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In the past I cooked myself into a corner when I realized mid-recipe that I didn't have any lemons or lemon juice available. Nor did I have any limes.

I can't remember the exact recipe, but I believe it was some baked fish dish. What are some possible substitutes for lemon juice in this application? I ended up using a dash of apple cider vinegar. It didn't turn out bad, it just was distinctly not lemon.

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That depends; is the lemon there to help balance out the spice in a hot dish, or is it part of a recipe with the word "Lemon" in it? – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 20:07
I don't remember exactly. I'm pretty sure that if it had "Lemon" in the title that I'd be out of luck, so I think it was just there to add some flavor. It was actually a rather sleepy "healthy" dish when I was on a diet. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 20:09
Your story is one of the advantages of 'mise en plas' -- I don't measure out everything, but taking 'em out of the cabinet/fridge at the beginning lets you know if you're missing something. (and when it's still on the counter when you're done, it's a sign you forgot to add something) – Joe Jul 15 '10 at 21:29
@Joe: Interesting, I've always done that, but didn't realize it had a formal name. I just always found it more convenient. – Aaronut Jul 15 '10 at 23:30
FYI, since we're learning a new term, it's spelled "mise en place." Like a lot of French terms, the pronunciation can cause spelling problems. Pronounced "meez ahn plahs." – bikeboy389 Sep 13 '12 at 14:44
up vote 18 down vote accepted

When you find cheap lemons, buy a lot. Squeeze half a lemon in each of the cavities of an ice tray. Freeze. Within a day, remove the frozen slivers from the tray to a ziploc bag in the freezer. You now have measured units of fresh lemon juice you may use for cooking and will keep for months. The frozen lemons are a bit less acid than fresh juice, but full of flavor. You can do the same with limes.

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Wow. This is pretty clever. Thanks! – hobodave Jul 16 '10 at 13:24
This is a good way to always have lemon juice available, but it doesn't actually answer the question that was asked. – Marti Dec 24 '15 at 16:46
Agree with Marti. This doesn't answer the question at all. Specifically if one is "mid recipe" and doesn't already have lemon juice, advice to buy cheap lemons ahead of time and save them will do no good. I don't get why this has so many votes up for not helping whatsoever in this situation described. – dpollitt Jan 17 at 16:18

Based on this site you can substitute the lemon juice for either an equal amounts of lime juice, an equal amount of white wine or half the required lemon amount of mild vinegar (like you mentioned)

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Interesting, I didn't think about white wine. I don't remember if I had any on hand that day, but I bet it would have been better than the vinegar. – hobodave Jul 15 '10 at 20:08
There's no way white wine is as acidic as lemon juice, but some white wine combined with white wine vinegar might yield good results, depending on the recipe... – Harlan Jul 15 '10 at 21:00

If you're doing it for the acid (i.e. to cut the heat in a spicy dish), you might try cream of tartar if you have it lying around. I've never actually tried to substitute tartar for lemon juice, but lemon juice is the most common substitution for cream of tartar, so it stands to reason that it works both ways. (Note: You would use about 1/3 as much cream of tartar as the amount of lemon juice that's called for).

If it's for general flavouring, this may sound insane, but if you happen to have any cherry brandy or even regular brandy lying around, try that. A solution of sherry and cider vinegar is an OK substitute but doesn't quite have the tartness and strength of lemon juice. While cherry brandy obviously doesn't taste the same as lemon juice, it's often just as good or better in recipes that call for it.

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Cherry? or Sherry? – hobodave Jul 16 '10 at 2:32
@hobodave: No, cherry brandy. If you want to go the white whine/vinegar route then sherry is an easy choice since there's always some around (at least in my kitchen). – Aaronut Jul 16 '10 at 2:52

if your using the lemon juice for the acidic aspect then you can use 1/2 as much vinegar. However if it for flavoring I would substitute another juice such as lime or orange. Sometimes you can also you lemon extract for flavoring.

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Whenever I have to substitute something I have to remember I am no longer making the same thing as what was in the recipe or that I had started with. With that in mind I am more free to create then to agonize over trying to recreate.

I have had some great success with this, and some that should best be left in the past :)

As a substitute for lemon, I think I would try a different direction, rather then try and recreate the lemon, go with salty. Like a soy sauce, and perhaps simmer some apples in the soy sauce, or reduce apples in a little water then add soy. You have done something similar to the lemon but yet entirely different.

Recreation is very hard, and you are always left with the unmet expectation of what should or could have been.

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Most of the recipes where you need to add acid, it's about the acid. Either balancing out the salt, or the flavor, or to help chemical reactions. Lemon juice and vinegar are different acids, but if you are from countries where lemons are not the fruit of origin, use what is in your country. Nice apple cider vinegar and use as substitute mentioned above. Vinegar has two forms. Both are present in your bottle of vinegar. One is liquid and one is very volatile and needs to be cooked off (that means using vinegar in cooking you want to cook off the vapors a bit. So in cold dishes, before adding vinegar is good to heat it up for 20 minutes if needed).

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I just made some humus and half way through, realized I had no Lemons. ARRRRRGH!!!!

I did have some rice wine vinegar and some frozen Orange Juice. So I went with that. But now, thinking about it a bit, maybe it should have been rice wine vinegar an worcestershire sauce.

Lemons are Sour, Acidic and bitter. A bit of bitter might have been better.

Note: I did not use the Pinot Noir. I drank that. Hence this silly comment.

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Two UNreasonable substitutions are alum (toxic in large doses) and citric acid.

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Citric acid can actually work, but you have to use LESS of it than seems reasonable. – Wayfaring Stranger Aug 11 '12 at 14:36

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