Lemon and lime zest add brightness and zip to so many recipes, including salad dressings, sauces, and dessert. While fresh zest is always best, here are some lime and lemon zest substitutes that will do the trick in a pinch.

By Wini Moranville
Updated August 25, 2020
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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. Main courses, too, get a lift from lemon and lime zest. Sometimes, as in this Chicken and Lemon-Broccoli Alfredo, it’s a primary flavor. Other times, citrus zest is there to add a little spark to the deep, rich flavors of a long-simmering dish. Try that strategy in this Winter Pot Roast. 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 some great substitutes.

lemon zested on microplane
Credit: Jason Donnelly

Lime and Lemon Zest Substitutes

While nothing quite matches the flavor imparted by fresh citrus zest, there are a few options when you’re scrambling for a lime or lemon zest replacement.

Lemon Zest Substitute

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

Lime Zest Substitute

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

What Is Zest?

Zest is the thin, brightly colored outer layer of a lime, lemon, or other citrus fruit. Remove this intensely flavored, citrus-oil-filled skin of your lime or lemon with a fine grater or citrus zester ($15, Bed Bath & Beyond), being careful not to grate into the spongy white layer beneath. The white layer is bitter and unpleasant, but the zest itself holds the essence of the citrus flavor.

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 and limes on hand is the best way to make sure you always have the fresh lemon or lime zest you need for recipes. Fortunately, these citrus 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 in one of our refreshing fruit drinks, it’s good to know there are some viable lime and lemon zest substitutes that will work.

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