There's nothing quite like the fresh, savory-sour taste that lemon juice adds to all types of dishes. A bit of lemon juice squeezed onto food also adds a salty-like, piquancy for those on salt-free or salt-reduced diets.
Lemons add flavor, cleanse, purify, detox, and freshen. Their juice and zest is essential in many recipes. We love them. We even gather them into a bowl...as decor! We simply need them. Often. For lots of things, but mostly in recipes.
However, all who cook have probably shared the experience of being well into a recipe's preparation only to discover...no lemons!
A quick call to a neighbor can solve the problem...sometimes. The kink in this plan is that the neighbor might be as lemon-bereft as you are!
So, it's time to forearm yourself against inevitable lemon deprivation.
Most of the substitutions listed below are for the small amounts of juice needed as flavoring in recipes. If you keep these few easily stored ingredients on hand you can compensate for those times when you don't have a fresh lemon.
So, let's forearm ourselves now to prevent lemon-lack panic in the future. You'll need to purchase and keep in stock white vinegar (not white wine vinegar) and lemon extract, found in the baking section of the market or lemon essential oil found at most health food stores. Or, bulk-purchase lemons.
There are a several ways to forestall the lemon-lack crisis.
1. This first suggestion will carry you through making lemon pie, lemon curd, or lemonade...if you freeze sufficient juice.
Buy lemons on sale. Get more than you think you'll need. Squeeze up the extras and freeze the juice in recipe-handy amounts. Use ice cube trays to freeze juice in small, usable portions. After freezing remove the lemon juice cubes from the tray and store them in a baggy in the freezer. Most trays have compartments that hold two tablespoons of juice. You can always flash defrost the lemon juice, as needed, being careful not to over-microwave it which will change the flavor from fresh to cooked.
Or, buy 100% frozen lemon juice (by Minute Maid) found boxed in the frozen juice aisle of the market. Minute Maid's frozen lemon juice is not their concentrated and sweetened, canned product for making lemonade, but is frozen, 100% lemon juice. I'm not usually one to promote particular products by name, or decry others, but lacking lemon juice when you need it is nearly akin to a disaster!
Inside the blue box is a plastic bottle that can be refilled with your own "squeeze to freeze" lemon juice.
2. Keep a bottle of lemon extract on hand. Use one or two drops (a scant 1/8-teaspoon) to one teaspoon of white vinegar for each teaspoon of lemon juice your recipe calls for.
3. Use one teaspoon of white vinegar to one to two drops of lemon essential oil. Lemon essential oil is different from lemon extract which generally has an alcohol base. Lemon essential oil is the pure extracted oil of the lemon and is more concentrated and costly. It is generally not advised to ingest pure essential oils. However, when a small amount of lemon essential oil is infused into other ingredients such as in baking or sauce making there is no problem. This is my favorite and most lemon juice-like option when a small amount of juice is needed.
4. This next substitution is the least desirable. Therefore, I almost detest mentioning it as I don't use the product type - ever - that I am about to mention! One could...I hate to say...buy that awful product that comes in either a bottle or a silly looking plastic lemon and is neither frozen or refrigerated until after opening...i.e. concentrated, cooked lemon juice. It doesn't taste or smell like lemon juice, but instead puts me in the mind of something used to clean floors. Or kill bugs. Oh, forget I mentioned this one! Since this product tastes so little like lemon juice why, oh why, would one want to use it in a recipe?
5. What about lemon zest? Simply "zest" up some of the rind of those extra lemons you're going to "squeeze and freeze". The zest freezes nicely for use in a recipe rather than as a garnish on...say, a frosted cake. To garnish an iced cake, rather than using frozen zest, I'd substitute toasted, slivered almonds, ground nuts, lavender buds, rose petals, etc.
If you plan ahead for those lemon-less times by squeezing and freezing juice and zest, or keeping vinegar and lemon extract or lemon essential oil on hand you will be well equipped to weather those horrifying times when you suddenly discover that...YOU HAVE NO LEMONS!