Combine lemon zest, salt, and black pepper and you get that magical taste spark of lemon pepper that compliments fish and roast vegetables so well.
But what do you do when you don’t have lemon pepper in your pantry? You look for a substitute, and I’ve got you covered with the best ones to use depending on your recipe and the flavor profile you are aiming for.
There are several substitutes for lemon pepper, including lemon thyme, lemon zest, shichimi togarashi, garlic pepper, lemon juice, and lemon curry powder. Which substitute you choose depends on whether you want more of the lemon taste or more burn and what ingredients you have locally available.
Black pepper is quite potent for adding heat to a recipe, but with the addition of salt and lemon zest, the burn is cut and a complex flavor profile emerges that is ideal for seafood, roast vegetables, and more.
Fortunately, if your lemon pepper is on its last, you can easily substitute it to create the same taste sensation.
What Flavor Is Lemon Pepper?
Despite the three easy ingredients of salt, lemon zest, and cracked black pepper, lemon pepper has a complex flavor profile that starts with an umami base.
The lemon pepper flavor is layered onto the umami base in tones of smokey wood, sweet-and-sour lemon zest, and floral scents.
What Is Lemon Pepper Seasoning Made Of?
Lemon pepper seasoning is a blend of crystalized lemon zest (the grated outer peel of a lemon) smashed with cracked black peppercorns, and coarse salt. Some blends may also include chili flakes, garlic powder, and onion flakes.
The overall result is a bright yellow pepper that is flecked with crushed pepper flakes, salt crystals, and yellow zest.
6 Best Lemon Pepper Substitutes
Now that you know all about lemon pepper, you may wonder what you can do to replace it in a favorite dish when you’ve run out of this amazing blend.
Fortunately, there are a few options, and most are easily obtained.
If citrusy taste is what you are after, then lemon thyme is a great substitute for lemon pepper.
The Mediterranean herb is blessed with a rich citrus flavor that meets the earthy tones of the thyme, which adds the slight bite associated with pepper.
Simply add lemon thyme instead of lemon pepper to your dish, and if you want a little more bite, you can add plain black pepper.
Substitute in a ratio of 1:1 for soups, fish, meat, vegetables, and more.
The easiest substitution by far is to go straight to the source. Adding lemon zest to your dishes will up the floral tones and citrus flavor.
Of course, the bite of pepper will be missing, and while you can definitely add a grind or two of black pepper, the overall flavor is sufficient to add the fruitiness of lemon pepper.
Substitute the grating of a quarter lemon’s zest for a few pinches of lemon pepper.
Did you know? Making fresh lemon pepper is preferred by top chefs to using pre-ground lemon pepper.
This means that you should use fresh lemon zest, uncracked black peppercorns, and coarse salt to make your own freshly ground lemon pepper as a flavor for your favorite dishes.
For a great substitute to use instead of lemon pepper in seafood dishes, the Japanese spice blend of shichimi togarashi is ideal.
The spice blend is made using orange peel, chili flakes, sesame seeds, flaked seaweed, ground ginger, hemp seed, and poppy seed.
With the potent combination of ingredients, you can achieve a dense flavor profile that closely matches the layered flavors of lemon pepper. With the chili flakes, you also get a hint of heat.
Use shichimi togarashi in a ratio of 1:1, but add it sparingly while taste-testing as you don’t want to overload the flavor palate of your dish.
Another substitute you probably have in the pantry (or can easily make) is to use garlic pepper. Garlic pepper is made by combining black pepper and garlic powder.
The earthy, yet fruity flavor of the garlic is potent enough to still add flavor richness to your dish instead of lemon pepper.
Substitute in a ratio of 1:1.
How about squeezing in some lemon juice to raise the flavor? You certainly can, and lemon juice makes for a great substitute for lemon pepper. Add a good squeeze of lemon juice near the end of your recipe’s cooking time (to prevent the flavor from evaporating). With a few grinds of black pepper, you can add the missing heat.
Substitute according to taste to prevent sourness in the recipe.
Lemon Curry Powder
Feast your senses with lemon curry powder.
The traditional Indian staple uses curry powder blends to create a dense flavor profile that has strong hints of citrus
Can I Use Lemon Juice Instead of Lemon Pepper?
You can use lemon juice instead of lemon pepper, and while the bite of lemon juice doesn’t come close to real lemon pepper, it will add the fruity zest that you expect from lemon pepper.
Can I Substitute Lemon Pepper for Lemon Zest?
If your recipe calls for lemon zest, but you’ve run out of lemons, you can use lemon pepper as a substitute in savory dishes. A sweet dish or dessert won’t do well with the pepper bite, so opt for lime zest or lemon juice if that’s all you have available for a sweet recipe.
My Last Foodie Thoughts
Lemon pepper is a kitchen staple, but it’s not always available, and if you’re a true culinary connoisseur, you will want to mix your own fresh lemon pepper for different meals.
If you’ve run out of lemon pepper and don’t have lemon to zestify, you can opt for lemon thyme, shichimi togarashi, garlic pepper, lemon juice, or lemon curry powder to satisfy that fruity-zesty-snap of lemon pepper in your different dishes.
Keep in mind whether your recipe is sweet or savory and opt for the appropriate substitutions to match and balance fruitiness with pepper bite.