Adding orange zest to your baking, savoury dishes or salads is a great way to sharpen the dish flavour and add a little light fragrance to your cooking.
While orange zest is not as sharp or zingy in flavour as lemon zest, it is a great ingredient to have in your kitchen cupboard. But, what if you don’t have orange zest or like me don’t really want to use up another orange?
That’s why in today’s blog post I want to look into how to replace orange zest in your baking, cooking and cocktail making.
What is orange zest?
Orange zest is the outer thin layer of the orange, just before you get to the white layer.
What is orange zest used for?
Orange zest is used for flavouring cake or pancake batters, adding zingy (yet subtle) orange flavour to various dishes or drink cocktails and is also used for decorating puddings, cakes or cocktails.
Orange zest is mainly used for sharpening flavours and adding extra orange flavour to your dish. It’s often used in baking cakes (even if the overall flavour is not ‘orange’) and adding zingy fragrance to salads, meat dishes and cooking sauces.
It’s also used in the recipes where you want to intensify the flavour of the orange. For example in my Blood Orange Curd Recipe, I’ve used the blood orange juice and then added all the fresh orange zest to make the orange flavour extra strong and tangy.
How to zest an orange?
It’s best to use the smallest grate on your grater or get a purpose orange or lemon zester, like in the picture below. The smaller grates you have the more flavour will come out.
If you don’t have a zester or even a cheese grater, you can also use (with some success) a potato peeler or sharp knife to remove the top layer of your orange. Afterwards, chop it into a very small pieces and bruise it with a back of a knife (to release the flavour and zest essence).
What’s the best way to substitute orange zest ?
The best substitute for orange zest is a good quality orange essence, orange marmalade concentrate or chopped candied orange peel for baking and concentrated orange juice, warmed up orange marmalade with lemon juice for salads, meat dishes or sauces.
How to substitute orange zest
Check the recipe first to see what other flavour ingredients you have. If the orange zest is the only flavour (for example in a basic cake), then you need to add some sort of replacement otherwise the cake might come a bit too bland.
If you have a lot of other flavours, for example in meat stews or salads, the orange zest is there to provide a bit of sharpness and zing. You can easily use lemon or lime zest or just orange or lemon juice.
Check the quantity of the orange zest in the recipe – this way you’ll know how important it is to either leave it out or replace it. You need to be careful here, as orange zest is a very concentrated flavour. This means that if you try to achieve the same intensity, say with orange marmalade, you might need to add way too much and the recipe might not work or change its consistency too much.
Choose the most appropriate orange zest substitute – I’ve left handy tips with each ingredient.
Your orange zest substitutes will depend on the recipe you are using, but here is how to replace 1 teaspoon of freshly grated orange zest
- 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of orange essence, extract or oil (this will depend on the streng of your essence)
- 4 tablespoons fresh orange juice (simmer on a hob or heat in the microwave to reduce in volume first)
- 2 tablespoons of concentrated orange juice (you can still reduce the volume by heating it up a bit)
- 2 teaspoons chopped candied orange peel
- 1 teaspoon dried orange powder (soften with a few drops of water or orange juice)
Orange Essence or Oil
Orange essence is probably the easiest orange zest replacement for baking, cakes, cupcakes or pancakes. You should be able to find it in most shops and it’s usually in the baking section.
Depending on what kind of quality of orange essence you have, you might need only a few drops. Start with a small amount, mix in, taste and then add more in as needed.
I would probably not use orange essence for replacing orange zest in fresh salads (I would use orange or lemon juice) but in everything else, you should be fine.
If you are using orange essence or oil in a dish that requires a lot of cooking (say meat stew), I’d leave adding the orange essence until the last minute.
Both water and oil-based orange essences are not terribly great at being heat-stable, which means that the orange flavour can be easily damaged by prolonged cooking. Similarly like with the fresh salad, you might be better off with fresh orange juice or even a dollop of orange marmalade to create that orange flavour your savoury dish needs.
Dried Orange Zest (shop bought)
This was a bit of a revelation to me, but did you know you can buy dried orange zest ready-made for you? I saw some at my local supermarket (in the spices and oil section) and I thought that it was a really great idea.
I don’t always have an orange when I need it and even if I do, I’m not very good at zesting the orange and using it for something straightaway. Because of that my zested oranges quite often stay in the fridge drying out and I have to really think about what to do with them (other than adding them to a smoothie).
Dried orange zest is inexpensive to buy and works just as well as the real thing. The best thing is that you have it ready any time you need it and don’t have to waste an orange to zest it.
Dried Orange Zest Powder
Dried orange zest powder is also a cool ingredient to have around the house because apart from adding it to your baking or cooking you can also make beauty face masks and creams with it! How brilliant is that!
Make sure that you buy the food grade (edible) version of the dried orange powder as you can use it both for cooking and home cosmetics (but the non-food grate version is not recommended for consumption).
Candied Orange Peel (chopped/grinded)
Candied orange peel is really useful for replacing orange zest, especially for rich savoury dishes, cakes or pancakes.
Since it contains quite a lot of sugar, I probably wouldn’t use it for replacing orange zest in the dishes where you need the fresh zingy flavour of orange (salad dressing, cocktails etc. – fresh or concentrated orange juice would be much better with this).
To get as much flavour as possible from your candied orange peel, chop it into smaller pieces or even lightly grind it with the back of a spoon or something similar.
Fresh Orange Juice
Orange juice is a great substitute for orange zest as it has the right amount of freshness and light orange flavour. To make the flavour more intense (and not to add too much extra liquid into your dish or a cake), simmer the orange for a while to let the water evaporate a bit.
You can do this on a hob in a small saucepan or better still in a microwave. If you make too much, you can always save it for another time – just keep it in the fridge in a jam jar or other suitable container.
If you add a little bit of sugar as you are simmering the orange juice you end up with an orange syrup, which is great for drizzling on cakes, puddings, breakfast porridge and I use it for my Orange Marmalade Pancakes.
Orange syrup or cordial
Orange cordials, squashes or syrups are made from concentrated orange juice. They could work as orange zest replacements, especially in puddings, pancakes or savoury dishes. You’ll need to bear in mind that they also contain a lot of sugar, so if your recipe calls for extra sugar, you probably want to leave some of that sugar out.
The amount you’ll need will depend on the quality of the cordial. If you need to add a lot to achieve an orange flavour, you might also need to add less liquid, especially in baking as too much liquid (from the orange cordial) might make the cake batter too liquid and it might not bake properly.
A great way to substitute orange zest is to use a good dollop of homemade orange marmalade. It’s even better if you’ve used my reduced sugar Seville Orange Marmalade Recipe as it has about 50% less sugar than the traditional marmalade recipe.
Whilst I’m pretty sure you are not going to have orange concentrate at home, if you don’t have an orange, I think it’s worth mentioning this option for orange zest substitute.
Orange Concentrate is basically concentrated Seville Orange pulp for making orange marmalade at any time of the year. If you happen to buy one of these in the future, by all means, make some marmalade, but save some of the orange concentrate for later (for your cooking and baking).
The orange concentrate doesn’t have any sugar, which makes it an ideal substitute. To save a little bit of the orange concentrate, press it into an ice cube tray and freeze for later. One freezer cube should be enough to replace 1 teaspoon of orange zest.
Practically identical in taste, the tangerine zest is very similar to orange zest. Just zest the tangerines as you would oranges and add perhaps a little more than you would normally do. You can also use homemade tangerine marmalade, reduced tangerine juice or tangerine cordial or juice.
Mandarins are usually quite small, so when the recipe says ‘zest from one orange’ you’ll probably need about 2-3 small mandarines.
They are also quite tricky to handle as they have very thin skin, so you’ll need to be careful not to press them to the zester too much.
Clementine is the lightest of the citrus flavours, but it will be perfectly fine for decorating for your salads or cocktails. To replace orange zest in baking and cooking, you might need twice the amount of clementine zest to the original amount of the orange zest.
Lemon Zest + Orange Oil or Essence
You can use lemon zest on its own to give your dish or bake a very zingy lemony flavour, but if you want to also have an orange flavour (with the fresh zesty kick), I would add a few drops of orange oil or essence.
It’s completely optional, but I think it makes a great substitution. You get the zest look and sourness from the lemon and the orange flavour from the orange essence.
Limes are probably the sharpest from the citrus flavours on offer, so I’d be careful where you use them.
Limes are going to work in any savoury dish where you have lots of other flavours, but they will come through way too much in cakes or pancakes or salads. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but you just need to be aware that your Orange Cupcakes might end up being Lime Cupcakes instead!
Grapefruit is in between orange and lemon flavour wise, but it can be easily used to replace orange zest. In the same way as orange, you can use grapefruit zest, reduced grapefruit juice, grapefruit cordial, homemade grapefruit marmalade or candied grapefruit pieces.
Out of the box solution – don’t substitute it, leave it out!
Whilst orange zest is all about flavour, it’s usually a negligible amount for any recipe to be distinctively different or not to work.
You will end up with a slightly different flavour, but the recipe will still work. In the old days, orange zest was added to luxury versions of recipes and the regular (every day) versions would not include it (and not replace it with anything).
As long as there are other flavours in your recipe, you probably won’t even notice it. In the case of say, cakes or pancakes, orange zest is added to make the batter extra fragrant and without it, the cake or pancake batter might taste a bit bland.
In these cases, it’s worth choosing another flavour that would complement the overall flavour of the cake you are making. For example, you can never go wrong with a good quality vanilla essence.
This blog post was originally written on 3 February 2022 and last updated on 13 March 2023