When it comes to lemons in cooking, it's hard to beat a splash of fresh juice or a sprinkle of zest to give your food a punch of flavor. Lemon oil and lemon extract are also handy ingredients to have at your disposal. They provide concentrated citrusy flavor without the sour notes. You can also add flavor without the liquid, a benefit that's especially useful in baking.
Before buying one of these products it is important to understand how lemon oil and lemon extract differ in the kitchen. We are about to answer this question so that you can decide which one is right for your household.
What's the difference between lemon oil and lemon extract?
Lemon oil is made by extracting the essential oils from fresh lemons. Usually, the fruit is zested and added to alcohol where it steeps for up to 8 weeks. This is then discarded, leaving a concentrated lemon-flavored oil. It is ideal for cooking but also makes a useful household cleaner, teeth whitener, and facial wash.
Lemon extract is usually made by distillation; it also offers a concentrated lemon flavor, but its intensity is considerably weaker than lemon oil. The extract plays a better supporting role in baking, adding a more subtle flavor to the food it’s added to. Lemon oil is the perfect ingredient when you want to hero the lemon.
Did you know? A popular brand of lemon oil produced by Boyajian uses 225 lemons to fill a 3.4 oz. bottle! They cold press the lemons to extract the precious oil.
Whether you use an oil or extract, they are both excellent options for adding lemony flavor without the overwhelming sourness in cooking. Dialing the flavor intensity up or down can easily be done without affecting the recipe’s structure as there is very little liquid. Some of the common uses for oil or extract include:
- whip up buttercream that’s brimming with lemon taste.
- bake a batch of lemon cookies; biscotti, macaroons, Italian lemon cookies, or melting moments.
- brighten up savory dishes like pork, chicken, and fish or combine with any recipe that features herbs.
- create edgy desserts like lemon meringue pie, lemon squares, sorbet, cakes, custard, or sauces.
- churn homemade ice cream without adding juice that's high in water content and responsible for increasing unwanted ice crystals.
- swirl into cocktails or make lemonade without the messy squeezing.
- combine with blueberries to enhance their flavor when making an indulgent cheesecake.
Whether you have lemon oil or lemon extract, if you're using them in a savory recipe that requires cooking, add them towards the end. Prolonged heat will reduce the flavor of the lemon and it may not shine through in the dish. Take for example baked chicken breast - it will benefit from a light brushing of lemon flavoring once the poultry is removed from the oven. In a stew, add a splash of essence or a couple of drops of oil towards the end of cooking.
While lemon extract and oil are both good options for the pantry, lemon oil has additional uses around the house. It can be used for its health benefits such as relieving pain, reducing anxiety, improving energy and alleviating cold symptoms [source]. Lemon oil also has a range of household uses like removing unpleasant aromas in cupboards, removing gum from hair, cleaning stainless steel, and most commonly, used as an essential oil in aromatherapy.
Oils and extracts can usually be used interchangeably in cooking, just remember that lemon oil is significantly more powerful than extract. Although flavor intensity will vary by brand, generally one teaspoon of the extract can be replaced by ⅛ teaspoon of oil. Check out the summary table below which shows some common conversions.
|Replace this||With this|
|1 tsp lemon extract||⅛ tsp lemon oil|
|1 Tbsp grated rind||¼ tsp lemon oil|
|Zest of one lemon||10 drops lemon oil|
|1 tsp lemon zest||1 tsp lemon extract|
Different brands may add additional ingredients so check the label to be sure. Here are the commonly used ingredients for each product:
Extract: Alcohol, Water, Lemon Oil
Oil: Lemon oil (sometimes other oils are blended)
Comparing storage options
Lemon extract is made with alcohol which acts as an excellent preservative. A bottle of extract can potentially last 5 years or more without expiring, but its flavor will diminish and the citrusy aroma will disappear. It is easy to tell when lemon extract should be discarded as the smell of alcohol will overpower the lemon. This also applies to other types of extract like lime, orange, and in some cases vanilla.
Lemon oil tends to turn rancid or lose its potency much quicker than an extract as it doesn’t have alcohol to preserve it.
- Lemon extract will last around 12 months if the bottle is tightly sealed and stored in a cool, dry place away from sunlight.
- Lemon oil is less shelf-stable than lemon extract and is best stored in the refrigerator once opened for 3-6 months.
Lemon oil and extract are both exceptionally useful ingredients in the kitchen. They will both provide a similar flavor in cooking, only you need to use more extract to get a similar result. If you enjoy cooking lemon recipes frequently then we recommend lemon oil as it provides a cleaner lemon flavor and you only need a few drops to add delicious citrusy flavor to sweet and savory dishes.
One brand that we particularly enjoy is a pure lemon oil produced by Boyajian. It is a pure-tasting lemon oil that is made by cold pressing fresh lemons to extract the delicious tasting oil. Any cooks that think there's no substitute for fresh lemon juice or zest, you may want to give this product a test in your next baking session. You may be surprised with how good your food turns out.
What is your favorite recipe that stars lemons in it? Please let us know in the comments below.