Lime zest is a great spice for adding the sharp, tangy flavor of lime to a dish without the bulk and bitterness of the whole peel or the acidity of the juice. It is also versatile in that it can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. If you have no lime zest in your spice cabinet and are unable to get any, there is a host of alternatives from which to choose. Consider the lime zest substitutes in the post below.
Your best bet: Lemon zest
Both lime and lemon are alike in that they are citrus fruits. Like most citrus fruits, their zest is full of essential oils that are responsible for much of the fruit’s flavor. Lemon is the citrus fruit that is most like lime in terms of its flavor and fragrance. The zest from both fruits provides a similar sharp, sweet note in most dishes. In fact, the two are virtually indistinguishable in dishes that have other pungent spices. Another benefit of lemon zest is that it is just as easy to remove and use as lime zest.
The bright yellow color of a ripe lemon will provide a different appearance when compared to the deep green of lime zest, but this is unlikely to be a drawback in most dishes.
A teaspoon of lemon zest has just as much flavor as a teaspoon as lime zest, so you can use it as a 1:1 lime zest substitute.
A decent second choice: Fresh or dried lime peel
The zest of the lime is the very outer part of the peel—the part with the color. Lime peel is the entire outer part of the fruit, including the white inner portion called the pith. Whole peel can be dried for long-term storage without losing all of its flavor, though it will lose some of it. It can be a good substitute for the zest in dishes where the zest would be used mainly for flavoring, as opposed to being used for texture and color. It is not a good substitute in dishes where it will be consumed since it can be bitter and fibrous. For example, you would not use lime peel in a salad or for a dry rub; however, you could use it in a sauce or in a braised dish. In the sauce or braised dish, you would remove it before serving the dish and after it releases its flavorful essential oils.
Use the peel of one lime to replace the zest of one lime. Use twice the amount if you are working with the dried peel.
In a pinch: Lime extract
Lime extract captures the pungent flavor of the fruit zest in liquid form. It is typically made from the essential oil in the zest. Not only do lime and other citrus extracts tend to be very strong, they also have a much longer shelf life than limes or lime zest.
In place of one teaspoon of lime zest, use a 1/2 teaspoon of liquid extract. Note that the fact that lime extracts can be very strong can result in them overpowering dishes quite easily.
Lime juice is another good option as it will provide much of the lime flavor along with fruitiness and acidity. It is important to keep in mind that the juice contains substantially less flavor than the zest, which means that you will need to use more of it than you would use of the zest. Keep in mind that in addition to providing the flavor of lime, lime juice can make your dish considerably more acidic.