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Out of Lemon Juice? Try One of These Swaps

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Lemons add a refreshing tang to everything from savory dishes to sweet treats. But what happens when you’re in the middle of making dinner or dessert and realize you’re out of lemons? There’s no reason to start panicking; you probably have one of these lemon juice substitutes in your kitchen already. 

A grater on a wooden cutting board with lemon zest, two halved lemons, and two whole lemons nearby.

A surprising amount of pantry staples can be used in place of lemons, each with its own unique twist. We will explore several substitutes for lemon juice so you can get back to cooking and baking without a trip to the store.

Why you need lemon juice

Lemon juice gives certain qualities to both savory and sweet dishes. Here are some of the reasons why lemon juice is needed: 

  • It is one of the most acidic natural ingredients available, so it helps baked goods rise and activates naturally occurring pectins to add structure to jams and jellies.
  • Lemon juice can be used to tenderize meat and season fish.
  • It provides a fresh, light flavor to desserts and baked goods like lemon bars or lemon creme brulee.
  • Lemon juice can prevent the discoloration of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • It balances out sweet flavors in cookies, cakes and other baked goods.

Common lemon juice substitutes

Lemon juice substitutes can change the texture, flavor or consistency of a recipe. Having the exact ingredient a recipe calls for is ideal, but it is not always possible due to allergies, dietary restrictions or not having it on hand. In these cases, these options are great choices. 

Lime juice

Lime juice has a similar acidity level, consistency and flavor to lemon juice. You can use it to replace lemon juice in almost any recipe, but it is best for canning and preserving food. Lime juice can be swapped in a one-to-one proportion for lemon juice, like I did with the macerated strawberries in this strawberry shortcake.

Orange juice

Orange juice is less tart and less acidic than lemon juice, but it is sweeter. It does have a different flavor, too. If the recipe calls for a large amount of lemon juice, using orange juice will most likely impact the flavor significantly. It can be used as a one-for-one replacement for lemon juice. 

A wire fruit basket contains oranges and limes, with part of a striped cloth visible at the bottom.

Vinegar

Apple cider vinegar, white vinegar and other vinegar can replace lemon juice, as they are tart and acidic. However, because of their strong taste, they should only be used in small amounts in dishes where lemon is a key flavor. Vinegar can be used as a one-for-one replacement when used in small amounts. 

“When I am making vegan buttermilk and don’t have fresh lemons on hand for juice, I substitute for apple cider vinegar. Although I always default to freshly squeezed lemon juice when making buttermilk, I haven’t noticed any difference in flavor or consistency when swapping in vinegar.”
— Sage Scott, Sage Alpha Gal

White wine

White wine is tart and acidic and has a similar consistency to lemon juice. It is best used in savory dishes and to deglaze pans. Dry white wine is best and can be used as a one-for-one replacement. 

Cream of tartar

Cream of tartar is a slightly tart powder often used as a leavening agent in baked goods. It is a good replacement for lemon juice. When using cream of tartar, you may need to add more liquid to the recipe. Use half a teaspoon of cream of tartar for every teaspoon of lemon juice the recipe calls for.

Citric acid

Citric acid is a tart, acidic powder. It’s a naturally occurring acid found in lemon juice, so it’s a great substitute for it, especially in baking. Citric acid is very concentrated, so you will only need a small amount, and you will have to add more liquid to your recipe to maintain the right wet-to-dry ratio. A quarter teaspoon of citric acid replaces 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.

Lemon zest

Lemon zest is tart and slightly sweet and works well in desserts where lemon is a primary flavor. Because it is a solid, you will need to add more liquid to your recipe. 1 tablespoon of lemon zest replaces 6 tablespoons of lemon juice.

Pineapple juice

Pineapple juice is sweet and acidic but thinner than lemon juice. Because the flavor is not the same, pineapple juice works best in marinades and dressings that call for lemon juice. It can be used as a one-for-one replacement for lemon juice. 

Lemon extract

Lemon extract is a highly concentrated lemon flavor that is thinner than lemon juice. It is tart and slightly sweet, and a little bit goes a long way. The lemon extract works well in desserts where lemon is the primary flavor. You may need to add more liquid to keep the wet-to-dry ratio the same. Use 1 teaspoon of lemon extract for every 2 teaspoons of lemon juice the recipe calls for.

Three bottles of vinegar with cork stoppers, a wooden bowl of olives, and sprigs of fresh basil and rosemary on a wooden table.
Photo credit: Yayimages.

Grapefruit juice

Grapefruit juice has a tangy citrus flavor and works well in marinades, salad dressings, cocktails and some desserts where lemon isn’t the primary flavor. It can be used as a one-for-one substitute for lemon juice.

Limoncello

Limoncello is a sweet Italian liqueur that has an intense lemon flavor. It works best in desserts and baked goods. Because of its high sugar content and alcohol, it doesn’t work well in savory recipes or dishes that need the acidity of lemon juice. Because alcohol evaporates, you may also need to add liquid to your recipe. Use half a teaspoon for every teaspoon of lemon juice your recipe calls for.

Celery juice

Celery juice is slightly bitter and works best in savory dishes and sauces that need slight acidity. Because of its vegetable taste and lack of sweetness, it doesn’t work well in desserts or other baked goods. Use half a teaspoon for every teaspoon of lemon juice your recipe calls for.

Final thoughts

When using a lemon juice substitute, it’s important to keep in mind that the recipe may not turn out exactly like the original. Follow the directions carefully, and although the flavor and texture may vary from the original, these substitutes can work in a pinch.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.

About Renee N Gardner

I'm the recipe developer, food photographer, and mastermind behind Renee Nicole's Kitchen, where I help create kitchen confidence to inspire home cooks to become home chefs. No fancy fads here, just high-quality, homemade recipes featuring seasonal ingredients.

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