Tips & Techniques

When Meyer Lemons Are Hard to Find, Try This Substitute

March  2, 2017

Meyer lemon this; Meyer lemon that. In high citrus season, many recipes will have you searching for the proper-noun'ed Meyer lemons—and for valid reason. They're sweeter and less astringent than run-of-the-mill Eurekas, with a thin, edible skin and a fragrance as floral as a bouquet of hyacinth.

But they can also be harder to come by (their peak season in November through March) and more expensive.

Not to worry: When a recipe calls for Meyer lemon juice or zest, the authors of Perfect Pasta: Recipes and Secrets to Elevate the Classic Italian Meal (one of three cookbooks in the Artisanal Kitchen Series to be released this May) have an easy work-around:

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To replace the juice (or zest) of 1 Meyer lemon, simply swap in the juice (...or zest) of 1/2 a tangerine and 1/2 a regular lemon.

Regular lemon sweetened with a squeeze of tangerine works beautifully in their place.

When we experimented with this at Food52, we found that the lemon-tangerine juice was noticeably sweeter than the Meyer lemon juice—perhaps because of the largeness of our tangerine relative to the lemon. So start with equal parts lemon and tangerine juice rather than using 1/2 of each fruit. Taste and adjust as needed. Same goes for zest: We got a much larger amount of zest from 1/2 a lemon plus 1/2 a tangerine than we did from 1 Meyer lemon.

To account for scale and quantity, consider the juice and zest a typical Meyer lemon yields. For an unremarkably-sized Meyer lemon, I got 1 scant teaspoon of zest and 2 scant tablespoons juice. Therefore, for every 1 Meyer lemon, you'll want 1/2 teaspoon tangerine zest + 1/2 teaspoon lemon zest, and 1 tablespoon lemon juice + 1 tablespoon tangerine juice. (Drbabs, who's been this smart and resourceful for years, uses lemon juice mixed with orange juice, instead.)

Photo by Yossy Arefi

It's a very sensical substitution when you consider that Meyer lemons—named for the agricultural explorer Frank Nicholas Meyer, who discovered the fruit in China and introduced it to US soil in 1908 (it was then drawn into the culinary limelight by Martha Stewart)—are thought to be a cross between lemons and mandarin oranges.

In Perfect Pasta, Meyer lemon juice and zest (or the equivalent combination of lemon and tangerine juice and zest) are added to a silky butter sauce, along with black pepper and Parmesan, for "a comforting yet sunny-tasting dish" mid-winter.

You'll want to seek Meyer lemon whenever the fruit will be left intact, though—segments of Meyer lemons tucked into a salad or chopped into a salsa, for example. But if you're in a pinch (or it's July) and you're making a recipe that calls the zest and juice only (like any of those below), try the lemon-tangerine tag-team.

When you do find Meyer lemons, what's the first thing you make? Tell us in the comments below.

12 Comments

BerryBaby March 6, 2017
Have seen them in all the grocery stores out here in Portland. Prices range from less than $2.00 a bag to over $5.00. Picked up a bag of 5 at Walmart for $1.96! Same brand as other stores, only a lot less. Made Lemon Bars that are really delicious.
 
Teri G. March 3, 2017
In Arizona,they should be seen at the local stores,SOON!I love anything lemon,and had no clue what a Meyer lemon was when I was growing up in Wisconsin.Never saw a single Key lime there either!😞A pie with or without meringue is lovely!But,my personal fave is by far,those lovely bars with the shortbread crust.Yummo!I wonder if Wisconsin style rhubarb could grow in California?Miss that ,grows like crazy back in the old tundra.
 
Smaug March 3, 2017
I don't know if it qualifies as Wisconsin style, but rhubarb grows very well in California.
 
Smaug March 2, 2017
Curious that Meyer lemons aren't more common in commerce- perhaps because they don't store and ship as well as Eurekas and Lisbons. As some have noted below, the trees are quite prolific, and at a very early age. Even small potted trees will produce enough lemons to do quite a bit with; in fact they sometimes seem to be stripped of fruit to encourage the tree to grow. They're somewhat susceptible to scale and mealy bugs, but are generally quite easy of cultivation in an appropriate climate.
 
HalfPint March 2, 2017
Humble brag: I am lucky to be living in Northern CA and even luckier to have a Meyer Lemon tree, which at this moment is heavy with lots of lemon (more than my husband and I can ever consume). One of the first things I make is marmalade with a hint of vanilla. Then I make "my" famous lemon curd (recipe from Sunset Magazine). And of course there's nothing like lemonade.
 
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Sarah J. March 2, 2017
More of these humble brags, please—we're living vicariously through you! (The thought of having a TREE that produces FRUIT—that amazes me!)
 
HalfPint March 2, 2017
@Sarah, the tree is only 3 feet tall and produces so much fruit that even with some pesky squirrel eating (and annoyingly, eating only half the skin of the lemon) some, there's still enough fruit for me to bring in 2 shopping bags to the office.<br /><br />This year, I think I'll candy the rind.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. March 2, 2017
My question: Can you still use the lemon once the squirrel has nibbled away half the skin? (Is that a gross question?)
 
HalfPint March 3, 2017
I contemplated using the leftover lemons but decided against it because I had no idea where that squirrel has been, or for that matter, if it is a squirrel at all. Raccoons are rather dirty critters from what I've been told. So into the compost they went and it broke my heart. However, with all the picking and pillaging, the tree is still heavy with fruit.
 
Smaug March 6, 2017
If the skin is eaten and the interior ignored, I'm afraid the culprit is most probably roof rats. They're no nearly as nasty as Norway rats, and not too prone to invade the home, but you don't want them around.
 
EmilyC March 2, 2017
Good tip! In the same vein, when a recipe calls for sour (or bitter) orange juice, a good sub is 1/3 orange juice, 1/3 lemon juice, 1/3 grapefruit juice -- a tip I learned from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook.
 
Author Comment
Sarah J. March 2, 2017
Oh, great find! Thank you for sharing, Emily!