Short on Limes? Try These Substitutes

updated Aug 22, 2022
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(Image credit: Kesu)

Are you feeling the effects of the lime shortage? Due to a combination of severe weather, tree disease, and organized crime, imported limes are now scarce and expensive. While nothing can truly take the place of a fresh lime in a margarita, depending on what you’re making there are plenty of adequate substitutes. Lime juice substitutes include lemon juice, white wine or tamarind, while lime zest can be replaced with orange zest or lime oil.

There are many dishes that make the most of lovely limes. For desserts, key lime pie is a favorite. When looking for a substitute, consider the primary function of the lime in your recipe. Is it citrusy flavor, brightness, acidity? This can help you decide which substitute will work best. Here’s a comprehensive list you can substitute with lime juice or zest.

Lime Zest Substitutes

  • Other types of citrus zest: Although they don’t taste quite the same, lemon zest and orange zest can provide fresh, citrusy flavor.
  • Lime oil: Food-grade lime oil such as Boyajian Pure 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.

Lime Juice Substitutes

  • Other citrus juices: In most dishes, a 1:1 substitute of lemon juice will work just fine. (Cocktail chef Matthew Biancaniello is even using lemon in margaritas.) Depending on the recipe you could also try grapefruit juice or orange juice, bearing in mind that these are sweeter than lime. Kalamansi and kumquat juice are also good substitutes. In all cases, freshly squeezed juice is recommended.
  • Vinegar: Try apple cider, white wine, or other vinegars if the primary function of the lime is acidity (such as in ceviche). Vinegar may be more harsh tasting, so you many want to start with 1/2 the amount, then adjust to taste.
  • White wine: Although white wine is less acidic and does not have the same flavor as lime, a 1:1 substitute can work in some recipes like dressings and marinades.
  • Bottled lime juice: Pasteurized and lacking in oomph, bottled juice is usually best avoided. In a pinch, however, a good choice would be Santa Cruz Organic Pure Lime Juice, which is 100 percent, undiluted lime juice.
  • Black 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.
  • Tamarind: Tamarind has its own distinct sweet and sour flavor, but it can work in marinades, dressings, and drinks where you want a tangy element. Dilute tamarind pulp with water to the desired level of sourness.