When you want the perfect lemon taste for your baking, the variety of lemon products may give you a headache. So how can you differentiate between lemon juice and lemon extract? While lemon juice is made from fruit juice, lemon extract is made from lemon zest soaked in alcohol. But what exactly is lemon extract?
Pure lemon extract is a lemon-flavored liquid made by soaking lemon peels in alcohol (or, occasionally, oil). The alcohol absorbs the essential oils of the peels, resulting in a potent lemon flavor without a lot of bitterness or acidic properties.
If you consider more discrepancies between those two lemony flavors, don’t skip the information below. In this guide, we will explain all there is to know about lemon extract and how exactly it differentiates from lemon juice.
Lemon Extract Explained
Lemon extract comes in many forms and can also be made in many different ways. You can make DIY homemade lemon extract at home or buy it pre-made from most grocery stores. You can typically find it in the baking aisle alongside vanilla extract, almond extract, and other citrus extracts. Many recipes call for the lemon extract to add a bright lemon flavor without making the final dish tart or causing dairy ingredients to curdle with the acid from pure lemon juice.
What Is Lemon Juice?
Lemon juice is a liquid squeezed from fresh, ripe lemons. The highly acidic juice has a moderate lemon flavor that comes along with the fruit’s natural bitterness. You can squeeze fresh lemon juice yourself or buy pre-bottled lemon juice from the grocery store.
You can typically find it in the baking aisle alongside other citrus juices like lime juice and grapefruit juice.
Many recipes call for lemon juice to add a lemony, tart flavor, increase the acidity of a dish, or serve as a bright condiment on top.
Lemon Extract vs. Lemon Juice
Lemon extract and lemon juice both come from lemons but have a few key differences:
- Acid content: Since lemon extract has an alcohol base rather than a lemon juice base, its acid content is relatively low, and it won’t curdle dairy products in recipes that combine the two; however, lemon juice is highly acidic and may curdle dairy products.
- Base: Lemon extract has an alcohol base, which has absorbed the lemon flavor. On the other hand, lemon juice has no base and is usually just squeezed lemon juice or lemon juice mixed with water or preservatives.
- Creation: To make lemon extract, producers soak lemon rinds or zest in unflavored alcohol (like vodka) that easily absorbs the lemon flavor. To make lemon juice, producers simply squeeze lemons to release and store the juice. You can make the lemon extract and fresh-squeezed lemon juice at home; however, the extract will take time to develop, but you can squeeze lemon juice right away from ripe lemons.
- Flavor: The flavor of the lemon extract is strongly lemony without much tartness or bitterness, while lemon juice is milder and with a strong tartness.
- Uses: Since lemon extract has a strong lemon flavor without bitterness or acid, it’s a popular ingredient in lemon-flavored desserts or dairy recipes that must omit acid because it can curdle the ingredients. On the other hand, lemon juice is a popular ingredient in recipes that require a tart lemon flavor, like tart desserts, savory dishes, salad dressings, or recipes that call for the curdling of dairy products.
4 Substitutes for Lemon Extract
If you don’t have any lemon extract on hand, many citrus-based substitutes offer a similar (though not the same) effect in your recipes. When substituting for lemon extract, pay attention to the liquid content versus the non-liquid content of the recipes. The ratio may not be crucial in recipes for salad dressings, but baked goods can change dramatically with just a teaspoon of difference in either direction.
- Lemon juice: Lemon juice is the best substitute for lemon extract—similar in consistency and flavor, most recipes will adapt to the change, albeit with a more tart or bitter flavor. However, the flavor of lemon juice isn’t as strong as lemon extract. Opt for two tablespoons of lemon juice for every tablespoon of lemon extract if you want a potent lemon flavor. In baked goods, you may need to adjust the ratio of other liquid or dry ingredients to get the right final texture. If your recipe also has dairy ingredients, don’t allow the lemon juice to sit in the dairy product for too long (between five to ten minutes is optimal) since this can cause curdling.
- Lemon zest: Lemon zest refers to fine pieces of lemon peel shaved off with a grater, peeler, or zester). This zest can be a great substitute for lemon extract because it has a concentrated flavor and doesn’t add acid to a recipe. It packs a similar lemon punch to lemon extract and is safe for recipes with dairy products. When zesting, avoid the white pith of the lemon, which carries strong bitter flavors. When substituting lemon zest for lemon extract, use equal parts—a teaspoon of lemon zest for every teaspoon of lemon extract. Since zest is a solid ingredient, you may need to increase the liquid ingredients in your recipe to retain the same consistency or final texture.
- Lemon essence or lemon oil: Lemon essence is an artificially or naturally flavored liquid ingredient that ranges in flavor from strongly to mildly lemony. When substituting lemon essence for lemon extract, start with equal amounts—a teaspoon of lemon essence for every teaspoon of lemon extract—and add more as needed. The essence or oil of lemon also tends to have a longer shelf life than other lemon products.
- Other citrus products: If you don’t have lemon products on hand, you can substitute other citrus juices or products for the lemon extract to bring out different flavor profiles, including the juice, zest, or essence from limes, oranges, or grapefruits. When substituting, follow the same guidelines as if you were using a lemon product instead.
5 Substitutes for Lemon Juice
If you don’t have any lemon juice on hand, many citrus-based substitutes offer a similar (though not exact) effect in your recipes. When substituting for lemon juice, pay attention to the liquid content versus the non-liquid content of the recipe—while in recipes like salad dressings and marinades, the ratio may not be crucial, baked goods can change dramatically with a teaspoon of difference in either direction.
- Lemon extract: Lemon extract can be a good substitute for lemon juice—similar in consistency and flavor, most recipes will adapt to the change, albeit with less tartness or bitterness. However, the flavor of the lemon extract is stronger than lemon juice, so if you don’t want to overpower the other flavors in the recipe, opt for a ½ teaspoon of lemon extract for every teaspoon of lemon juice. In baked goods, you may need to adjust the ratio of other liquid or dry ingredients to get the right final texture. In recipes that require thickening or curdling dairy products (like cheesecake), lemon extract won’t be a good substitute since it doesn’t contain enough acid to curdle.
- Lemon zest: Lemon zest can be a great substitute for lemon juice because it has a strong, concentrated lemon flavor similar to lemon extract. When substituting lemon zest for lemon juice, use a 1:2 ratio—a ½ teaspoon of lemon zest for every teaspoon of lemon juice. Since zest is a solid ingredient, you may need to increase the liquid ingredients in your recipe to retain the same consistency or final texture. Lemon zest won’t be a good substitute in recipes that require curdling dairy products since it doesn’t have the acid required to curdle dairy.
- Lemon essence or lemon oil: Lemon essence is a liquid ingredient with artificial or natural lemon flavoring, ranging in flavor from strongly to mildly lemony. When substituting lemon essence for lemon extract, start with a 1:2 ratio—a ½ teaspoon of lemon essence for every teaspoon of lemon juice—and add more as needed. The essence or oil of lemon also tends to have a longer shelf life than other lemon products.
- Other citrus products: If you don’t have lemon products on hand, you can substitute other citrus products for the lemon extract, as long as you’re comfortable with a different citrus flavor. Common substitutes include orange juice, grapefruit juice, lime zest, orange zest, grapefruit zest, lime extract, orange extract, grapefruit extract, lime essence, orange essence, or grapefruit essence. When substituting, follow the same guidelines as if you were using a lemon product instead. The juice of other citruses is the best choice if your recipe requires curdling dairy since the juices are acidic.
- White vinegar: In recipes that require thickening or curdling dairy products (like cheesecake), you can use vinegar (in a 1:1 ratio) instead of lemon juice to add enough acid to curdle or thicken the dairy. Vinegar works best in recipes that only call for a small amount of lemon juice. In situations with more lemon juice, the vinegar flavor may be too strong in the recipe.
Pure lemon extract is one of those small things in cooking that can make a huge difference.
Not everyone can put their finger on what that difference is but can tell if it’s missing.
It is believed that lemons originated in India, no one knows for sure, but we know they grow like crazy in the Middle East.
We have a few lemon trees and are inundated with lemons in the Spring and Summer, and surprisingly do well here in the brutal Albuquerque sun.
One of my very favorite aromas is a flowering lemon tree, it is truly incredible. When you have several trees close together the air fills with this beautiful sweet smell. They don’t smell like lemons at all, they smell much more like what I believe heaven would smell like.
How To Make Lemon Extract
- Wash and dry your lemons.
- Using a peeler, peel the skins lengthwise into strips that are the length of the lemon.
- Try not to get too much white around the lemon if possible.
- Put your lemon skins into a clean jar and cover with a cup of vodka, then seal.
- This extract recipe requires you to leave the jar in a cool dry place for at least four weeks.
- This time will allow the lemon flavor to infuse the vodka and provide an exceptional taste.
- These little bottles of extract make great gifts and will rival anything store-bought.
- I squeeze lemon juice from the peeled lemons so they don’t go to waste.
- You definitely want to choose fresh lemons that have a nice color and are not soft at all.
- The best for homemade extracts are the ones that are just fully ripe, where the rind is still full of flavor.
- Organic lemons are preferred if possible because they will not have been sprayed with pesticides.
Tips For Making Lemon Extract
- Make sure you use neutral vodka and not one that has been flavored already.
- Try to just capture the skin of the lemons and not the white pith which is bitter tasting.
- Definitely the longer you soak the skins the better the flavor will be. I recommend purchasing organic lemons for this project, but if you can’t get your hands on any (or you feel they are too expensive) then give the lemons a bath in baking soda water to remove pesticides. Just fill a large bowl with water, add 2 teaspoons of baking soda, and soak lemons for 12-15 minutes. Rinse them well and pat dry before zesting. I recommend using a ribbon lemon zester for homemade lemon extract because it removes only the skin and none of the pith. Getting pith in your extract will make it taste soapy.
- I began this project with these 8.5-ounce bottles. Sterilize the bottles by dipping them in a large pot of boiling water. Have a kitchen towel on the counter to place the freshly dipped bottles onto – although they’ll dry almost instantly after they are removed from the water. A rubber-coated canning lifter is a safest and best way to maneuver the bottles in and out of the hot water.
- 6 medium lemons, washed and dried
- 1 cup vodka
- Peel the lemons using a Y-peeler, careful not to get much rind.
- Place strips in a glass jar. Add vodka.
- Leave for 5 or 6 weeks. Shake once a week until then. Store in a dark cool place.
Stick your lemon zest in the bottom of a canning jar (or another glass container), and pour a cup of vodka over the top of it. Make sure the zest is fully submerged. Screw the lid on the jar, and store it in a cool, dark place for at least two months (longer is even better).