutes for lemon extract.
The best substitutes for lemon extract
Lemon extract can be found either as oil or a flavored liquid, and it is made by soaking lemon peels from fresh lemons in neutral-flavored alcohol – usually vodka. The neutral spirit allows for the essential oils to be extracted from the peels, resulting in the lemon-infused extract. The final step in the manufacturing process is to remove the lemon peels and distill the alcohol to about 77%.
The extract is usually either a pale yellow or clear color, and it has a citrus flavor without the tartness and acidity of the lemon. Being extremely versatile, the lemon extract has numerous applications in cooking, including dressings, sorbets, custards, marinades, pickles, lemon-based desserts, and baking. It is a great source of pure citrus aroma, used both in sweet and savory dishes, as well as cocktails and other refreshing beverages.
When shopping for lemon extract, pay close attention to the label and look for pure lemon extract. The pure version of the product usually only contains natural ingredients and alcohol. Products not labeled pure, on the other hand, may contain many artificial ingredients you generally want to avoid.
Since it is extremely potent, you want to use lemon extract in small doses – especially if you’re looking for just a hint of citrusy lemon flavor. And if you don’t feel like going to the store to get some, let’s see what’s the best lemon extract substitute for your recipe.
1. Homemade lemon extract
Who needs the store-bought stuff when you can make your own lemon extract from scratch? We all know that homemade versions have numerous benefits since you’re able to cherry-pick the ingredients and monitor the quality.
You will need:
- peels or zest from 2 lbs of organic lemons
- 3 cups 80 or 100-proof vodka
Wash your lemons, then zest them or cut the slices in long strips, avoiding the white, bitter part. Fill ¾ of a jar with lemon peels, then pour the vodka over them, close the jar and shake well. Keep the jar in a cold, dark place for 4-6 weeks, after which you will strain the peels and pour the extract into another jar.
2. Lemon juice
While lemon extract is made from lemon zest or peels, this substitution for lemon extract comes from the fruit itself. You’ll notice that lemon extract has a significantly stronger aroma, and it tends to be less acidic due to the added alcohol. Lemon juice, on the other hand, is quite acidic – especially if it’s 100% pure.
Also, if you want to substitute lemon extract for lemon juice, remember that lemon juice isn’t as concentrated, so you may need to use more of it to replace lemon extract. Other than that, it is a perfect lemon extract substitute since it delivers that clean, refreshing lemon taste.
3. Lemon zest
Lemon zest is probably the best substitute for lemon extract in baking since it offers that tangy, slightly tart flavor you’re looking for. It is ideal for baking since it doesn’t affect the texture of the pastry, whereas lemon juice may react differently with the ingredients. The best way to zest a lemon is by using a zester, but if you don’t have one, a grater or a sharp knife may come in handy.
Being that lemon extract is essentially made from lemon zest, there won’t be much difference in the flavor or aroma if you substitute lemon extract for lemon zest.
4. Citric acid
Citric acid, also known as sour salt, may not be the most popular replacement for lemon extract. It is, however, rather popular in the food industry as both a food preservative and a flavoring additive. This concentrated powder has a rather sour flavor, and besides adding that citric aroma, it can preserve the food quality and act as a pH buffer.
This acid can also be used in place of lemon extract in baking, as it increases the leavening power of baking soda in pastries such as cakes and biscuits.
5. Lemon essence
While many people use the terms lemon extract and lemon essence interchangeably, they’re actually quite different. While lemon extract is usually made from fresh, natural ingredients, lemon essence often contains artificial colors and flavors. Also, they differ in texture, as lemon essence has a more watery consistency.
Lemon extract is a more quality, flavorful option, but it can be more expensive. Lemon essence, on the other hand, is rather affordable and offers a longer shelf life. Nevertheless, in terms of flavor and aroma, lemon essence can be a pretty decent substitute for lemon extract flavoring.
If you’re looking to replace lemon extract with lemon juice, but you’re missing the liquor – limoncello is the answer. Limoncello is a famous Italian lemon-based liquor, often produced the same way as a lemon extract – by soaking lemon peels into alcohol. It is very much lemon-forward, so you can replace 1 tablespoon of lemon extract with 1 tablespoon of limoncello.
Limoncello is an amazing addition to your lemon tiramisu, trifle, Caprese cake, lemon loaf, or tres leches. However, it can be a rather unique, unconventional addition to savory dishes such as limoncello shrimp, camp-cooking sausage, and rice.
7. Lemon essential oil
Perhaps you’re not used to using essential oils for anything other than massages and aromatherapy. However, lemon essential oil can be used in place of lemon extract, and a single drop can do the trick. Keep in mind that essential oils are highly concentrated, and a little bit goes a long way.
Before using lemon essential oil in cooking, read the label to ensure that it is safe for cooking. Only ⅛ of a tablespoon of lemon essential oil is enough to replace a tablespoon of lemon extract.
8. Lime zest
Since lime and lemon are both in the same flavor group, lime zest makes for a great substitute for lemon extract. Just like with lemon zest, you want to make sure that you’re zesting only the colorful part – avoiding the white, bitter part that could ruin the taste of the entire dish.
Since they’re quite similar in taste and aroma, you can use equal parts of lime zest to equal parts of lemon extract. Due to its vibrant green color, lime zest can also work as a natural coloring agent or garnish.
9. Lime juice
Lime juice is quite similar to lemon juice, the only real difference being in color. Therefore, if you need a tart, citrusy liquid replacement for lemon extract – lime juice can do the trick. Some people argue that lime has a slightly sharper taste than lemon, but other than that, the flavors are pretty identical.
Lime juice is ideal for ceviche, fresh limeade (yes, a lemonade with lime instead of lemon – you gotta try it), lime chicken, dhal, coconut and lime rice, and so on. It can be added to any dessert or savory dish for a kick of freshness.
10. Dry white wine
Since the lemon extract is essentially a mix of citrusy, fruity aromas, and alcohol, you want to look for similar alcoholic beverages to replicate that taste. Dry white wine is one of the best options since it has just the right amount of acidity and sweetness that isn’t overpowering. It is commonly added to meat sauces, pasta sauces, soups, marinades, and desserts.
For the best results, aim for a light, acidic, yet mildly sweet kind of dry white wine. Equal parts white wine to equal parts lemon extract is the ratio you want to go within the beginning, adding more if needed.
11. Lemongrass extract
Lemongrass is a type of grass that very much resembles the specific citrusy aroma of the lemon. This replacement for lemon extract is also available fresh and ground, but when it comes to substituting lemon extract, the liquid form may be the most appropriate. It can be used for flavoring, adding aroma, as well as for baking and homemade ice cream.
When cooking with lemongrass extract, remember that a little bit goes a long way since it is very much concentrated. A single teaspoon is enough to start with, and you can add more as you go. Use it in soups, salad dressings, desserts, or any other dish that could benefit from its light, fresh aroma.
12. White vinegar
If your dish is lacking acidity, white vinegar is the best way to achieve it without adding any other flavor. Contrary to balsamic and other darker types of vinegar, white vinegar is highly acidic and rather plain in flavor, since it doesn’t feature any additional aroma. Nevertheless, if you want both acidity and citrus flavor, you may want to mix a bit of white vinegar with a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice.
White vinegar is mostly added to salad dressings, with the addition of olive oil, spices, and herbs. However, you can add it to your sauces, dips, and marinades – just be careful with dosing, since it is very acidic and tart.
13. Apple cider vinegar
Apple cider vinegar has replaced white vinegar in many pantries, but it can also be a substitution for lemon extract, especially if you’re looking for a fruity, yet acidic blend.
If you’re substituting lemon extract with apple cider vinegar, note that the vinegar is more on the tang, acidic side. Apple cider vinegar is a great choice for salads, vinegar pork, braised collard greens, and barbecue hash.
14. Cream of tartar
While the name itself may lead you to believe that this is a cream, a cream of tartar is actually a powder. Also known as tartaric acid, this lemon extract substitute can speed up the creation of foam, create more texture in your cakes, pies, and fillings, and provide a unique tangy flavor.
When combined with baking soda, cream of tartar becomes a leavening agent, helping the pastries rise in the oven. It will give your desserts a puffy, smooth texture that won’t deflate.
How to choose a lemon extract substitute
Given the versatility of lemon extract, there are many substitutes that can replace each of its roles in cooking. When it comes to baking, lemon zest and citric acid can be used for a hint of citrus flavor, while the cream of tartar will keep your dessert fluffy and soft.
Homemade lemon extract takes the win since it has no additives or artificial colors or flavors. However, if you don’t have the time to make your lemon extract and you need a solution right away, lemon juice, lemon essence, limoncello, and lemon essential oil can all deliver that lemon-like flavor and aroma, whether you’re baking cookies, marinating meat, or preparing pasta sauce.
Lime juice, lemongrass extract, and lime zest all have flavor profiles similar to lemon and can add freshness and brightness to any dish. Finally, white dry wine, white vinegar, and apple cider vinegar are more acidic than lemon extract, but with the right dose, you can achieve the desired result.