Lemon pepper can brighten any dish with its dash of citrus and peppery spark. It’s a zesty seasoning that can instantly perk up your salads, pasta, soups, meats, and casseroles.
Lemon pepper is an all-purpose and versatile spice and a must-have in your spice rack. While lemon brings that extra zing and pleasant floral note, adding other herbs and spices like garlic or cayenne pepper can blend this into another savory seasoning.
What if you run out of lemon pepper and badly need to serve your famous lemon pepper chicken to your dinner guests? There’s no reason to change your menu with this tiny glitch. Surely, you can go on with 16 other lemon pepper alternatives we’ve listed:
- Lemon thyme
- Minced onion and lemon thyme
- Shichimi Togarashi
- Lemon juice
- Mixed spice curry powder
- Lemon zest
- Lemon extract
- Lemon balm
These lemon pepper alternatives should be available in your kitchen, garden, or spice rack. Another bright thing about these alternatives is that they’re free from preservatives and chemicals and are easy to find.
Let’s go over these 16 best lemon pepper alternatives:
16 Best Substitute For Lemon Pepper
Lemon thyme is an herb that ranks as the best substitute for lemon pepper. Lemon thyme carries the citrus and floral notes of lemon sans the acidity. As it brings that delicate lemon flavor, you’ll need to double the lemon thyme in your dish to achieve your desired zing.
Lemon thyme is part of the mint family, but its flavor resembles aromatic and citrusy thyme. With this interesting combination, lemon thyme works well when used to season savory dishes. To achieve the lemon pepper taste profile, ground pepper is added.
Minced onions and lemon thyme
This next alternative is a spin-off to number 1. While we’ve established that lemon thyme (with pepper) makes a direct replacement for lemon pepper, it’s time to stir this a bit and get more creative.
Minced onions also make a great combination with lemon thyme, since the latter brings that citrus flavor minus the sourness of lemons. Minced onions capture the fiery flavor of pepper, and when mixed with lemon thyme, can perfectly mimic that lemon pepper zest.
You can use any color of onion or shallots for this substitute since all onions can produce that peppery spice.
Shichimi Togarashi is a Japanese seven-spice mixture composed of orange peel, ground red chili pepper, black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, ground ginger, hemp seeds, poppy seeds, and nori.
It’s another top substitute for lemon pepper because of its spice composition. The orange peel and chili pepper deliver that citrusy and fiery flavor that can spice up any recipe.
Since we’re talking about a seven-spice mix, Shichimi Togarashi is perfect when used as a rub, marinade, or seasoning. It’s very flavorful—and you can expect to get that pure umami from this mix.
Did you know that Shichimi Togarashi is also a well-known condiment for ramen? That’s how versatile it is.
Lemon juice shouldn’t be hard to source since you can get this from fresh lemons, bottled juice, or their combination. Combining the juice with black pepper brings that liquid version of lemon pepper that you can use as a marinade or a base for a saucy dish.
As a lemon pepper substitute, lemon juice is ideal for preparing liquid recipes like sauces, dressings, or marinades. If you’re also looking for that extra sour note to enhance your dish, lemon juice can help you achieve that flavor.
Mixed Spice Curry Powder
Lemon curry powder makes it to the list since curry powder contains a lot of pepper to bring that much-needed spice.
The blend also offers a citrusy and slightly sweet flavor that can deliver more zest to dishes like meats, sauces, stews, soups, and vegetables.
Various curry mixes are available, so you can find one that will suit your desired flavor or seasoning. One thing to note is that mixed spice curry powder contains turmeric, so your dishes may turn yellow from using this spice.
Lemon zest is the grated portion of the outer layer of lemons. The lemon flavor of lemon zest is pretty saturated, so don’t let this go to waste. Did you know that essential oils use this part of the lemon?
Lemon zest can be scraped or grated. You can also buy a specialized grater to achieve a fine and evenly grated lemon zest. Combined with ground pepper, this is ready to season your meat and chicken dishes and pasta. You can also use this to top salads and vegetables to achieve that citrus-pepper zing.
Top tip: When grating or peeling the skin of lemons, don’t include the white portion (the pith) under the yellow skin since it gives off a slightly bitter taste.
Lemon extract can either be natural or artificial and when mixed with black pepper, is another good substitute for lemon pepper.
To produce a lemon extract, lemon peels are soaked in alcohol so what we get is a very strong flavor of lemon minus the sour factor. Lemon extract is commonly used in baking—that’s why lemon muffins have a sweet and intense lemon taste!
For cooking, you’ll need to use lemon extract sparingly (don’t use the whole bottle, no matter how tiny it is). This is perfect for marinades that capitalize on the lemon flavor—like your famous lemon chicken.
Lemongrass is commonly associated with Thai dishes, and is native to Southeast Asia. Another name for it is “citronella.” Does that name ring a bell? Citronella is a known insect repellent and essential oil for aromatherapy.
Lemongrass doesn’t taste (and smell) exactly like lemon. It has a unique flavor with hints of citrus, mint, and ginger—which is why it is often associated with teas and Southeast Asian cuisine.
Lemongrass is available fresh, powdered, or in dried form. If you are looking to use this as a substitute for lemon pepper, choose the dried or powdered lemongrass and mix it with ground pepper. This combination will offer your dishes a spicy citrus flavor with a distinct twist.
Lemon balm is not an ointment, but rather, is a lemon-scented herb from the mint family—so it’s natural for it to come with a citrus-mint flavor.
Fresh leaves of the lemon balm have many health benefits and applications due to their flavor. The leaves can be used in teas or jams and to alleviate many ailments.
When lemon balm leaves are crushed and mixed with black peppercorns, they can be a flavorful lemon pepper substitute for your sauces, meat and chicken dishes, marinades, soups, and stews.
Lemon verbena is an herb with the least lemony taste compared with the other plants on this list. With a faint citrus profile, lemon verbena capitalizes on its herbal, light, and slightly sweet taste.
The subtle lemon flavor of lemon verbena makes it an aromatic ingredient for marinades, curries, desserts, and teas.
Crushed lemon verbena leaves with peppercorns will make another acceptable (and fragrant) substitute for lemon pepper. The slightly lemony, spicy, and herby flavor will help enhance fish, meats, salads, and soups.
You can also grow lemon verbena at home.
Lemon basil is a godsend for those preparing dishes that will benefit from the sweet anise flavor emitted from the leaves. The combination is a delightfully lemony flavor with a touch of herbal sweetness. Do note that lemon basil does not taste like the traditional basil so don’t expect your dishes to automatically taste like pesto!
The mild lemon flavor of lemon basil mixed with peppercorns would be another amazing substitute for lemon pepper. You can apply this on your chicken or grilled fish, sauces, soups, and stews—and get that unique citrus sweetness from the lemon basil.
Lemon mint (Monarda citriodora) is another plant from the mint family. It also goes by the name “Lemon bee balm” so it’s all right to confuse this with lemon balm—but now you know. Another characteristic of lemon mint that would distinguish it from lemon balm would be its purple flowers.
Lemon mint, as the name suggests, gives a refreshing lemon and minty flavor. It is mostly favored in teas, martinis, and mint jelly—given its fresh citrus combo. Add some ground peppercorns to crushed lemon mint leaves, and you’ve got yourself a lemon pepper substitute.
This kind of spicy lemon with a hint of mint will be a fantastic seasoning for your sauces, meat dishes, and curries.
Both lemon peel and lemon zest refer to the outer skin of lemons. They are sometimes used interchangeably, but for this list, let’s note their differences.
Lemon peel utilizes the outer skin of the lemon, which may also include the white pith portion. Lemon zest, on the other hand, is scraped from the surface of the skin where the concentration of the lemon flavor lies.
As a substitute for lemon pepper, lemon peel presents a concentrated lemon taste with a slight bitter accompaniment (if the white pith is included), but this should not matter since the addition of peppercorns would balance the spice level.
With this strong flavor profile, lemon peel would be a good alternative for your dishes and sauces that call for that dominant citrus taste.
Other citrus zest
While lemon (and lemon pepper) is a fan favorite when it comes to adding a citrus touch to recipes, let’s not discount the idea that there are other readily available citrus fruits in the market.
Aside from lemons, you can use limes or oranges since they also have the same skin texture for grating.
If you use another citrus zest to substitute for lemon pepper in your recipe, remember that the flavor profile and color may slightly change, especially if you use a large amount.
Still, other citrus zests with pepper are another innovative kitchen alternative if you run out of lemon pepper.
The last resort substitute for lemon pepper would be dried herbs. While the flavor profile of lemon pepper cannot be mimicked entirely by an herb or two, they can enhance your dishes with their much-needed zing and spice.
Consider having any (or all) of these herbs to complement your dishes that need a lemon pepper twist: cayenne pepper, garlic, onion, thyme, basil, or oregano. Dried herbs are free from artificial ingredients and have a long-lasting shelf life of 1 to 3 years.
Homemade Lemon Pepper Seasoning
If you haven’t figured it out already, lemon pepper is easy to make from scratch. Another great thing about DIY lemon pepper is that you can prepare it low-sodium (unlike some store-bought brands that list salt as the number one ingredient) and customize your blend, depending on the flavors you prefer.
What You Need
- 1 to 2 tablespoons of lemon zest or peel
- 2-3 tablespoons of ground pepper (if you don’t have black pepper, you can ground whole peppercorns)
- 1 tablespoon of sea salt.
After crushing them together, the blend is ready to use. To make it last longer, you can bake the lemon zest and pepper for 3 to 5 minutes to dry up the lemon zest. Once done, add the salt and store this in your spice rack.
For a more appetizing blend, you can add other herbs and spices—like garlic powder, onion powder, and dried thyme leaves—to the simple lemon pepper recipe and store in an airtight jar. This powerhouse spice would be an excellent addition to your homemade recipes.