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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

We Tried 10 Methods for Making Lemonade and Found One Clear Winner

published May 21, 2020
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Summer is almost here; with the arrival of warmer temperatures, there are whispers of it already in the air. Before we know it we’ll be faced with sweltering hot days, along with a thirst that needs to be constantly quenched. With so much uncertainty around how we get to spend our summer this year, there is one thing that will surely help get us through: a tall glass of cold, refreshing lemonade.

Growing up in Southern California, land of American citrus, I’ve consumed a ton of lemonade. When I was pregnant with my first child, I went to Hot Dog on a Stick every day (no joke) to get myself a glass. I went there so often that even if there was a long line, they would pour me a glass and let me skip the line — a perk you only get when pregnant. But my favorite lemonade of all time is from a 95-degree July day at the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica. Their lemonade had that perfect sweet-then-tart flavor journey. I consumed it in what felt like seconds and then immediately wanted for more. This was the specific flavor memory I was chasing when I tested multiple methods for making lemonade: icy-cold lemonade that is sweet and then tart and leaves me wanting more.

In a quest to find that lemonade at home, I tried 10 techniques for making lemonade to give you the most refreshing, crave-worthy lemonade technique of them all.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell; Design: The Kitchn

How We Tested 10 Lemonade-Making Techniques

I selected 10 popular methods of making lemonade and tested and tasted them all at the same time. Some methods, like the simple syrup and classic, are probably what most home cooks are familiar with. The maceration and zest methods include using lemon peels for flavor. Some are really distinctive, like the roasting, stand mixer and blender methods. Although we selected recipes as guides, these reviews are less about the specific recipe and more about the technique involved in making lemonade.

I based the ratings on ease of method, time it takes, and, most importantly, flavor. Each recipe contains variants of the following items: lemons, sugar or sweetener, and water. I prepared all make-ahead components first — whether it was roasting the lemons, preparing a simple syrup, or making concentrate. This allowed me to make and taste all the lemonades on the same day at the same time. Some methods take as little as five minutes, while others can take up to 12 hours to prepare. Total times include maceration times and chilling times.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Blender Lemonade

  • Total time: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 1/10

About This Method: As its name suggests, Blender Lemonade is made by pulverizing whole lemons in the bowl of a blender. You start by cutting several lemons and a lime into wedges and transferring them to a blender with a bit of sugar and enough water to cover. Next you blend until all the citrus has broken down. Then you let the mixture sit, so that the pieces of rind float to the top of the blender. After straining the lemon-sugar mixture into a pitcher, blender lemonade is flavored a bit more with sweetened condensed milk. Blender lemonade will separate as it sits, so keep a spoon for stirring handy.

Results: While this may have been the simplest method for preparing lemonade, I found the flavor to be overly pithy. In fact, all I could taste was rind and not actual lemonade. I tried to adjust the flavor with more water, sweetener, and condensed milk, but nothing could save this. 

My Takeaway: While this method took just a few minutes to prepare and had the least amount of sugar, I found it to be the least appealing in flavor and also appearance. The milk eventually separates from the lemonade, which I think looks unattractive and creates more work in the long run. If you have a high-powered blender, I would halve the blending time to 30 seconds and go from there.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Lemonade with Lemon Extract

  • Total time: 5 minutes
  • Rating: 3/10

About This Method: Extract Lemonade (or Secret Ingredient Lemonade, as The Country Cook calls it) is much like classic lemonade but enhanced with lemon extract. You juice a few lemons, strain, and pour into a pitcher. When you add the sugar for sweetening you also add a full teaspoon of lemon extract, and top the pitcher with cool water. The last step is to stir until the sugar is dissolved and taste. You can adjust the flavor with more sugar, lemon juice, extract, or water.

Results: I found that the lemon extract gave the lemonade an artificial flavor that I did not enjoy. I also felt the recipe as written resulted in a more diluted-tasting lemonade.

My Takeaway: If you’re looking for a fresh, vibrant-tasting lemonade, this method is not for you. I recommend that instead of adding the water the way the recipe states, you start with 1 quart and add water to taste. I also found the extract to be an unnecessary addition, as it took away from the natural flavor more than it enhanced it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Classic Lemonade

  • Total time: 10 minutes
  • Rating: 4/10

About This Method: You already know classic lemonade — it is made from just lemon juice, sugar, and water. Most recipe calls for juicing a heap of lemons so you can make the lemonade withe equal parts lemon juice and sugar. In a pitcher, you combine the lemon juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves and then top with water.

Results: I found this method to have very middle-of-the-road flavor results. Yes, it was the easiest of the methods. It had nice lemonade flavor, but will likely need adjustments depending on the individual palate. The lemonade flavor was a little watered-down when assembled as written.

My Takeaway: This method as written resulted in something mediocre. I felt that more lemon juice and sugar should have been recommended to adjust flavor instead of adding water. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Roasted Lemon Lemonade

  • Total time: 70 minutes
  • Rating: 6/10

About This Method: Kitchn wrote about this method for making lemonade, so I knew I had to try it out. You start by halving and roasting the lemons, cut-side down on a rimmed baking sheet until the edges are lightly charred. After cooking and cooling, you squeeze the roasted lemons for their golden juice. This lemonade method says you can start by reducing the sugar (or, in this case, simple syrup) of your favorite recipe by half because the roasting method will enhance all those sugars in the lemon. So roasted lemon juice, sugar, and water come together in a pitcher, much like old-fashioned lemonade.

Results: The roasting method gave the lemon juice a beautifully textured juice that had lovely nuanced caramel notes. I found this method to be tasty, but it didn’t quite give me that sweet/tart flavor that a more standard recipe gives.

My Takeaway: This method is best for people who don’t like tart in their lemonade. The roasting removes that brightness and gives it a deeper caramel lemon flavor. I also found this might be a fun method to incorporate into cocktail-making, but it’s not the method for the lemonade I crave every day.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Zesty Lemonade

  • Total time: 2 hours plus
  • Rating: 6.5/10

About This Method: I tried this zested method from Food52 , which starts by making a “cheater’s Oleo-Saccharum.” Oleo-Saccharum, by definition, has you muddle sugar into citrus peels for hours. In this version, you rub sugar into the zested peels of lemons for a few minutes and then allow the mixture to sit for an hour. Then you make a simple syrup with the zesty sugar, adding a large pinch of kosher salt. After cooling, you strain out the zest pieces through a fine mesh strainer — pressing the solids to extract the lemon’s essential oils. You add lemon juice to the lemon simple syrup and then add water, stir again, and serve over ice.

Results: While I found this method to be tasty, I felt it had an aftertaste reminiscent of the powdered lemonade concentrates of my youth. 

My Takeaway: For the time invested in this method, there are other simpler methods that would yield you a beautiful fresh lemonade flavor without the unappealing aftertaste.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Simple Syrup Lemonade

  • Total time: 50 minutes
  • Rating: 7/10

About This Method: Simple Syrup Lemonade is an upgrade of classic lemonade, and has become widely popular in the last 10 years. You make a simple syrup that is equal parts water and sugar, then mix it with lemon juice and cool water. The hardest part of simple syrup lemonade is waiting for the syrup to cool.

Results: This was a nice, well-balanced glass of lemonade, but it did not hit any sweet/tart flavor notes that kept me coming back for more.

My Takeaway: The simple syrup method is probably the most popular and it did not disappoint, but I feel like it could have been pumped up a notch in brightness, sweetness, and tartness. 

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Lemonade Syrup 

  • Total time: 40 minutes
  • Rating: 7.5/10

About This Method: Lemonade Syrup sounds like the kind of ingredient you’d want to have on hand for making cocktails, but is also ideal for making individual glasses of lemonade all summer long. You make a super-concentrated simple syrup and add both lemon juice and zest to flavor this syrup. This mixture can be stored for up to a week. You can make this lemonade by the glass or by the pitcher.

Results: This had a really nice fresh lemonade flavor, but was the sweetest of all the methods with 3 cups of sugar! My youngest daughter really enjoyed it, though.

My Takeaway: I liked the lemonade flavor and thought the addition of zest really shines through, but I felt it was just too sweet. If you want to try this method, I recommend dialing back on the sugar a bit.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Macerated Lemonade 

  • Total time: 3-12 hours
  • Rating: 8/10

About This Method: Macerated Lemonade was popularized by Cook’s illustrated and Serious Eats. It involves juicing lemons, cutting them into pieces, and then tossing the lemons with sugar and letting the mixture sit to extract the most flavor possible from the lemons. (You can macerate the lemons for up to 12 hours!) To make the lemonade, you strain the fruit mixture, add the reserved lemon juice, and then add cool water to taste.

Results: I feel this is what the zested method is trying to be. The lemonade is a brighter, zestier version, without the artificial aftertaste, which I think some palates prefer. It was reminiscent of a zesty grapefruit, in a really good way. 

My Takeaway: This is the best method if you want to put a few hours (or more) of effort into your lemonade. It’s the most time-consuming and most laborious of all the methods. 

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Method: Stand Mixer Lemonade

  • Total time: 10 minutes plus 1 hour chilling
  • Rating: 9.5/10

About This Method: The stand mixer method is something we have written about here at Kitchn. Instead of juicing the lemons, you beat them in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle to knock out their juice and extract the skin’s oils. Then you strain the lemons and add sugar to make a lemony base that can be diluted to your tastes with water.

Results: The result of your lemons being juiced in this manner leaves you with a gorgeous juice texture and viscosity. The stand mixer method enables you to extract some of those delicious citrus oils from the peel and imparts a bright, zesty flavor into your lemonade.

My Takeaway: I only yielded 1 cup of juice for all those lemons, so I didn’t think it was the best juice extractor, but the lemonade itself had really good flavor. I felt you got all the pithy goodness of the macerated version but in far less time.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Cyd McDowell

Method: Lemonade Concentrate

  • Total time: 15 minutes
  • Rating: 10/10

About This Method: Lemonade concentrate isn’t something we’d considered making until we came across this technique from Real Simple. Similar to classic lemonade and the simple syrup method, this streamlined method makes a lemonade mixture that is super sweet and super tart but can hang out in the fridge until you crave a glass. The final lemonade recipe is the simplest with equal parts concentrate and water.

Results: This was by far the clear champion of the lemonade skills battle. It had the perfect sweetness level, followed by the perfect tart. I just kept taking sips over and over to enjoy that sweet/tart journey all over again. No other method had me going back for more the way this one did.

My Takeaway: There were so many things I liked about the concentrate. The simple syrup had a higher sugar-to-water ratio, and the lemon juice-to-simple syrup ratio resulted in the most balanced flavor of all the methods. It brought me right back to the Bob Marley Museum. Even better, you can prepare this lemonade in 15 minutes. You can store it in batches for later consumption. I also like that I had the most control with this method; if I didn’t want a whole pitcher of lemonade in my fridge, I could keep this concentrate on hand to make lemonade by the glass whenever I wanted.

Final Takeaways

After testing 10 different methods, I learned a couple of things.

  • Incorporate some zest into your lemonade. Even though I felt the concentrate method was pretty perfect, the addition of zest would give a certain brightness that you can’t get with juice alone.
  • Never add the full amount of water any recipe gives you. I found that many of the recipes felt watered-down. Start with half the water and then add to taste.

When we look back on spring 2020, we will remember this as the time that the Universe gave humanity a bunch of lemons. Lucky for you, I did all the hard work in finding out the best method possible to make lemonade. My remedy? Put on Beyonce’s Lemonade album and make yourself a tall glass of refreshing lemonade, get ready for summer, and you’ll be feeling a lot brighter in no time.