How to Make Lemon Extract for Baking (So Easy!)

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Need a bit of tartness in your recipe? Try this homemade lemon extract for a fresh and easy way to add that bright, summery flavor to your baked goods and desserts.

mason jar with homemade lemon extract.

When it comes to a quality extract, homemade versions are always the best way to go. Many store-bought extracts are imitation extracts filled with artificial flavor and colorings, so you never quite know what you’re getting in that mysterious lemon-flavored liquid.

This pure lemon extract, on the other hand, not only has a beautiful sweet smell (one of my favorite aromas!), but it also adds a bright lemon flavor to your muffins, cakes, icings, and scones. The avid baker knows it’s small things like this that make a huge difference in the flavor profile of recipes.

Lemon extract is a concentrated liquid derived from lemon zest or peel. It soaks in alcohol, which captures the citrus flavor and aroma from the oils in the peel.

Extracts can be made from a variety of plants, though homemade citrus extracts are some of the easiest to make! The great thing about extracts is that the flavors become more potent, so small amounts go a long way. This also makes homemade extracts a cost-effective alternative to the ones found in the store.

Why you’ll love this homemade lemon extract recipe


  • BRIGHT, INVIGORATING NATURAL FLAVOR – Lemon extract adds a layer of brightness to recipes, elevating the overall flavor profile of both sweet and savory dishes.
  • SO EASY TO MAKE – With a little time and effort and just two simple ingredients, this flavorful extract could not be easier to make!
  • PRESERVE THE HARVEST – If you have your own lemon trees or find a great deal on winter citrus at the store, this is a great way to make the most of your harvest! If you live in a colder climate and don’t always have access to fresh fruit, pure extracts can be a handy way of keeping citrus fruit in your pantry all year long.

Equipment

To make this lemon extract, you’ll need:

  • Pint or half-pint mason jar
  • Paring knife or vegetable peeler
  • Small strainer & funnel (optional)
  • Glass jar for storage
cutting board with lemons, vodka, and paring knife.

Ingredients

  • Fresh lemons – It’s best to use organic lemons to avoid any waxes or pesticides. Be sure to wash them well and carefully remove just the lemon peels, not the white pith.
  • Vodka – Use a high-proof, neutral, clear alcohol like vodka or Everclear. You can find it at the liquor store or grocery store in some states.

How to Make Lemon Extract

  1. Use a peeler or paring knife to remove the skin from your lemons. Avoid the pith as much as possible.
  2. Add the peels to your glass jar. Cover with alcohol.
  3. Shake the jar daily. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks.
  4. Once the extract has a strong lemon scent, strain out the peels and store the extract in a jar.
  5. For an even stronger extract, restart the process with a new batch of lemon peels and the initial batch of lemon extract. Let the mixture rest for 2-3 weeks again, then strain out the lemon rinds and store the extract in a glass bottle.

Storing

After you finish infusing the lemon peels in vodka, strain them out and store the lemon extract in an airtight container, like a clean jar or glass bottle. I recommend using amber glass to keep the extract out of direct sunlight. The shelf life is approximately 1-2 years.

Avoid using plastic bottles, as the alcohol can degrade the plastic and cause chemicals to leech into your extract.

Tips & Variations

  • Use the zest. Feel free to zest the lemons instead of peeling off the skin with a knife. This will increase the surface area of the citrus peels, which will also speed up the process. 
  • Avoid the white part. You only need the yellow part of the peel. Otherwise, your extract could have a bitter or astringent flavor.
  • Use vegetable glycerin for an alcohol-free extract. Food-grade glycerin is the best substitute for those who don’t have or use alcohol in their house.
  • Try out Meyer lemons. These smaller, sweeter, deeper yellow-colored lemons are thought to be a cross between a regular lemon and a mandarin orange. 
  • Use in place of lemon oil in recipes. However, keep in mind that food-grade essential oils are much more concentrated than extracts, so you will need to use more to match the flavor potency. Use 1 teaspoon of homemade lemon extract for every 1/8 teaspoon of lemon oil.
  • Gift your extra lemon extract! Have some small bottles on hand? Gift this homemade recipe to loved ones for your next special occasion.
  • Substitute the lemon with other citrus fruits. Limes, grapefruits, oranges, and pomelos also make delicious, tangy extracts!
  • Organic vodka is not necessary. While organically raised potatoes or rye will typically be better for the environment, an organic bottle of vodka can be much more expensive and is, therefore, not a feasible option for everyone. Since distillation removes almost all traces of pesticides, I typically use conventional vodka in this recipe. However, let your budget be your guide here. It’s much more important to me to buy organic lemons than organic vodka.
amber glass bottle with homemade lemon extract.
simple & from scratch

Learn how to make 15 delicious extracts!

In my ebook DIY Extracts, you’ll learn everything you need to know to make 15 homemade extracts to add tons of flavor to every bake.

How to Use Lemon Extract

Once your extract is ready to go, try it in this lemon recipes!

FAQs

Can lemon extract be substituted for lemon juice?

Yes! It’s generally recommended to use 1 teaspoon of lemon extract for every 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Citrus extracts are much more concentrated than citrus juice.

Can lemon extract be substituted for lemon zest?

Yes, you can. Use 1 teaspoon of lemon extract for every 2 teaspoons of zest. The extract has a stronger flavor than the zest of lemons.

Will lemon extract go bad?

While it is preserved in an alcohol base, it will eventually degrade. Lemon extract should last up to 2 years when stored properly. If you purchased your lemon extract, be sure to check the product information for a precise expiration date.

Related Recipes

I love making homemade extracts and have a variety of them available on the blog, like these flavorful options:

bottle of homemade lemon extract on a white towel.
jar of homemade lemon extract.

Homemade Lemon Extract Recipe

Homemade lemon extract is one of the easiest ways to add a ton of flavor to your bakes without keeping a stash of fresh lemons on hand! Plus, the process is the same with other citrus so you can make several types at once during citrus season. A little goes a long way, so it'll last you a while!
5 from 1 vote
Prep Time 10 minutes
Infusing Time 21 days
Course Baking
Cuisine American

Equipment

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup vodka
  • 2-3 organic lemons, zest or peel only

Instructions
 

  • Use a sturdy peeler or zester to remove the skin from your lemons. Avoid the pith as much as possible.
  • Add the peels to your glass jar. Cover with alcohol.
  • Shake the jar daily. Store in a cool, dark place for 2-3 weeks.
  • Once the extract has a strong lemon scent, strain out the peels and store the extract in a jar.
  • For an even stronger extract, restart the process with a new batch of lemon peels and the initial batch of strained lemon extract. Let the mixture rest for 2-3 weeks again, then strain out the lemon rinds and store the extract in a glass bottle.

Notes

After you finish infusing the lemon peels in vodka, strain them out and store the lemon extract in an airtight container, like a clean jar or glass bottle. I recommend using amber glass to keep the extract out of direct sunlight. The shelf life is approximately 1-2 years.
Keyword homemade lemon extract, lemon extract recipe
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