Lemon juice is one of those simple staples that often takes a dish from good to great. Whether you're adding it to salad dressing, a sheet pan full of vegetables, or your confectionery treats, that bright tartness is as delicious as it is distinctive. But what happens when you run out of lemons? Are there any good lemon juice substitutes?
Generally speaking, we advocate for using freshly squeezed lemon juice rather than anything purchased bottled, as the latter often has time to oxidize and is typically filled with preservatives, and will impact a dull citrus flavor rather than the bright punch you're looking for. (If you're nervous about having pulp in your recipe, that can always be easily strained out.)
The same can be said for lemon juice substitutes: Rather than reaching for something pre-purchased, why don't you try one of these fresh (or shelf-stable) substitutes instead?
Although limes tend to be more bitter than lemons, the juice offers up a similar pungent flavor. As the acidity levels of these two fruits are relatively similar, they can be exchanged for each other in a 1-to-1 ratio.
Depending on the variety of lime, the taste may verge on too tart-- if so, dilute with water.
Similar to limes, grapefruits provide an excellent swap when you're running low on lemons. Although less sour than a lemon or a lime, fresh grapefruit juice will provide a rounded sweetness to whatever you're making.
As their acidity levels are comparable, most advocate for swapping the two on a 1-to-1 ratio. However, I often add a little more grapefruit, as the flavor can be subtler (and there's often more juice leftover!).
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar is often found in modern homes for both cleaning and cooking purposes--as it should be, since it makes a delicious addition to many meals and substitutes for lemon juice well.
This versatile vinegar is sometimes recommended to replace lemon juice at a 1-to-1 ratio; however, we find the flavor to be quite pungent, and would recommend diluting with water before adding to any recipe, savory or sweet.
Although it is our third choice after limes and grapefruits, orange juice can be an excellent lemon juice replacement in a pinch. With a similar tartness and acidity to lemons and grapefruits, you can easily use the same amount of orange juice that you would use lemon juice--and who doesn't love freshly squeezed orange juice?
Do note, depending on your variety of orange, it may be quite sweet; if so, you'll want to cut down on other sweet ingredients to balance out your dish.
White wine can masquerade as lemon juice quite well, especially when creating brightness in pastas or sautéed dishes. (The best part? It's great for deglazing a pan). However, not any old white will do the trick; you'll need to have a dry white wine, ideally with a high acidity content. We recommend reaching for a sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio.
As with most others on this list, we recommend substituting 1-for-1.
If you live far away from a grocery store or don't have access to fresh citrus all year round, we recommend keeping a bottle of lemon extract in the house so you always have access to a little bit of that lemon-y goodness. Lemon extract is typically purchased at the grocery store, but you can easily make it yourself from lemon zest and high-proof vodka.
Note that lemon extract--just like all other kitchen extracts--are highly concentrated iterations of flavor, and a little goes quite far. We recommend only adding a few drops to any recipe. While it won't have the same acidity levels as many other ingredients on this list, it will impart the essence of lemon on whatever you add it to.
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