Orange zest is basically the outer part of the orange peel that provides not only the vibrant orange color but the specific zest aroma. Whether you’re trying to add a bit of colorfulness to your dish, or that refreshing citrus flavor, orange zest is the answer.
However, what do you do if you’re currently out of oranges, and a trip to the store seems like too much of a hassle? We’re quite positive you have at least one of these orange zest substitutes in your pantry.
The best substitutes for orange zest
Orange zest is the aromatic, vibrant orange part of the orange peel, and it has many uses in the kitchen. It is suitable for different kinds of desserts, marinades, homemade dressings, and pretty much any dish that requires a touch of that fresh, acidic citrus aroma.
However, before zesting an orange, it is important to ensure that the orange hasn’t gone bad. You can do so by inspecting it for any brown discoloration, mushy spots, or moldy smell. Also, you’ll know that the orange is no good if you squeeze it and it starts to ooze juices.
Now, the easiest way to zest an orange would be to use an actual zester. However, if you don’t own one, any kind of fine grater, box grater, or even vegetable peeler will do the work. And if you don’t happen to own any of these, slicing the orange zest with a sharp knife can also do the trick – as long as you don’t mind the texture.
When you’re zesting the orange, it is important to only zest the orange part, avoiding the white part as much as possible. The white part of the orange peel, also known as the pith, is quite bitter and could ruin the citrusy, fresh flavor of your zest.
The tangy, refreshing flavor of orange zest is an amazing replacement for vinegar, as it is far more subtle and mild. Try adding it to your salad dressings, yogurt, fennel cake, baked brie, cocktails, or pretty much any dish or beverage calling for a hint of citrusy flavor.
Whether you don’t particularly enjoy the taste of orange zest, or you’re simply on the hunt for the best orange zest substitute, check out our list and find the best solution for your recipe.
1. Orange juice
Texture-wise, orange juice may not be the most appropriate substitution for orange zest. However, when it comes to both flavor and aroma – there’s obviously no better match. Orange juice, especially when freshly squeezed, is an eruption of refreshing citrusy, tangy flavor that you can add to your salad dressing, cocktail, baked goodies, marinade, or even glaze.
A teaspoon of orange juice is equal to a teaspoon of orange zest, so you don’t have to worry much about measurements and proportions. If you’re using orange juice in cooking, make sure to add it in the final minutes, so it doesn’t evaporate and loses all its aroma.
2. Lemon zest
Lemon zest can easily substitute orange zest, as it is often used in the kitchen, and it is also a great source of that citrusy, refreshing flavor. When it comes to zesting a lemon, the same rules apply – you just want to focus on the colorful part and avoid the white part of the peel, as it can have quite an unpleasant flavor to it.
Just like with the previous substitute for orange zest, the ratio is 1:1, which makes this option one of the most convenient. Lemon zest is the protagonist in many dishes, including refreshing lemon bars, marinades, rubs, glazed baked goods, lemon meringue pies, and more.
3. Lemon juice
Grated orange zest can easily be substituted with lemon juice if you’re looking for a strong citrus aroma. When it comes to acidity, lemon juice is much stronger than the alternatives we’ve mentioned, as well as orange zest. However, if properly dosed, it can elevate any dish and make it bright and refreshing.
Due to its low pH level, lemon juice can also be used to get more texture in jams and jellies, as well as to help baked goods rise. Lemon juice has a recognizable sour flavor, and it is often used in Thai cooking, dressings, dips, steamed veggie dishes, and especially in fish and seafood specialties.
4. Lemon extract
Lemon extract is basically a concentrate derived from lemon zest, and it is therefore much more intense than the juice and the zest itself. This is an ideal orange zest replacement for those of you who enjoy the enhanced, dominant citrus acidity of the lemon in its full capacity. However, if you aren’t tolerant to acidity, you should stay away from this option, or at least be very careful when dosing.
Lemon extract is a result of lemon peels or zest being soaked into neutral-flavored, food-grade alcohol. You can easily make lemon extract at home, and all you need are lemon peels and a cup of vodka. Simply add your lemon skins into a jar, top them with a cup of vodka, and let the lemon flavor infuse the vodka for at least four weeks.
5. Grapefruit zest
If you’ve been throwing away your grapefruit peels, it is time you start saving them and incorporating them into your dishes. Grapefruit zest is definitely a mention-worthy replacement for orange zest, as it is just as tart and sour. Also, just like orange zest, it can add color to any dish, and even serve as garnish.
The brightly colored grapefruit zest is a great addition to salads, meat marinades, and it can even be frozen into colorful summery ice pops. Also, if you like tea, try adding some grapefruit zest or peel into your cup of tea for a hint of fruity aroma.
6. Grapefruit juice
When opting for juice alternatives, it is always better to go with freshly squeezed juice, as opposed to store-bought. Not only are all the vitamins and valuable nutrients saved this way, but you’re also avoiding any artificial ingredients that outweigh all the beneficial ones. Also, we can all agree that there’s nothing better than fresh grapefruit juice!
Aside from cocktails, mocktails, and other refreshing beverages, grapefruit can also be used in cooking. It can replace vinegar in your salad dressing, be added to sauces and marinades, and drizzled over grilled meats and vegetables. However, keep in mind that a teaspoon of orange zest is substituted by 1 ½ teaspoon of grapefruit juice.
7. Lime zest
If you love lemon and lemon zest, lime zest may be the best orange zest alternative in your books. There’s hardly any significant difference between lemon and lime, except for the size and the color. However, when it comes to zest, you’ll notice that lime has a slightly thinner peel, so a single lime usually won’t yield much zest.
Due to its vibrant green color, it is a great choice for garnish, both in savory and sweet dishes, but in beverages as well. While it can be added to marinades and salad dressings, it can also be one of the finishing touches for your dips, sauces, and even glaze. Lime zest provides just the right amount of citrusy freshness you need in more complex meals.
8. Lime juice
You already know that no guacamole is complete without freshly juiced lime! If you’re craving some Mexican food and you want to make guacamole from scratch, mash some avocados, then add chopped cilantro, tomatoes, garlic, and juice from one lime. Season to your liking and refrigerate for 1 hour for the best results.
Lime juice adds just the perfect amount of freshness to any dish, especially if it’s high in fat like guacamole. Add it to toppings, fillings, dressings, sauces, marinades, or use it in your cocktails or sangria. Lime juice is also an amazing addition to fish and seafood plates, as it provides just a dash of acidity to dilute the overbearing fishy taste.
Lemongrass, also known as Malabar grass, grows in large bushes. You’ll recognize it by woody stalks and pale green bases, similar to green onions. It has a refreshing, yet a rather complex aroma and the flavor can be described as a mix of lemony, gingery, and floral.
This orange zest substitute can be used fresh, finely chopped, grated, or processed. It is a flavorful, exotic addition to any dish, including meat, sauces, and soups. However, you can also find ground lemongrass, which is just as aromatic.
When in doubt – just add some vinegar! There’s hardly anything that can beat vinegar when it comes to adding that acidic, sour flavor to your dishes. It is easy to use, widely available, and it exists in numerous variants, including apple cider, balsamic, white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar, rice, malt, and so on.
Keep in mind that different vinegar types can give completely different results. Some of them are more acidic, while others are more mild and aromatic. As far as substituting orange zest goes, we’d choose apple cider vinegar, as it has that fruity aroma that could make up for the lack of citrus flavor in your dish.
11. Clementine zest
Just like lime, this orange zest alternative usually has a considerably thinner peel than the orange, so be cautious when zesting it as you want to avoid the bitter white portion. However, when it comes to flavor, clementine zest is one of the closest options to orange zest. Since it is a hybrid of mandarin and sweet orange, clementine is a bit sweeter than the typical orange.
Aside from being used as a citrusy flavor enhancer in baked goods, cocktails, vinaigrettes, poached chicken, and other dishes and drinks, clementine peels can also be used whole to make candied peels.
How to choose an orange zest substitute
The choice of the best orange zest substitute largely depends on the recipe you’re following. However, each of the mentioned alternatives can provide similar results, and they shouldn’t be hard to find.
If you want a citrus zest and would like to avoid the liquid alternatives, you can go with either lemon zest, grapefruit zest, lime zest, or clementine zest. Each of these alternatives offers that acidity and tartness, as well as the texture of the orange zest.
On the other hand, ideal choices for refreshing beverages, marinades, and sauces would be orange juice, lemon juice, lemon extract, grapefruit juice, and lime juice. They’re all fruity, citrusy, yet tart enough so the sweetness is not dominant.
Lemongrass is a more exotic, aromatic option that you can experiment with. Vinegar, on the other hand, is a safe bet for your salad dressings.