The best lemon pepper substitutes are fresh lemon juice, lemon and thyme, lemon curry powder, lime zest, orange zest, lemongrass, mango powder, or shichimi togarashi. These seasonings can all provide tartness and heat to a variety of dishes. You can easily replicate lemon pepper at home.
The rest of this article will discuss the best lemon pepper substitutes and help you choose the best one for your dish. Keep reading to learn what lemon pepper seasoning is made of, what it is used for, and how to make lemon pepper at home.
What Tastes Like Lemon Pepper?
Spices that give off a citrus aroma taste like lemon pepper. If you cannot obtain lemon pepper seasoning at a store or make your own, you can use multiple different ingredients and species.
These substitutions will give your food the acidity and heat that lemon pepper provides. Below are the eight substitutions for lemon pepper that I recommend.
1. Fresh Lemon Juice
Lemon juice has many uses in cooking. You can add it to marinades and dressings for various dishes, including meat, vegetables, pasta, and salads. The acidity of lemon juice helps balance out the rich fattiness of the meat and helps make it more tender.
Lemon juice is very tart, but certain varieties of lemons are sweeter than others. Meyer lemons are sweeter and have a taste closer to oranges, making them ideal for baking and desserts.
“Regular” lemons that are more bitter and what most people associate with the typical “lemon” taste are either Eureka lemons or Lisbon lemons.
2. Lemon and Thyme
Lemons pair very well with many different herbs and spices. Thyme is an aromatic herb often used to flavor soups, stews, and meat-based dishes.
On its own, thyme is floral and earthy with a slightly minty flavor. These qualities make it a great accompaniment to lemon zest or juice. There is also a variant of thyme called lemon thyme, which, as the name suggests, has a more citrusy flavor profile than regular thyme.
3. Lemon Curry Powder
Curry powder is a very popular spice with origins in Indian cooking, but also commonly used in Japanese cuisine. Also known as garam masala, it is traditionally a combination of cumin, ginger, and turmeric. Some blends also include black pepper.
Curry powder is very flavorful and spicy, and the addition of lemon makes it very bright and a great addition to chicken dishes. The lemon component is usually in the form of dehydrated lemon juice or very finely powdered lemon zest.
4. Lime Zest
Limes are very commonly paired with lemons due to their similar tartness and acidity. Limes are easy to distinguish from lemons in both appearance and flavor. Limes are smaller, light-to-dark green in color, and tend to be more bitter and acidic than lemons.
Despite these differences, lime zest is similar enough to lemon to replace it in a recipe. You can use it in nearly every way that lemon zest can, such as seasoning chicken, seafood, and vegetables. When the zest is dried, you can combine it with cracked black pepper to make lime pepper seasoning.
5. Orange Zest
Orange is a citrus fruit like lemon and lime, but much sweeter and often enjoyed on its own. Although often used in baking and desserts, orange zest also has many applications in savory dishes. Orange juice and zest pair very well with chicken and pork dishes.
Since orange is much sweeter than lemon, adding spicier elements will help make it a better replacement for lemon pepper. Like lemon and lime zest, orange zest can be dried and combined with black pepper to make orange pepper seasoning.
Lemongrass, also known as citronella, is a plant native to Southeast Asia. Visually, it is similar to a green onion, with a white base, and develops into a darker green at the top. It has many uses, both in cooking and aromatherapy. Lemongrass oil is used to make soaps, lotions, and essential oils.
As the name suggests, lemongrass has a flavor reminiscent of lemons. It is also sharp and slightly spicy, similar to ginger. It can be used finely chopped and sauteed (to soften the tough, fibrous stalks) or ground down into a smooth paste for marinades and sauces. Lemongrass is also available as a powder.
7. Mango Powder
Mangoes are tropical fruit known for being very sweet and juicy. It may seem like an odd replacement for something sour like lemons. However, when unripe mangoes are dried and turned into powder, it results in a tart seasoning also called amchoor (sometimes spelled amchur).
Mango powder is commonly used in Indian cooking. It has many applications, such as a dry rub or marinade for pork, chicken, or fish. It can also be incorporated into a spice blend for a curry.
8. Shichimi Togarashi
This final substitute may be less well-known to some. Shichimi togarashi is a Japanese seasoning blend also called “Japanese seven spice.” In English, its name translates (more or less) to “seven peppers,” referencing the fact that it is a combination of seven different spices.
Shichimi togarashi typically contains the following ingredients:
- Sichuan peppercorn
- Nori (dried, roasted seaweed)
- Orange peel (or zest)
- Poppy seeds
- Ground ginger
- Black sesame seeds
- White sesame seeds
Some versions will differ slightly and contain ingredients such as red chili flakes, hemp seeds, cayenne pepper, or shiso leaves. You can purchase it pre-made, or you can make your own blend at home with your desired ingredients and ratios.
Shichimi togarashi can be used in noodles, soups, salads, and on seafood and vegetable dishes. It works very well as a substitute for lemon pepper because of its tart components (orange zest) and spicy components (peppercorn and ginger).
What Is Lemon Pepper Seasoning Made Of?
Lemon pepper seasoning is made of dried lemon zest and cracked black peppercorns. It can have additional ingredients, such as salt, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Some pre-made, bottled lemon pepper may also include citric acid, making it much more sour. It also acts as a preservative, giving the seasoning a longer shelf life. These same bottled versions are also likely to contain additives that give lemon pepper more color and flavor.
Is Lemon Pepper the Same As Lemon Zest?
Lemon pepper is not the same as lemon zest. Lemon pepper has additional spices, most notably black pepper. Meanwhile, lemon zest is often used fresh, as soon as it is grated from the lemon.
Some lemon pepper combinations have more pepper than lemon, but this can be altered if you make your own seasoning blend at home. Additionally, the lemon zest used in lemon pepper seasoning is dried, which makes it last longer when stored properly.
Lemon pepper is best utilized in savory dishes because of the presence of pepper and (occasionally) salt, garlic powder, and onion powder. Lemon zest has a wider variety of uses. It is popularly used in baking cakes, pies, and tarts that include lemon and other fruit.
What Is Lemon Pepper Used For?
Lemon zest and black pepper pair well together because of the marriage of lemon’s tartness and slight sweetness and pepper’s sharp, subtle spiciness. This seasoning combination’s brightness, acidity, and heat make it a great accompaniment to vegetables, chicken, steak, and fish. Lemon pepper is an excellent way to add extra vibrancy to your food without making it too bitter or too spicy.
You can use lemon pepper seasoning in many dishes. One very popular application of lemon pepper is the main seasoning for grilled chicken wings. It can also be added as a finishing topping to pasta dishes and fresh salads. By mixing it into butter, you can have a delicious compound butter that you can use to baste seafood and steak.
How To Make Lemon Pepper
Lemon pepper is easy to find pre-made in big grocery stores like Walmart, Target, and Kroger. However, making your own lemon pepper allows you to adjust the ratio of lemon zest to black pepper. It also allows you to control how much salt is in your seasoning if you are trying to reduce your sodium intake.
You can make lemon pepper by combining freshly ground pepper with dried lemon zest in a small bowl or cup. You can add other flavors to your spice mixture, like garlic powder and onion powder, as well as herbs like parsley, basil, and oregano.
Various recipes and how-tos will give you different ratios of lemon and pepper. You can adjust the amounts to your liking, but I suggest a two-to-one ratio of lemon zest to black pepper (or twice as much lemon as pepper).
A single lemon yields about 1 tablespoon worth of lemon zest, but this will depend on the size of the lemons.
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest (about 2 lemons)
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns (crushed)
- Lemon zester
- Mortar and pestle
- Baking sheet
- Airtight container
- Wash your lemons with cool water before you zest them to remove any dirt or impurities. Dry them thoroughly.
- Using a zester (or a cheese grater), remove the yellow part of the rind. If you do not have a zester or cheese grater, you can use a vegetable peeler, taking care not to take off too much of the white part of the rind (the pith) because it is more bitter and less aromatic. You can then finely chop the lemon peel into tiny pieces.
- You can save the remainder of the lemons for other uses, such as juicing them or cutting them into wedges to pair with drinks.
- Set your oven to its lowest temperature setting; for most ovens, this is around 170°F (or 76.66°C).
- Spread the lemon zest in an even layer on a baking sheet. Place in the oven and remove when the zest is completely dried out. This can take from thirty minutes or up to 2 hours (this will largely depend on your oven). Be sure to check the zest regularly to make sure it is not browning or burning.
- You can optionally let the lemon zest air dry, but this will take much longer. It is crucial that all the moisture is removed from the zest so that it does not mold while in storage.
- Place the black peppercorns in the mortar bowl. Using the pestle, grind the peppercorns down to your desired consistency. I recommend keeping it coarsely ground for texture.
- If you do not have a mortar and pestle, you can use an electric spice grinder or crush the peppercorns with the back of a large spoon.
- Combine the dried lemon zest and cracked black peppercorns. You can optionally add salt and other spices at this point. I recommend no more than a teaspoon of each so that they do not overpower the lemon or pepper. Store the seasoning in an airtight container. The mixture will last for several months if stored properly.
I hope this list has been helpful.
Thanks for stoppin’ by!
For more, don’t miss 6 Substitutes for Black Pepper to Spice up Your Cooking.
Anne James has a wealth of expertise in a wide array of interests, including quilting, cooking, gardening, camping, and making jelly.
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