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Substitutes for Lemon Extract – What can I use instead?

Substitutes for Lemon Extract – What can I use instead?

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If you do a lot of baking, chances are you’re going to come across lemon extract on the recipe list at some point. Lemon extract is concentrated lemon flavoring, so when recipes call for zesty notes, you’ll be reaching for the bottle. Lemon extract packs a lot of punch – it’s perfect for adding a citrus kick to cupcakes, cookies, or muffins. You can even make sweet lemon bread with a few dashes of lemon extract.

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Adding a drop of lemon extract to your cupcake icing can make an average cake burst into life. Lemon is such a sweet, summery flavor and it adds a ray of sunshine into your baking.

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Commercial lemon extract is typically produced by using ethanol to absorb the flavor out of lemon rinds. The finished product can have a high alcohol percentage – around 83% – but the alcohol is negligible compared to the big flavors the bottle possesses. You’ll likely be using your lemon extract a teaspoonful at a time.

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Some lemon extracts will have been diluted with oil to produce a weaker product – this avoids the alcohol content of a pure extract, but you’ll have to use more to get the same flavor. Whether you’re working from a pure lemon extract or a diluted extract, you can expect a powerful lemon flavor to have infused your baking masterpiece.

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The Flavors

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Lemon extract is about as pure a lemon flavor as you can find – it will be slightly sweet, fruity, sharp and tart. When thinking about substitutes for lemon extract, it’s the flavor that’s hard to get right. Common substitutes such as lemon juice and lemon zest will carry lemon flavor with them, but neither will possess lemon flavor as potently as an extract. We’ll take a look at some of the best options for substituting lemon extract if you can’t find it in your cupboard.

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Lemon Extract – Why You Might Avoid It

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Lemon extract is a specialty ingredient used to give baking, sauces and sorbets a preeminent lemony flavor, but it’s not the sort of thing you might keep in your kitchen just in case. Even though you’ll only use lemon extract a teaspoonful at a time, if you run out of lemon extract you could easily forget to pick it up at the store. Or maybe it isn’t worth ever buying this niche product if you only bake from time to time.

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Others might be concerned about the high alcohol content of pure lemon extract. In 2020 there were increasing reports of teenagers breaking into the baking cupboard to try getting buzzed from vanilla extract. Unfortunately lemon extract contains a higher alcohol percentage than vanilla, and so it could prove tempting for miscreant teens. Conscientious parents, alarmed by these reports, may not take the chance of leaving a potent extract lying around.

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When a recipe calls for lemon extract, the promise of a zesty flavor will leave your mouth watering. What can you use as a substitute?

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The Best Substitutes For Lemon Extract

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Lemon extract is pure lemon flavoring – the only reason a recipe would require lemon extract is for flavor. Let’s find out what your zesty options include…

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Lemon Juice

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If you’re looking to introduce a lemony flavor into your baking and you’re all out of lemon extract, you might be thinking of turning to fresh lemons for your solution. After all, lemons are packed with lemon flavor!

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You can indeed substitute lemon juice in place of lemon extract in your baking. Because lemon extract is highly concentrated, you’ll need a lot more lemon juice – try using two tablespoons of lemon juice if the recipe calls for a teaspoon of lemon extract. That’s roughly six times as much if you’re working to different measures.

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Because you’re adding a lot more liquid, you’ll change the consistency of your batter. This can have implications for the outcome of your bake, so if texture is really important to you then tread carefully before starting squeezing lemons. If you’re worried your batter is looking too thin after adding lemon juice, you can add a little more flour to the recipe. A couple tablespoons of liquid shouldn’t reduce your cake to a watery mush, but if you take your baking seriously you’ll want to be careful with lemon juice.

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Lemon Zest

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Another great substitute to maintain that citrus flavor in your baking is lemon zest. Zest is produced by grating the outer layer of fresh citrus fruits and it’s absolutely packed with flavor because it possesses all the oils. To be specific, lemon peel is made up of two components, the outer layer called the flavedo and the inner layer known as albedo, but more commonly referred to as the pith.

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The pith is white, bitter and you don’t want it getting into your baking! Lemon zest is produced by grating the peel to skim the flavedo, and this is an excellent substitute for lemon extract. It’s stronger in flavor than lemon juice but not as concentrated as extract itself, so you’ll want to use two teaspoons of zest whenever the recipe calls for one teaspoon of extract.

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When taking the zest from a lemon, or any other citrus fruit, you need to ensure that it’s an unwaxed lemon. Some citrus fruits come waxed as they’ll last for longer and the skin appears brighter, healthier and generally more appealing to consumers. If you only have waxed lemons around you can still get a good zest from them, but you’ll need to wash them first. Try to scrub that wax away!

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Lemon Oil

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Lemon oil is another highly concentrated lemon product produced from the citrus fruit itself. If you’re all out of extract but have some lemon oil to hand, this can be used as a substitute.

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Lemon oil is the essential oil of the lemon, usually procured by a cold-pressing process applied to the peel of the fruit. Lemon oil is, in fact, even more concentrated than lemon extract and it’s exceptionally flavorful. If you’re replacing lemon extract with lemon oil, use only three to four drops of oil for every teaspoonful of extract called for by the recipe.

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Lime Juice

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If you’re in a pinch and you discover that life hasn’t given you lemons, don’t despair. Although the quintessential lemon flavor might be lost, you can replace lemon extract in a recipe with lime and the change of flavor will be quite subtle.

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Whilst lemons are sweeter and fruitier, limes bring a deeper citrus flavor and hints of bitterness can come through. It’s a fantastic flavor for those who have acquired the taste, but use it with caution in your baking. You can use lime juice or lime zest in place of lemon extract – apply similar quantities required of lemon juice or zest, but maybe tone it down a notch if you’re worried about flavor.

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A note of caution – lemons are, of course, vibrantly yellow whilst limes are a deep green. If you’re using a lot of lime zest in a dish or batter that’s otherwise pale, there can sometimes be a consequence for the color as well as flavor. Anything baked should brown in the oven, but for sauces or sorbets there could be a noticeable difference.

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Orange Extract

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If you’re happy to compromise on flavor, orange extract can add delightful citrus notes to your baking in the absence of lemon. Whilst oranges and the flavor carried by orange extract isn’t as sharp as a lemon flavor, it’s still sweet and juicy and can work wonderfully in place of lemon extract in many recipes.

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Whenever you start swapping out flavors, it’s important to consider what this will do to your overall dish. An orange flavored cupcake might easily match a lemon cupcake, but if you’re cooking up lemon chicken and looking to deepen flavor with a drop of lemon extract, orange could be a curveball your dinner guests don’t appreciate!

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Can I Make Homemade Lemon Extract?

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Whilst homemade lemon extract is easy to produce, you can’t whip this up on the spot if you’ve just ran out of your favorite brand. By submerging lemon rind in vodka for four to six weeks you can have the alcohol extract the oils from the peel – after that time simply toss the rind and you’ll have your homemade extract.

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Conclusion

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When life gives you lemons, make lemon extract. This flavorful product brings baking to life, and its potent lemon flavor can be replicated if you have fresh lemons in the kitchen. Without lemon juice to draw from, you’ll have to get experimental with flavors. Creativity in the kitchen can be fun, but maybe try a small batch first.



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