Lemon extract is a versatile pantry staple that can be used in a variety of sweet and savory dishes, anything from desserts to salad dressings. It’s made by soaking lemon peel in a neutral alcohol, such as vodka or grain alcohol, for several weeks.
This extracts the essential oils from the peel, leaving behind a concentrated lemon flavor. It’s sweet, sour, and packs a punch. But what happens when you come across lemon extract in a recipe but don’t have any on hand? Below are a few tricks you can use to get that bright citrusy flavor.
1. Lemon Juice
A freshly squeezed lemon can give you the lemon flavor you need for your dish, but there are a few things to remember.
One is that lemon juice is less concentrated than extract, so you will be using more (about 2 tbsp per tsp of extract). If you are using a recipe where liquids need to be precise, you may want to adjust the other liquids in your recipe. This will matter more in baked goods and desserts and less in something like a marinade or a stir fry.
Another thing to note is that the acid in lemon juice will cause dairy products to curdle, so this may not be a good substitute to mix with milk or cream. If you’re really in a spot and need to mix the two, try adding a tsp of baking soda per cup of milk to prevent some of the curdling.
2. Other Citrus Juices
Lime, orange, or even grapefruit juice can also be substituted with the same ratio: 2 tbsp per tsp of extract. Bear in mind that these fruits will have different flavors to lemon, and if lemon is the main flavor of your dish, they might not be suitable.
Lime is the closest substitute, but will be slightly more bitter. Grapefruit will be significantly more bitter, and orange will be sweeter.
3. Lemon Zest
Since lemon extract is made from the peel of a lemon, zest is another great way to get that flavor. You’ll want to only zest the yellow part, the white pith will be bitter and spoil your dish. Also remember to wash your lemon!
Lemon zest won’t change the liquid ratios in your recipe, but it may affect texture. Also it will add significantly less acid, so it’s best to use it for lemon flavor only.
Other citrus zests can be used too, but consider the flavors discussed above when using them. Citrus zest is generally substituted 1:1, but you can add more if you prefer more flavour.
4. Other Extracts
If lemon is not crucial to your dish and you still want to elevate the flavor, another extract might work in its place. Be sure to choose complimentary flavors.
Another citrus flavor would be better, but you may be able to use something like almond or vanilla. Consider your final product and whether or not you think the flavors will work.
5. Lemon Liqueur
Using a lemon liqueur like limoncello can also bring a bright lemon flavor to your dish. Limoncello is made similarly to lemon extract, but with the addition of sugar, so you may want to adjust the sweetness in other areas.
Substitute lemon liqueur in the same way you would lemon juice: 2 tbsp per tsp of extract. Depending on how much you use, who you’re serving, and whether or not it will be cooked or baked, you may also want to consider the alcohol content.
6. Lemon Essential Oil
Before using lemon essential oil, check to see that it is food safe. Many are, but some are made for things like aromatherapy and are not safe to be eaten.
Lemon essential oil is very potent, start with just one drop per teaspoon of extract. Then you can increase to your taste if necessary
7. Citric Acid
Citric acid won’t give you nearly as much citrus flavor as some of the other substitutes on this list. It is best used as a substitute when the lemon extract that is called for is used more for acidic purposes, such as preventing discoloration.
It will, however, add quite a bit of tart flavor, so only use ¼ teaspoon per teaspoon of lemon extract
Lemon extract is a great item for any cook or baker to have in their pantry, but now you won’t be lost without it!