Lemons are a staple in many recipes and provide that bright, citrusy flavor that enhances dishes. But what if you’re out of lemons and need a quick substitute? Thankfully, there are several readily available ingredients that can be used in place of lemon juice.
Vinegars make excellent lemon juice substitutes in a pinch. They provide acidity and tartness similar to lemon juice. White vinegar, apple cider vinegar, white wine vinegar, and rice vinegar are all good options. Start with a 1:1 substitution ratio, using 1 tablespoon of vinegar for every 1 tablespoon of lemon juice called for. Then adjust to taste if needed. Vinegar works well in salad dressings, marinades, baked goods, and more.
Other citrus fruits like limes, oranges, grapefruit, etc. can be substituted for lemons. They offer that bright, citrusy flavor. Lime juice is the most direct swap. Use an equal amount of fresh lime juice in place of lemon juice. For oranges and grapefruit, you’ll need to adjust the amount. Start with 2 tablespoons juice per 1 tablespoon lemon juice called for. The juice may also need to be cut with a bit of water.
Plain yogurt with a tart, tangy flavor can work as a lemon juice replacement. Non-fat Greek yogurt is best. Use an equal amount of yogurt in place of the lemon juice in recipes. The yogurt provides acidity similar to lemons. It works well in salad dressings, dips, marinades, and more. The consistency may need to be thinned out with a little water or milk.
Buttermilk is another dairy ingredient that mimics the acidity of lemons. Replace lemon juice 1:1 with buttermilk. The tangy, thick liquid works in recipes like ranch dressing, chicken marinades, baked goods, etc. For a thinner consistency, dilute the buttermilk with a bit of milk or water.
Sour cream provides a tangy flavor that makes it a great lemon juice alternative. Use an equal amount to replace the lemon juice. Thin it out with milk or water if needed. Sour cream shines in creamy salad dressings, dips, and sauces.
The natural acidity of tomato juice allows it to stand in for lemon juice in a pinch. Replace lemon juice 1:1 with tomato juice. The red hue may affect the color of lighter dishes. But tomato juice works well in recipes like salad dressings, marinades, and sauces. Opt for low-sodium tomato juice and dilute with water to taste.
Tamarind paste is a very tart, concentrated product made from the tamarind fruit. It offers intense citrusy, sour flavor. A small amount mimics lemon juice well. Use about 1 teaspoon of tamarind paste per 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add to marinades, dressings, sauces, and more. Dilute with water to reach desired acidity.
Sumac is a reddish-purple spice with a lemon-like zing. It comes from a flowering plant and is used in Middle Eastern cuisine. Add sumac to replace lemon juice in recipes like salad dressings, chicken, fish, rice, and vegetables. Start with 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon sumac per 1 tablespoon lemon juice.
Citric acid powder, which can be found online or in stores with canning supplies, provides intense sourness. It naturally occurs in citrus fruits. Use about 1/8 teaspoon citric acid per 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Stir citric acid powder into any recipe calling for lemon juice. It works well in dressings, marinades, pie fillings, etc.
Fruit Juice Concentrates
Look for concentrated fruit juices like lemon, lime, pineapple, passionfruit, etc. in the freezer section or powdered online. Reconstitute the concentrate with water and use in place of regular lemon juice. These provide pure, intense fruit flavor and work nicely in both sweet and savory recipes.
The tangy, acidic liquid leftover from making cheeses like ricotta, called whey, can be substituted for lemon juice. Replace lemon juice 1:1 with whey. The dairy-based liquid provides a similar acidity. Use whey in recipes like salad dressings, marinades, and dips.
Verjus is juice made from unripened grapes. It provides a mild tartness similar to lemon juice. Replace lemon juice 1:1 with verjus, or use 2 parts verjus to 1 part lemon juice called for. Verjus works well in salad dressings, sauces, chicken and fish dishes.
Comparison of Lemon Juice Substitutes
|Substitute||Ratio to Replace 1 Tbsp Lemon Juice||Notes|
|Lime juice||1 Tbsp||Most direct substitute, use equal amounts|
|White vinegar||1 Tbsp||Provides tartness, adjust to taste|
|Orange juice||2 Tbsp||May need to dilute with water|
|Grapefruit juice||2 Tbsp||May need to dilute with water|
|Greek yogurt||1 Tbsp||Provides creamy texture and tang|
|Buttermilk||1 Tbsp||Provides tangy flavor, dilute if too thick|
|Tamarind paste||1 tsp||Very concentrated, dilute to taste|
|Sumac||1/4 to 1/2 tsp||Start with smaller amount|
|Citric acid||1/8 tsp||Provides intense sourness|
Tips for Subbing Lemon Juice
- Always start with a smaller amount of any substitute and adjust to taste.
- Cut thicker substitutes like yogurt with a little water or milk for better consistency.
- Look for tangy, tart flavor profiles similar to lemons.
- Consider the color and flavor the sub may add to the dish.
- Acidic ingredients like vinegars and citrus work best for food safety in recipes requiring lemon juice as an acid.
- Don’t use baking soda or baking powder thinking it will react like lemon juice, the results will not be the same.
- Store-bought lemon juice can substitute fresh in a pinch.
- Concentrates and citric acid powder can be kept on hand for longer shelf life.
Recipes Using Lemon Juice Substitutes
Greek Yogurt Salad Dressing
This tangy, creamy dressing swaps Greek yogurt for lemon juice:
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
Whisk together all ingredients until smooth. Store leftovers in the fridge.
Tamarind Marinade for Chicken
The tamarind paste gives this chicken zing:
- 1 lb chicken breasts
- 1⁄4 cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp tamarind paste
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp paprika
- 1⁄4 tsp cayenne pepper
In a bowl, mix the tamarind, spices, and olive oil. Add chicken and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 30 mins up to overnight. Grill until cooked through.
Tomato juice replaces lemon for acidity here:
- 1/4 cup tomato juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
- 1 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 tsp maple syrup
- Pinch each salt and pepper
Whisk ingredients together. Let sit 10 minutes for flavors to blend before dressing salad.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is lime juice the best replacement for lemon juice?
Yes, lime juice makes the closest direct substitution for lemon juice in terms of flavor profile and acidity level. Swap equal amounts of freshly squeezed lime juice for lemon juice called for.
Can I use balsamic vinegar instead of lemon juice?
Balsamic vinegar is thicker and sweeter than other vinegars, so it’s not the closest match. Stick to more tart, acidic vinegars like white vinegar, rice wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar when subbing for lemon juice.
What powder is comparable to lemon juice?
Citric acid powder, which is made from citrus fruit, provides the most similar intense sour lemon flavor. Use about 1/8 tsp citric acid for every 1 tbsp lemon juice. Tartaric acid or malic acid powders can also work.
Is orange juice an OK substitute?
Orange juice will work but the flavor profile is a bit different from lemons. Use about 2 tbsp orange juice for every 1 tbsp lemon juice called for. You may also need to thin it with water to reach desired acidity.
While lemon juice adds unique brightness, there are plenty of ingredients that can be used alternatively if you find yourself out of lemons. Vinegars, citrus juices, Greek yogurt, and tamarind paste all mimic the acidity. Just adjust amounts as needed and account for any differences in flavor, color or thickness the substitute may add.
With a variety of tart, tangy ingredients at your disposal from vinegar to sumac powder, you can still pull off delicious recipes requiring that citrusy kick even without fresh lemons. Give vinegar, yogurt, tamarind, and lime juice a try in your next dish that would typically require the yellow citrus fruit.