What to Sub for Lemon Zest, Lime Zest, and Orange Zest in a Pinch

While fresh zest is always best, here are some lime zest, lemon zest, and orange zest substitutes that will do the trick in a pinch.

Tart, tingly, bright, and zingy, fresh citrus zest adds so much zip to many of our favorite recipes. (Maybe that's why it's called "zest"!) We adore what citrus zest adds to salad dressing; it makes fresh ingredients taste even fresher.

Other courses get a lift from citrus zest. Sometimes, as in this Chicken and Lemon-Broccoli Alfredo recipe, it's a primary flavor. Other times, citrus zest adds a little spark to the deep, rich flavors of a simmering savory dish. Try that strategy in this Spring Stroganoff recipe. Last but not least, we love the way lemon or lime zest contrasts the sweetness in citrus desserts, like Lemon Meringue Pie.

But what if you're all set to cook only to discover you're out of fresh citrus to zest for your recipe? No worries. We'll share what to sub for lemon zest, lime zest, and orange zest.

Lime, Lemon, and Orange Zest Substitutes

lemon zested on microplane
Jason Donnelly

While nothing quite matches the flavor of fresh citrus zest, there are a few options when scrambling for a lime, lemon, or orange zest replacement.

What to Sub for Lemon Zest

For 1 tsp. freshly grated lemon zest substitute, try any of these swaps:

  • ½ tsp. lemon extract
  • 2 Tbsp. bottled lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. lime zest or other citrus zest, if you happen to have grapefruit, oranges, or other options in the kitchen

What to Sub for Lime Zest

For 1 tsp. freshly grated lime zest substitute, try any of these swaps:

  • ½ tsp. lime extract
  • 2 Tbsp. bottled lime juice
  • 1 tsp. lemon zest or other citrus zest, if you've got it

What to Sub for Orange Zest

For 1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest substitute, try any of these swaps:

  • ½ tsp. orange extract
  • 2 Tbsp. orange juice
  • 1 tsp. clementine zest, tangerine zest, lemon zest, lime zest, or other citrus zest

What Is Zest?

Zest is the thin, brightly colored outer layer of lime, lemon, orange, or other citrus fruit. Remove this intensely flavored, citrus-oil-filled skin of your lime or lemon with a fine grater or citrus zester, being careful not to grate into the spongy white layer beneath. The white layer is bitter and unpleasant, but the zest holds the citrus flavor's essence.

Test Kitchen Tip: Sometimes recipes will call for finely shredded lemon or lime peel. Yes, finely shredded peel is the same thing as zest.

Keeping fresh lemons, limes, and oranges on hand is the best way to ensure you always have the fresh citrus zest you need for recipes. Fortunately, these fruits have long shelf lives (you can store them in the refrigerator for up to two weeks), so they're easy to keep on hand. Still, when we've used our last lime in one of our favorite cocktails or our last drop of fresh lemon or orange in one of our refreshing fruit drinks, it's good to know some viable lime, orange, and lemon zest substitutes that will work.

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