What can I use instead of limes in marinade?

Marinades are an essential part of many delicious recipes. They tenderize meats, add flavor, and help foods absorb spices and seasonings. While lime juice is a popular marinade ingredient, you may find yourself without limes on occasion. Fortunately, there are many great substitutes for lime juice that can help you achieve a bright, citrusy marinade.

Why Use Acidic Ingredients in a Marinade?

Before exploring lime alternatives, it’s helpful to understand why acidic ingredients like lime juice are so useful in marinades. Here are some of the key benefits:

  • Tenderizes meat: Acidic ingredients like lime juice help break down tough connective tissues in meats to make them more tender.
  • Brightens flavor: The tangy, citrusy taste of limes perks up the other flavors in a marinade.
  • Helps absorb seasonings: Acidity helps draw spices, herbs and other flavors into the meat or veggies you are marinating.
  • Provides moisture: The liquid in acidic ingredients like lime juice helps keep foods moist as they marinate.

Any substitute for lime juice in a marinade should provide these same benefits. Let’s look at some options!

Lemon Juice

One of the easiest 1:1 swaps for lime juice is lemon juice. Lemon juice has a very similar tart, citrusy flavor that can brighten up a marinade. It tenderizes meats, helps absorb flavors, and provides moisture just like lime juice does.

Simply use the same amount of fresh squeezed lemon juice that your recipe calls for lime juice. The acidity level is very close between limes and lemons so you typically don’t need to adjust the marinating time.


All types of vinegar can substitute for lime juice in marinades. They provide the critical acidity needed to tenderize and infuse flavor. Here are some of the most popular vinegars to use:

  • Apple cider vinegar: This has a mild fruitiness that works well in many marinades.
  • White vinegar: A very clean flavor that lets other ingredients shine through.
  • Rice vinegar: Made from fermented rice wine; has a mild sweetness.
  • Balsamic vinegar: Sweet and tart; use sparingly as it has a bold flavor.
  • Red or white wine vinegar: Distinct wine flavors complement vegetables and lighter meats well.

You can substitute vinegar 1:1 for lime juice, but consider adding a bit of sugar or honey to balance out the strong acidic taste in long marinating recipes. Mix 1 tablespoon sugar with each 1/4 cup of vinegar.

Orange Juice

Orange juice contains citric and ascorbic acids that make it an excellent lime juice substitute in marinades. It gives a sweetness and mild tropical flavor that pairs well with seafood, chicken, vegetables and more.

Use an equal amount of fresh squeezed orange juice in place of lime juice in your marinades. The thicker consistency of orange juice can slow down the marinating time slightly, so you may want to add a bit more liquid to thin it out.

Pineapple Juice

Pineapple juice offers tropical fruit flavors along with plenty of acidity to break down tough meats and tenderize vegetables. It works especially well in Hawaiian, Asian or Latin American style marinades.

Replace lime juice with an equal amount of pineapple juice. Be aware that pineapple juice is thinner than lime juice, so you may need to reduce the marinating time slightly to avoid over-tenderizing meats.

Tomato Juice or Tomatoes

Tomatoes are an acidic fruit that can substitute for limes when juiced or pureed. Tomatoes pair well with bold meats like beef and lamb.

Substitute fresh tomato juice 1:1 for lime juice in marinades. For whole tomatoes, puree 1 pound of tomatoes and substitute that for 1/4 cup lime juice.


The acids in white and red wine tenderize meats beautifully. Dry white wines like Sauvignon Blanc add vibrant, fruity flavors. Bold reds like Cabernet Sauvignon pair well with hearty meats.

Replace lime juice with an equal amount of white or red wine. You may want to reduce any added salt in the marinade since wine contributes its own savoriness.


Tangy, thick buttermilk is a great lime juice substitute in marinades, especially for chicken. The lactic acid tenderizes the meat. Butterilk also adds richness, moisture and flavor.

Use a 1:1 ratio to replace lime juice with buttermilk. Since it’s thicker, you may want to thin it out with a bit of water or milk to evenly coat foods.


Plain yogurt is another dairy ingredient that substitutes well for lime juice. The lactic acid helps tenderize meats. Yogurt also adds thickness, tanginess, and moisture.

Replace lime juice 1:1 with plain yogurt. Greek yogurt is particularly nice and thick for marinades. Thin it with a bit of milk or water for better coverage.

Tamarind Juice or Paste

Popular in Indian, Thai and African cuisines, tamarind provides a very sour, fruity taste. It contains high levels of tartaric and malic acids that help tenderize meats.

Substitute tamarind juice 1:1 for lime juice in marinades. If using tamarind paste, mix 1 tablespoon paste with 1/4 cup water to replace 1/4 cup lime juice.

Summary Comparison of Lime Juice Substitutes

To summarize the best lime juice substitutes, here is a comparison of popular options:

Substitute Flavor Notes Benefits
Lemon juice Bright, tart citrus Very similar acidity and uses as lime; easy 1:1 swap
Vinegar Sharp, tangy Provides acidity for tenderizing; may need sweetener
Orange juice Sweet citrus Acidity tenderizes; adds nice fruitiness
Pineapple juice Tropical, sweet-tart Tenderizes well but faster than lime; fruity flavor
Tomato juice Savory, umami Acidity substitutes for lime; great with beef
Wine Fruity, tannic, acidic Tenderizes; white brightens, red adds boldness
Buttermilk Cool, tangy Tenderizes chicken beautifully; adds richness
Yogurt Tangy, creamy Lactic acid tenderizes; provides thickness
Tamarind Sour, tropical Intense sourness substitutes for lime well

Tips for Getting the Most Out of Lime Substitutes

When using lime juice alternatives in your marinades, keep these tips in mind:

  • Taste and adjust acidity as needed. More mild substitutes may need an acid boost from a splash of vinegar.
  • Consider texture – thinner substitutes like juice or wine may require longer marinating than thicker buttermilk or yogurt.
  • Flip and stir foods frequently to ensure even exposure to marinade.
  • If marinade contains salt, reduce amount slightly since many substitutes have natural savoriness.
  • For quicker marinating, slice meats thinly or perforate with fork.
  • Store leftovers of marinade substitutes like juice, wine or vinegar to reuse.
  • Discard used marinade from raw meats to avoid bacteria.
  • Let marinated raw meats rest 5-10 mins before cooking so flavors set.

Sample Marinade Recipes Without Lime

To inspire you, here are three tasty marinade recipes using some of these popular lime juice substitutes:

Yogurt Chicken Marinade

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth or water

Whisk together all ingredients in a bowl or resealable plastic bag. Add chicken pieces and marinate 4-12 hours. Grill, bake or pan fry. Discard used marinade.

Flank Steak Wine Marinade

  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all ingredients and pour over flank steak in a dish or zip top bag. Marinate for 2-4 hours. Grill to desired doneness and slice against the grain. Save leftovers for another use.

Pineapple Salmon Marinade

  • 1 cup pineapple juice
  • 2 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced

Whisk together all ingredients. Pour over salmon fillets in a shallow dish and marinate 30 mins – 1 hour. Bake, grill or pan sear. Discard used marinade.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use bottled lime juice?

Bottled and reconstituted lime juice can be used but be aware that most bottled varieties have added preservatives and less fresh lime flavor. For best results, squeeze fresh limes or use freshly squeezed lime juice.

How long should I marinate meat?

Marinade duration depends on the size and type of meat. Whole chicken or pork roasts do well with 8-24 hours marinating. Steaks, chops, and fillets usually only need 2-4 hours. Marinating longer than 48 hours can make foods “mushy”.

Do I need to use all of a marinade?

You only need enough marinade to coat the food surface so flavors can penetrate. Any extra can be stored and reused. But do not reuse marinade from raw meats which could contain bacteria.

Can I marinate in advance?

Yes, you can marinate most meats and vegetables 1-2 days ahead. Store covered in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before cooking. The exception is seafood which should marinate just 30 mins to an hour before cooking.


With so many tasty options like lemon juice, vinegars, citrus juices, yogurt, wine and more, you can successfully substitute for lime juice in marinades. Achieve tender, flavorful results without needing fresh limes on hand. Experiment with different substitutes tailored to the dish you are preparing. With a little creativity, the possibilities for lime-free marinades are nearly endless!

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