"Meyer lemons" are advertised as a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange. The flavor is basically what you'd expect from that cross.

Is it reasonable to use them as direct substitutes? What are the important differences to keep in mind when substituting one for the other? How will those differences affect the recipe?

  • Maybe it'd be more useful to just ask how the flavor differs, and then you can make up your own mind about what dishes sound good with each? – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 1:11
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    @Jefromi The flavor is basically what you'd expect for a lemon crossed with a mandarin orange. Flavor is not the only difference, though; pH or some compounds etc. might lead to different reactions and interactions with other foods. I thought about adding the tag molecular-gastronomy, but decided the question wasn't specifically enough in that field to do so. – WBT Feb 25 '16 at 3:11
  • I'm not asking what the difference (flavor or otherwise) is. I was suggesting that you ask that instead of what you asked, because I thought it'd answer your question and be a lot more answerable. The pros and cons are pretty much just going to be that the difference is a good idea sometimes and a bad idea sometimes, I assume. – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 3:16
  • I don't want to ask about the flavor differences between the raw ingredients, because I already know that or can find out directly without having to deal with the issue that flavors are not all that well communicated in English. And yes, I presume that the difference will sometimes be a good idea (but when/in what situations is that) and sometimes a bad idea (again, when/in what situations?). – WBT Feb 25 '16 at 5:16
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    Do you consider replacing lemons with meyer lemons and drastically reducing the sugar to be a direct substitute? – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 11:20

Lemons are quite sour, while Meyer lemons are much sweeter and less acidic. If you substitute directly, it'll have a dramatic effect.

For example, suppose you start out with a dessert made with lemons that has enough sugar added (or little enough lemon juice) to make it the right sweet/sour balance for you. If you replace the lemon with Meyer lemon, it'll be way more toward the sweet side, and won't have the sourness to counteract it anymore. So unless you want that big change, you'd probably want to reduce the sugar and/or increase the Meyer lemon; exactly how you decide to do that would depend on the dessert.

If you substitute in the other direction, Meyer lemon to lemon, you'd likely have to reduce the lemon and/or add a bunch of sugar to keep it from tasting more sour.

Either direction, I don't think it really seems like a good direct substitution. It's a big change, so whether it's a good idea totally depends on whether the original recipe suited your preferences and whether you're okay with a broad range of sweet/sour or have something more specific in mind.

The only things where a direct substitution seems like a good idea to me are things where you're only using the zest. At that point citrus is pretty much all interchangeable, just a different flavor.


When I've used Meyer lemons I haven't noticed Mandarin orange flavors.

Meyer lemons are much sweeter and less sour than normal lemons. I use them in recipes that strongly feature lemon fruit, not just juice.

For example, shaker lemon pies are made with thin slices of whole lemons, including the peel. Regular lemons are overwhelming so I use Meyers.

On the other hand, I wouldn't use Meyers in recipes where lemon juice is used for its acid. For example as a condiment in a lentil soup.

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    It seems like you're kind of dancing around an actual answer that there just aren't actually any times you can make a direct substitution. If you change lemon to Meyer, you'd have to reduce sugar or add acid, and if you change Meyer to lemon you'd have to add a ton of sugar to keep it from being too sour. (but maybe I'm putting words in your mouth there; that was my first impression when I saw the question) – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 10:51
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    @Jefromi This seems like a decent answer to the question, +1. Your comments about having to reduce sugar or add acid seem like they also could be part of a good answer. – WBT Feb 25 '16 at 14:29
  • I agree that Meyer lemons don't have any orange-like component to their flavor; they're definitely lemons, and they taste like lemons. I disagree, however, about the "much sweeter and less sour" part. Yes, they're slightly sweeter and slightly less acidic than a regular lemon, but the difference isn't really enough to make much of a difference. With a lemon-based recipe (or really, any fruit-based recipe), you're always gonna have to adjust the sugar in your recipe, because the fruit will differ in ripeness, amount of sun it got, etc. etc. – Marti Feb 29 '16 at 19:05
  • @Marti Hm, we definitely haven't been eating the same (meyer) lemons. The ones I've had were very noticeably less acidic, not just slightly. Not sure which of our experiences is more common; for what it's worth, Wikipedia says "sweeter, less acidic flavor". – Cascabel Feb 29 '16 at 19:24
  • @Jefromi: the difference might be in the normal lemons we've eaten: I grew up in southern California with a so-called "dwarf" lemon tree that was taller than the house. Let's just say, we never purchased lemons. :) – Marti Feb 29 '16 at 19:35

They are harder to juice than regular lemons, at least with reamers or unaided, because the skin breaks apart much more easily (like a plump mandarin orange).

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    I don't know why you were downvoted ... that sounds like a reasonable 'con' to me. This wouldn't be a problem for a squeeze-style juicers, but would be for a reamer. – Joe Feb 25 '16 at 17:56
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    @Joe I think it's mostly just that it doesn't have any bearing on the resulting food. It's a little harder to get juice, but you'll get juice anyway. – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 18:43
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    @Jefromi : yeah, but if something took longer to process or made a mess while doing so, I'd consider that to be a huge 'con' when considering substitutions. – Joe Feb 25 '16 at 19:41
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    @Joe Sure, makes sense. I just don't think it's that big a deal, more on the scale of saying large potatoes are a bad substitute for giant potatoes when making mashed potatoes, because they'll be more work to peel. – Cascabel Feb 25 '16 at 19:45
  • @Jefromi : you say that knowing in advance what the problems are. Imagine you didn't know about that, and were suddenly surprised and hadn't made plans in advance for dealing w/ it, and it screwed up your planning the timing for the whole rest of the meal. – Joe Feb 26 '16 at 10:43

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