Lemons are a versatile citrus fruit that are used in a variety of recipes. Their tangy, sour juice can add flavor to savory dishes, dressings, marinades and baked goods. Many recipes call for the juice of 1 lemon, which equates to around 3 tablespoons (44 ml) of juice.
However, most of us don’t juice lemons from scratch anymore. We reach for convenient bottled lemon juice available at every grocery store. But how much bottled lemon juice equals a fresh squeezed lemon? Let’s take a closer look.
Measuring Fresh Lemon Juice
First, we need to determine how much juice you can expect from one medium lemon. On average, one medium lemon yields around 3 tablespoons (44 ml) of juice. However, that amount can vary based on the size and juiciness of the lemon.
Here is a more detailed breakdown:
- Small lemon: 2 tablespoons (30 ml) juice
- Medium lemon: 3 tablespoons (44 ml) juice
- Large lemon: 4 tablespoons (59 ml) juice
Based on this, you can estimate anywhere from 2–4 tablespoons (30–59 ml) of fresh juice per average medium lemon. If a recipe calls for the juice of one lemon, 3 tablespoons (44 ml) is a safe bet.
Comparing Fresh vs. Bottled Lemon Juice
Now let’s see how bottled lemon juice compares:
|Juice Per Serving
|1 medium lemon
|3 Tbsp (44 ml)
|Bottled lemon juice
|1 Tbsp (15 ml)
|1 Tbsp (15 ml)
As you can see, the juice content is not equal:
- 3 Tbsp (44 ml) fresh lemon juice = the juice of 1 medium lemon
- 1 Tbsp (15 ml) bottled lemon juice = the juice of 1/3 lemon
So when a recipe calls for the juice of 1 lemon, you’ll need approximately 3 times as much bottled juice to achieve the same amount of flavor. Instead of 1 tablespoon bottled, you would need 3 tablespoons bottled to equal a fresh squeezed lemon.
Why the Difference?
There are two main reasons why fresh lemon juice is more concentrated than the bottled version:
- Processing method: Bottled lemon juice is processed and diluted with water during manufacturing. The lemons are squeezed then pasteurized at high heat. This preserves the shelf life but results in some loss of flavor and intensity.
- Preservatives: Bottled lemon juice contains preservatives like sulfates and citric acid. These help prevent spoilage but also dilute the lemon flavor.
For these reasons, fresh squeezed juice retains more of the lemon’s natural oils and compounds, which translates to more concentrated, intense lemon flavor.
Tips for Converting Recipes
When adapting a recipe that calls for fresh lemon juice, keep these tips in mind:
- Use 3 times as much bottled lemon juice to match the acidity and flavor of fresh (e.g. 3 Tbsp bottled for 1 Tbsp fresh).
- Taste test the dish as you go to check acidity and add more bottled juice as needed.
- Consider adding a little lemon zest for extra lemon flavor.
- Reduce other liquids slightly to account for the added volume of bottled juice.
- For vinaigrettes or sauces, add bottled juice gradually until the desired tartness is reached.
There are some differences in the nutrition facts for fresh lemon juice versus bottled juice:
|Fresh Lemon Juice
|Bottled Lemon Juice
|11 per Tbsp
|4 per Tbsp
|1.1g per Tbsp
|0g per Tbsp
|0.4mg per Tbsp
|3.3mg per Tbsp
|14.4mg per Tbsp
|12.2mg per Tbsp
As shown, fresh lemon juice is slightly higher in calories, sugars and potassium. Bottled juice contains added sodium from salt preservatives.
The differences are minor when using small amounts of lemon juice for flavoring. But for large quantities, freshly squeezed provides slightly more nutrients.
In terms of cost, bottled lemon juice is usually cheaper up front:
- Bottled lemon juice: Approximately $2-3 for 12-32 oz bottle
- Fresh lemons: Approximately $0.50 – $1 per lemon
However, once you account for the difference in yield, fresh lemons provide more juice per dollar. When substituting for recipes, you need 3 times the amount of bottled juice compared to fresh.
If you frequently cook with lemon juice, buying fresh lemons and squeezing them as needed will be more cost effective in the long run.
Ultimately, fresh lemon juice has superior flavor compared to bottled juice:
- Fresh is more aromatic, bright and complex
- Bottled is more one-dimensional with some diluted, artificial hints
Professionals insist that recipes will always taste best with freshly squeezed lemons. The concentrated, vibrant flavor is tough to mimic with store-bought juice.
However, bottled juice still works well for many minor applications like salad dressings, marinades or adding a quick splash of acidity. Just be prepared to use more compared to the fresh juice amount.
Downsides of Bottled Juice
Despite being convenient and inexpensive, bottled lemon juice has some downsides:
- Diluted lemon flavor
- May contain preservatives
- Not organic
- Plastic waste from bottles
- Needs refrigeration after opening
Make sure to read ingredient labels carefully if you’re concerned about additives and preservatives.
When to Use Bottled Juice
While fresh is ideal, bottled lemon juice can be a handy pantry staple when:
- You’re in a pinch and don’t have fresh lemons
- Only need a small amount of juice
- Making large batches of salad dressing, marinade, etc.
- You don’t have time to juice multiple lemons
- Lemons are out of season or expensive
Just remember you’ll need more bottled juice for the same lemon flavor. And consider mixing in some zest for extra brightness.
Ways to Use Lemon Juice
Both fresh and bottled lemon juice can be used:
- As a marinade ingredient for meats, fish and vegetables
- In salad dressings, vinaigrettes and sauces
- In pie fillings and curds
- In cakes, cookies and other baked goods
- As a flavor boost in smoothies and drinks
- As a finishing touch or garnish for grilled meats and seafood
- In homemade lemonade, lemon water or citrus infused water
- To make natural cleaning products and stain removers
Lemons also provide the zest – the outermost yellow peel. It’s filled with aromatic oils and enhances lemon flavor. Make sure to zest your lemons before juicing them!
Storing Fresh Lemon Juice
Raw lemon juice only keeps for 1-2 days in the fridge before it starts to break down. For longer storage, try these methods:
- Freeze: Pour juice into ice cube trays or small containers. Thaw as needed.
- Can: Pour lemon juice into sterilized jars and process in a water bath canner. Keeps 12+ months.
- Acidify: Add citric acid or lemon juice powder. Increases shelf life to 2 weeks.
Proper storage retains the fresh flavor and allows you to juice lemons in bulk.
One medium lemon yields around 3 Tbsp (44ml) of juice. For the same amount of juice, you would need 3 Tbsp of bottled lemon juice. While bottled is more convenient, fresh lemon juice has a superior, more complex flavor.
When cooking, fresh lemon juice is worth the extra effort. But bottled juice can work in a pinch. Just use about 3 times the amount specified for fresh juice, and consider adding zest too.
With proper storage techniques, you can juice lemons in advance while retaining maximium freshness and flavor. Having an abundant supply of frozen lemon juice cubes can save time and effort while still giving you bright, bold lemon essence.