How to Substitute Limes in Any Recipe

updated Apr 24, 2024
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Limes bring both freshness and tart flavor to everything from key lime pie to classic guacamole. And what’s a Mexican margarita without lime juice? So what’s one to do if you’re about to grill up some tequila-lime chicken and find yourself without any limes? 

First thing’s first, the best lime substitute depends on what you’re cooking. A good substitute for limes in a cookie may not work in a savory sauce, for example. When looking for a substitute, consider the primary function of the lime in your recipe. Are you after its citrusy flavor, brightness, or acidity? This can help you decide which substitute will work best.

The obvious choice if you’re out of limes is lemons. Lemons have a similar, but distinct flavor from limes and make an ideal substitute. If you don’t happen to have the perfect swap however, read on for other good substitutes.

Lime Zest Substitutes

  • Other types of citrus zest. All citrus does not have the exact same flavor as limes, but they can deliver a similar fresh, citrusy flavor. Try lemon, orange, or even grapefruit zest.
  • Lime oil. Food-grade lime oil can provide a concentrated burst of flavor. For baked goods and desserts, try 1/4 teaspoon of oil for every 1 teaspoon of lime zest. For fresh dishes like salads, you may want to use just a couple drops.
  • Ground lime. Ground black lime, also known as dried lime or loomi, is used as a spice in Middle Eastern cooking. Lacking the sweetness of fresh lime, black lime has a deep sour lime flavor with a slightly fermented, umami note. It is particularly good for savory dishes.

Lime Juice Substitutes

  • Other citrus juices. In most dishes, a 1:1 substitute of lemon juice will work just fine. Depending on the recipe you could also try grapefruit juice or orange juice, bearing in mind that these are sweeter than lime. Calamansi lemons and tiny kumquats are also good substitutes. In all cases, freshly squeezed juice is recommended.
  • Vinegar. Try apple cider, white wine, or other mild vinegars if the primary function of the lime is acidity (like a shrimp ceviche). Vinegar can be more powerful than lime juice though, so start with half the amount called for, then adjust to taste.
  • Bottled lime juice. Pasteurized and lacking in oomph, bottled juice is usually best avoided. In a pinch, however, look for 100 percent, undiluted lime juice.