I have suffered from an intolerance to lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit my entire life.
According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, an estimated 10% of the adult population suffers from food allergies, and lemon is just one example. If you suffer from this or have a similar citrus sensitivity or intolerance, these alternatives to lemons and lemon juice will help you in everyday cooking and food preparation.
- Mango Juice Concentrate
- Ground Sumac Spice
- Apricot White Balsamic Vinegar
I have suffered from an intolerance to lemons, oranges, limes, and grapefruit my entire life. My reactions to these fruits usually show up a few days after I eat the foods, and how sick I get depends upon how much of the food I consumed. I get any combination of a sore throat, inflamed tonsils, mouth ulcers, headache, itchy skin, night sweats, muscle aches, and fever.
Now, the short and simple answer to not getting sick from lemons is to stay away from citrus, but the issue is more complicated than that.
Why Do We Crave What We're Allergic To?
According to Psychology Today, when we are allergic, intolerant, or sensitive to a food we actually begin to crave it. This is because our bodies produce endorphins, or feel-good hormones, in response to eating the offending food.
Since lemon also provides a pleasurable zing, the sensation of the chemical reaction on our taste buds makes us want to consume it even more. So the most frequent choice food-sensitive people have to make is to seek a palatable match or alternative to the foods that cause them immune reactions.
I've had to spend an incredible amount of time seeking out suitable replacements. These are the substitutes for lemon I personally use. I hope you find them as deliciously satisfying as I do!
1. Lemon Substitute in Desserts: Mango Juice Concentrate
It is very difficult to give up that combination of tart and sweet so common in lemony desserts. A close but non-citrus alternative is mango juice concentrate. You can also use this product as an orange flavor substitute. As an added plus, mango also contains no citric acid and adds Vitamin A and Vitamin C to your diet.
How to Use It
My favorite way to use this product is in a homemade sorbet as well as in the mixture for no-bake cheesecake. Mango concentrate is a little less tart and a little more sweet than lemon juice, but it makes a very palatable replacement. If you like to make smoothies, adding this concentrate to the mixture will provide an excellent tropical taste bud pick-me-up.
One of my best-loved taboo treats was lemonade. I would quickly down two glasses of it and pay for it in the following few days by losing my voice and getting a sore throat. This concentrate allows me to have iced mango-ade and not feel deprived.
You can substitute this concentrate in recipes at a 1:1 or 2:1 ratio in place of lemon juice, depending upon how strong you wish the flavor to be.
Try Mango Concentrate in These Desserts
Tarts or Bars
Icing or Frosting Flavor Base
2. Lemon Substitute in Entrees: Ground Sumac Spice
A commonly eaten ingredient in Greek, Armenian, and Arabic cuisine is the highly flavorful and tart ground sumac spice made from the berries of an edible variety of the sumac bush. If you have never tasted it before, the closest flavor comparison besides lemon would be cranberry juice—but less sweet—or a very tart paprika. Ground sumac contains Vitamin A and can be a helpful addition to the diets of diabetics.
I discovered ground sumac two years ago when looking up Middle Eastern recipes for a party. This spice has been eaten for thousands of years in Europe. The Romans ate sumac in their meals before lemons became common as an import. Unfortunately, this spice is not commonly eaten in North America as it is in the Near East and Middle East. As a result, it is not available in most food stores.
How to Use It
My favorite way to eat this spice is on baked chicken breast or cod, on hummus, in falafel pitas with sour cream, or over garlic butter sauteed shrimp. You will find ground sumac tastes great on top of most fish, chicken, vegetable, beef, and lamb dishes, and is incredibly versatile.
This spice is likely to become popular with your family. To make it last longer, consider making a large quantity of your favorite dish for yourself ahead of time to freeze, and eat your portions when others are eating a different dish.
You could also only top your own meal with it. This will make your substitute last longer as you won't be sharing it with people who don't have an allergy, intolerance, or sensitivity.
Try Sumac in These Entrees
Baked or Fried Fish
Shrimp and Avocado Salad
Chicken and Rice
Crab Meat and Mayo Salad
3. Lemon Substitute in Sauces and Condiments: Apricot White Balsamic Vinegar
If you like to make your own dressings and dips but tend to skip on recipes that call for lemon juice as an ingredient, apricot white balsamic vinegar will take care of that for you. This product has a softer tang than balsamic vinegar and is also slightly sweeter thanks to the apricot base.
How to Use It
I pour this vinegar into my homemade mayo, and I also mix it with olive oil for baked pork shoulder roast. When my husband fires up the barbecue, I also brush it on fruit to make grilled pears.
Starchy dishes such as pasta, rice, and potatoes will absorb more liquid ingredients when refrigerated. It you want to add this product to starchy foods, it is best to eat them fresh so you get more uses and your money's worth out of the vinegar. If you have no choice but to refrigerate leftover pasta salad, for example, you can refresh the salad with some cold water and herbs.
If you are looking for a more accessible substitute, you can also try red wine vinegar, but it does not have quite the same edge in the taste.
Try Apricot Vinegar in These Sauces, Condiments, and Dishes
Roasted Pork and Chicken
Expand Your Palate With Substitutes
When your health issues make it difficult to enjoy foods you love there, is often a way around it. Experiment with close flavor alternatives so you can have a wider and more enjoyable palate!
- "Prevalence and Severity of Food Allergies Among US Adults": https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6324316/
- "Is it Food Allergy, Food Intolerance, or Restrictive Eating?": https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/diet-is-4-letter-word/201504/is-it-food-allergy-food-intolerance-or-restrictive-eating-0
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Questions & Answers
Question: My 5 year old seems to be allergic to citrus. It makes her feel like she has to urinate every 5 minutes. She loves lemon juice straight on her veggies, rice, everything. Do you think the spice you mentioned here would be the best thing to substitute for lemon? Where can I buy it?
Answer: I'm sorry to hear your daughter is having an issue. Yes, the spice is especially good on rice and vegetables, chicken and fish. In my opinion, it is the best substitute taste-wise. It is available at the link provided in the article. When trying any new food you have never tasted before, it is best to try a tiny bit at first. You can incrementally add more if there are no reactions to it. I hope you and your daughter enjoy it!
Question: Thank you for all your ideas. I recently developed a citrus allergy and read that it is okay to consume lemon and orange as long as it is cooked. Do you get a reaction to cooked citrus too?
Answer: Yes, I get a reaction to citrus in every form and at every temperature. Please be careful.
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