What Can I Substitute for Lemon Extract? Try These 8 Things Instead

Lemon extract can be considered a staple in baking cabinets everywhere. Whether you are baking a tart lemon cake, making a salad dressing, or making a lemon pasta there are so many reasons to keep lemon extract on hand. 

There are several options to use as a substitute for lemon extract. Depending on the recipe, you can use: lemon juice, other citrus juices, some citrus zest, or even a liqueur. 

There is always a plan B and being a little creative is part of the fun!

What is Lemon Extract

Much like other ‘extracts’ found on the baking aisle, lemon extract is made by pulling (or extracting) the lemon flavor from a lemon peel. This is done by steeping the lemon peel in alcohol, or sometimes even oil. The alcohol pulls the lemon flavor from the fresh peel making it very concentrated. 

The alcohol also helps take away any bitterness and acidity from the lemon, making this a very potent lemon flavoring, ideal in many recipes. Using just a little goes a long way.

Is Lemon Juice and Lemon Extract the Same? 

While lemon extract is made from real lemons, it is not the same thing as lemon juice. Lemon juice is simply pure freshly squeezed juice of a lemon. 

Lemon extract is made from lemon peel and alcohol and is a much more concentrated flavor. The alcohol used to make lemon extract diminishes the acidity which is especially good if you are making something involving dairy. 

What Can I Substitute Lemon Extract With?   

Finding a good substitute for lemon extract is easy to do. There are a few things to consider though when determining what to use as a substitute. The ratios may need to be adjusted or how you use the product can vary slightly depending on what you are making. 

1. Lemon Juice

You really can’t beat fresh squeezed lemon juice. While using lemon extract in recipes is convenient, sometimes you need a substitute and why not use the real deal? 

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A few things to take into consideration when using lemon juice as a replacement for lemon extract are: 

  • Lemon juice mixed with dairy can cause it to curdle. While you can make a quick homemade buttermilk this way, that may not be what you are needing in your recipe. Mixing the lemon juice with another liquid before adding it to the milk (or stirring it in at the end) will help temper the ingredients. 
  • Because lemon extract is concentrated, recipes typically only call for a small amount (less than 1 teaspoon). You would more than likely need much more lemon juice to get that strong lemon flavor. Consider using 2-3 tablespoons of lemon juice to replace 1 teaspoon of lemon extract.
  • Using freshly squeezed lemon juice will also have a little pulp in it. This usually is not a problem in your recipe but definitely worth keeping in mind. 

2. Lemon Zest

Lemon zest is a great ingredient to use instead of lemon extract. Because there is so much flavor and oil in the peel, it does a good job of providing that same lemon flavor you get from the extract. 

Using a micro plane, or citrus seater, you can use the same amount of zest as lemon extract. Also, be careful not to get any of the white pith, as that will have an incredibly bitter taste. 

When using the peel, you also don’t have to worry about it reacting to dairy products so you can add it to any dish. It is also common to use both a little lemon zest and lemon juice to get maximum flavor. 

3. Lemon Essential Oil

The essential oils have become increasingly popular for multiple reasons. Used for a variety of reasons, such as: medicinal purposes, as a fragrance, or even mixed in a cleaning solution – their uses are almost endless. 

Lemon essential oil can be used as a substitute for lemon extract, however, you MUST check that it is food safe. Not all essential oils are and it should clearly say on the bottle if it is food safe. 

4. Lime Zest or Juice

Using lime zest or lime juice make for a good replacement for lemon extract. The lime juice will have the same effect on dairy as lemon juice but provides the same acidity and tartness as a lemon. Key limes in particular make a good substitute as they have a sweeter flavor and can be less tart than regular limes. 

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5. Orange Zest and Juice

Another great citrus substitute for lemon extract is orange zest or orange juice. Orange peels have more oil in them making the zest a great choice. There are many varieties of oranges, all with different flavors, some sweet and some tart. You may need to taste one before using it in your recipe to see if it will work well. 

6. Limoncello   

Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur that makes an excellent substitute for lemon extract. While it does have a concentrated lemon flavor, you will need to consider at least doubling the amount of using it in replace of lemon extract. 

7. Other Extracts

If you are like most home cooks, you have several different extracts in your baking cabinet. If you don’t have any lemon extract, you can replace it with other extracts, as long as the flavor compliments what you are making. 

Orange, almond, and vanilla extracts all make good substitutes, depending on what you are making.

8. Lemon Infused Oil

 Lemon infused oil makes for a great lemon extract substitute, especially in savory applications. Lemon oil is simply oil (usually an extra virgin olive oil) that has been infused with lemon peels. Using this in salad dressing or even to cook with is an excellent idea. 

If using a lemon infused oil in baking, you may only want to use a small amount as the added oil could alter the recipe. If there is already regular oil in the mix, you can also reduce it to take in effect the lemon oil. 

Can You Make Homemade Lemon Extract?

Making your own lemon extract is a great idea and a lot easier than you may think! It also makes a great homemade gift and is fun to do. You need only a few ingredients and you will be ready to go!

How to Make Homemade Lemon Extract

If making lemon extract, plan ahead as it takes several weeks to fully develop the flavor. Gather all your ingredients and tools together to make the process easy. 

Ingredients 

  • 2 – 3 lemons 
  • Vodka (the cheap stuff is just fine!)
  • Peeler, zested, or sharp knife
  • Clean glass jar – a mason jar works great!
  • Fine mesh strainer, although you won’t need this for 4-6 weeks 

Wash your lemons ahead of time and allow to dry before using. If you are wanting to make several jars as gifts, you can make one big batch and then pour the extract into individual jars when it’s ready. 

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Steps

  1. Zest or peel all of your lemons and place in the cleaned jar. Make sure you don’t get any of the bitter white pith of the peel. 
  2. Add enough vodka to completely submerge the lemon peels. One-half of a cup should be plenty for 2-3 lemons, but if you need more that is fine.  
  3. Put the lid on tightly and shake the mixture. 
  4. Continue to shake the mixture at least once per week for 4-6 weeks (or if you’re really patient, do it for 8 weeks!). 
  5. Once the lemon peel has steeped for 4-6 weeks, strain the extract into a clean jar and keep in your pantry. 
  6. If making this as a gift, pour the strained extract into several small jars and it is ready to go! Using a funnel may be beneficial so as not to spill.

The lemon extract will be good for several years, if you can keep it for that long! 

Frequently Asked Questions

While lemon extract may be a staple for some, not everyone is familiar with it or other lemon products. Here’s some answers to common lemon questions.

Can I put lemon extract in my water?

You can most definitely add lemon extract to your water, tea, sparkling water, cocktail, the list goes on… Lemon extract can be a refreshing flavor enhancer to most beverages. 

Remember though that the lemon extract is a very concentrated flavor so you won’t need to add much to your drink. 

What happens when you drink lemon water for 7 days?

Drinking lemon in your water not only tastes great, it also has some great health benefits. Drinking lemon water for 7 days can help your digestive system, kickstart your metabolism, provides a boost in vitamins, and can help with weight loss. 

Is lemon extract the same as vanilla extract?

Lemon extract is not the same as vanilla extract, as they are two completely different flavor profiles. Although the process to make both extracts is similar. Vanilla extract is made by steeping a vanilla bean in alcohol and lemon extract is made by steeping lemon peels in alcohol.

To End

Lemon extract is such a great ingredient to keep on hand for baking sweet desserts and for using in savory recipes. It not only has a long shelf life, it is also relatively inexpensive. However, if you find yourself without lemon extract and need some for a recipe, you can use a variety of great substitutes to replace it.