Lemon (or Lime) Curd Is Better Without Sugar—Seriously

July 27, 2018

The inspiration for Honey Lemon Curd came from (blogger and friend) Letty Flatt’s recipe for the same. I loved the idea of exchanging honey for sugar in a recipe where I knew that the honey would be a welcome flavor—in addition to being the sweetener. I decided a make-over of my own lemon curd recipe was in order.

Unlike most, I make lemon curd in one pot over direct heat—a method perfected in my own pastry shop decades ago, where we made lemon curd in gallon-sized batches. I also make lemon curd with whole eggs or a combination of whole eggs and yolks instead of the classic yolks-only recipe, because it produces a tangier lemon flavor. And I strain my curd at the end to remove the grated zest and any stray bits of cooked egg white.

Or enjoy it on plain ole' toast. Photo by Bobbi Lin

The first thing I did was substitute 2/3 cups honey for the 1/2 cup sugar in my recipe—this is based on simple math (honey is about 18% water). Imagining that the switch from sugar to honey might make the curd less tangy than I like it, I used the zest of two lemons (as Letty does) instead of just one. This turned out to be a good call. Otherwise, I stuck to my original curd.

Shop the Story

The first taste of warm curd (I can never wait!) was good, but not quite as good as I’d hoped for. The lemon flavor was tad flat and the honey (which had been delicious right out of the jar) tasted dull. Flavorful sweeteners (like honey)—so delicious in their own right—can mute the flavors of other ingredients in a recipe and end up tasting dull themselves! So: what to do about my honey lemon curd?

When flavors need to be brightened, the usual solution is to add sugar, acid and/or salt. Like it or not, one thing must be said about refined white sugar: its perfectly neutral flavor makes other flavors pop. But I didn’t want to use sugar, and lemon curd doesn’t need more acid. So I divided the batch in half and added the tiniest bit of salt to one portion. The addition was transformative. Just a little salt—it works out to 1/16 teaspoon (just measure 1/8th teaspoon and use half of it)—for the whole batch brightened the lemon and brought the honey flavor back to life.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Two days ago I made a lovely lemon loaf and I always add sea salt to it and cut the sugar. It's hugely popular in our household and with guests (when we can have them). So I'll definitely be making curd your way asap. Thank you.”
— Diane

I love this newer version. Try it with lemons or limes.

This post originally ran in March. We're running it again because honey lemon curd can be made at any time.

another idea for lemon lovers

How do you enjoy lemon or lime curd? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Diane
  • roxlet
  • jmoo
  • Elle
  • clairemjohnson
My career was sparked by a single bite of a chocolate truffle, made by my Paris landlady in 1972. I returned home to open this country’s first chocolate bakery and dessert shop, Cocolat, and I am often “blamed” for introducing chocolate truffles to America. Today I am the James Beard Foundation and IACP award-winning author of ten cookbooks, teach a chocolate dessert class on, and work with some of the world’s best chocolate companies. In 2018, I won the IACP Award for Best Food-Focused Column (this one!).


Diane April 27, 2020
Alice, I'm definitely going to try this with the honey. And I'm a firm believer in adding salt to sweet things. Two days ago I made a lovely lemon loaf and I always add sea salt to it and cut the sugar. It's hugely popular in our household and with guests (when we can have them). So I'll definitely be making curd your way asap. Thank you.
roxlet April 14, 2019
I've been making Alice Medrich's curd for years. It's the easiest one I've ever tried, and it produces perfect results. I will have to give this one a spin. However, how about using an eighth of a teaspoon of kosher salt instead of the fine sea salt? Easier to measure that way, I would think!
jmoo April 17, 2018
I swapped out the lemon flavor for pomegranate and it's chilling in my fridge right now! A quick taste while it was warm was surprising--the floral flavors of the honey come through and mingle with the curd quite nicely! I will try this with lemon in the future (I'm trying go work through the pomegranate juice). I can't wait to see how this tastes when it sets up and chills thoroughly!
Elle March 30, 2018
I love lemon curd on cinnamon graham crackers with just a light schmear of cream cheese. So good!
My granny taught me to cook; her philosophy was that *everything* is better with a little pinch of salt. And she was right.
clairemjohnson March 25, 2018
If the goal is to cut down on sugar consumption, why would you pair this with meringues? Which, I assume were made with sugar and egg whites.
Nikkitha B. March 26, 2018
Thanks for your comment. The use of honey here, instead of processed white sugar, enhances the taste of the curd;
it’s not just about cutting back on white sugar. That being said, I understand your concern, and can modify the headline accordingly.
Jessica K. April 6, 2018
Yes, I am so confused by the title. The title VERY MUCH comes off like it's advertising a sugar-less curd but the fact is that you are adding JUST AS MUCH SUGAR!! "Processed white sugar" is a total buzz word, too. Table sugar is sucrose. Honey is fructose and glucose. It's all metabolized pretty much the same in our bodies (just utilizing different enzymes). So yeah, very misleading title and making a ridiculous boogeyman out of "white sugar" in particular (all sugar is good to cut back on).
Nikkitha B. April 6, 2018
Hi Jessica, as stated before, the intention is not to make a bogeyman out of sugar. Sugar is great and we love it! Honey, in this instance, just offers a more pleasant taste and texture. This is not an article about nutrition.
Jk G. March 25, 2018
I believe less honey is the answer to the not-lemony-enough issue. While honey has moisture content, it is also considerably more dense than sugar, providing 40% more sweetening power than sugar cup-for-cup. By my math, about 1/3 cup of honey should be just enough. (Note if measuring by weight, that’s when to use 22% more honey than sugar.)
Alice M. March 25, 2018
Yikes! You are correct. I muddled the math completely. My sources say that, by weight, honey has 75%-80% of the sweetening power of sugar. Meanwhile, 1 cup sugar=7 ounces and 1 cup honey=12 ounces. Assuming 75%-80%, then 1 cup honey is 28%-37% sweeter than 1 cup sugar. As you said, (and at least in theory) I should have used about 1/3 cup of honey! But I suspect that there's more to the story than the math here, because I got a very good balance of honey and lemon flavor and sweetness in this recipe, regardless of my bumbling! I totally stand by the recipe (because it's delicious) but I am now curious enough to retest with 1/3 cup of honey. And I will report back! I appreciate your taking the time to weight in here!
Olga L. March 22, 2018
Do you have a recipe for the meringue that holds the curd? Looks like a beautiful combination!
Alice M. March 25, 2018
Check out this post:
radhaks March 21, 2018
looks like a great recipe! I'll have to try it next. seeing the pic of the lemon curd on pavlova reminds me of when I replaced lemon juice w passion fruit pulp and made a passion fruit curd which topped off a chocolate pavlova, which was then sprinkled with toasted was a great hit!
Angela March 20, 2018
Would you suggest any adjustments to the sweetness when using Meyer lemons?
Alice M. March 25, 2018
Meyers are much sweeter than the usual Eureka Lemons. If you simply use less sugar, the yield of the recipe will be lower, so I'd use a little more lemon and a little less sugar.
HalfPint March 19, 2018
As with many things, I like a spoon of lemon curd from the jar :)
In all seriousness, I like to use it in a pavlova with whole raspberries and whipped cream. I even won a prize one year (at a Christmas party) for my pavlova. Second favorite way to enjoy lemon curd is on warm biscuits or scones.
Alice M. March 19, 2018
Sounds good to me!