Ingredient Intelligence

8 Lemon Substitutes You Can Use in the Kitchen

updated Apr 20, 2022
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Tart, bright lemons are one of our favorite ingredients for everything from baked goods to salad dressings to a delicious lemon marinade for salmon. Lemons add flavor, of course, but they also lend acidity and sweetness. We have so many tips for making the most out of these golden orbs — from zesting them first, to microwaving every last molecule of usefulness out of them to using some to make a copycat of Starbucks’ beloved lemon loaf — but what’s a cook to do when the last drop of fresh lemon juice has been used up?

The good news is that that there are many pantry staples you can reach for when you run out of fresh lemons — or if you simply want to get creative with different flavor profiles. Read on for nine substitutions you can use for fresh lemon juice and zest in baking and cooking. You’ve probably got at least one in your kitchen right this minute.

How to Substitute Vinegar for Lemon Juice

When it comes to marinades, salad dressings, and savory sauces, lemon juice brings the acidity that makes meat tender and grain salads sing. You can find similar body, acidity, and flavor in white wine, sherry, or champagne vinegars. Replace 1 tablespoon of lemon juice with 1 1/2 teaspoons vinegar in savory dishes — but don’t go subbing vinegar for lemon juice in those lemon meringue pie recipes!

Credit: Yossy Arefi

How to Substitute Lemon Extract for Lemon Juice or Zest

Lemon extract can be your flavor hero when it comes to baking lemony desserts like Bundt cakes and lemon poppy seed muffins. It lasts practically forever in the cupboard and packs a potent punch. You’ll need 1 teaspoon of lemon extract for every 2 tablespoons of lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract for any lemon zest called for in a baking recipe.

How to Substitute Dried Lemon for Lemon Zest

Dried lemon peel, often used in seasoning blends for dishes like lemon pepper chicken, works well as a substitute for fresh lemon zest in salad dressings and quick breads. Thanks to its robust flavor, you’ll need much less dried lemon peel to get that fresh lemon zest flavor. For a recipe calling for 1 tablespoon of lemon zest, add just one teaspoon dried lemon peel.

How to Substitute Limes for Lemons

Other citrus fruit like limes make a great substitute for lemons in many dishes, both sweet and savory, including marinades, sauces, and desserts. To substitute limes for lemons, you can use a 1:1 ratio for both the juice and zest. Try it in this any-citrus meringue pie!

How to Substitute Oranges for Lemons

Like limes, oranges are a part of the citrus family, which means they can be used as a substitute for lemons in many recipes, particularly desserts, but also marinades and dressings. It’s important to keep in mind that oranges are much sweeter than lemons and don’t deliver the same tart flavor, but they have a similar acidic effect in food. To substitute oranges for lemons, start by using an equal amount of orange juice and build if you want more orangey flavor.

How to Substitute Grapefruits for Lemons

Grapefruits tend to be underutilized in the kitchen, but their mouth-puckering flavor makes them a great stand-in for lemons in both sweet and savory recipes. Grapefruit juice is particularly nice in salad dressings. To substitute grapefruits for lemons, start by using a 1:1 ratio for the juice and/or zest.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Any-Citrus Meringue Pie by Erin Jeanne McDowell

How to Substitute Sour Oranges for Lemons

Sour oranges, which are sometimes also referred to as bitter oranges or Seville oranges, can be a great substitute for lemons in many savory dishes. Sour oranges — or naranja agria — are common in certain Latin American dishes, including Cuban mojo sauce and Mexican cochinita pibil. Depending on where you live, you can buy fresh sour oranges at the produce section of the grocery store or bottled in the same area you’d likely find pre-made marinades. The flavor of sour orange juice is comparable to a combination of fresh orange and lemon juice, so use a 1:1 ratio to substitute sour orange juice for lemon juice.

How to Substitute White Wine for Lemons

In place of lemons, white wine can offer a nice acidity in cooked savory dishes — it’s particularly nice in sauces for seafood and chicken. To substitute white wine for lemon juice, opt for a dry white wine and start with a 1:1 ratio. And while “white wine bars” might sound like a fun idea in theory, they simply can’t compete with homemade lemon bars, so stick with white wine as a sub for lemon in savory dishes.