Lemon Extract

homemade lemon extract

I feel as though have a part-time job at the moment finding uses for the lemons that our tree rains down upon us. If I had more than one lemon tree as prolific as this one, I would lose my mind. Or I would list the location of my trees on Falling Fruit, a site that maps urban fruit trees all around the world so that people can go and help themselves to the harvest instead of it going to waste. 

Five-gallon pail of lemons

Last week, I started in on the 5-gallon pail of lemons pictured above. I didn’t weigh this but it must have come in at about 25 pounds. Organic lemons cost at least $2.00 a pound where I live, so let’s say this pail contained $50 worth of lemons. I prepped a few jars of preserved lemons with half of them—one large jar alone contains 20 lemons!

Preserved lemons use up the entire lemon—rind and all. The rind is actually the main attraction. But I also need to juice a bunch of lemons to make the preserved lemons—you top off the jar with juice to submerge the lemons in liquid. That means a lot of rind potentially in the compost after I’ve squeezed out the juice.

preserved lemons
Preserved lemons

As I set to work, throwing some of my rinds into the compost bucket left me racked with wasted-lemon-peel guilt so I decided to zest the lemons before tossing the piths into the compost bucket. I spread some of the zest out on a glass dish to dry before I remembered that I had vodka on hand for making vanilla extract. I would make lemon extract!

lemon zest
Lemon zest


I found an 8-ounce bottle of McCormick’s lemon extract online at Jet, now owned my Walmart, so you know the price is rock bottom at $8.48 (regular price $10.49), not including sales tax. The packaging looks like a plastic bottle capped with a large plastic lid. This extract contains alcohol, water and oil of lemon. So nothing unpronounceable at least. But pretty much guaranteed lesser quality than my homemade extract.

Let’s say you bought lemons for a different recipe—like me, you may be obsessed with making preserved lemons. The lemon zest you’ll use for your lemon extract costs nothing to buy since you already have the lemons. Think of your zest as a useful byproduct or averted, upcycled food waste.

A 1.75-liter bottle of inexpensive Smirnoff vodka at my local Bevmo costs $19.15 with tax. That’s a little over 7 cups of vodka and I use 1 cup for this. That works out to $2.59 for the same amount of homemade extract as the McCormick extract from Jet ($19.15 ÷ 59.17 ounces × 8 ounces). More if you use better vodka. Lemon extract made with inexpensive vodka will taste fine but you may prefer organic, non-GMO vodka.

Note: Organic Lemons and Food Grade Wax

When I eat fruit or vegetable peels, I eat organic only. However, organic lemons at the grocery store—and other types of produce there—often have a wax coating. Waxes extend the shelf life of fruits and vegetables and enhance their appearance (think of wax as makeup for food)—and thus increase grocery store profits. I doubt you want to eat wax…

I haven’t come across citrus—or any other produce—coated in wax at the farmers’ market (another good reason to shop there). So if you don’t have a lemon tree or can’t find one on the Falling Fruit website, check the farmers’ market for wax-free citrus. I am extremely lucky to have a tree that produces more lemons than I can handle.

produce wax
Would you like some wax with your sweet potato fries?
homemade lemon extract
Lemon extract steeping

Lemon Extract


  • 1 cup vodka
  • Zest of 5 organic lemons


1. Scrub and zest lemons.

2. Place zest in a jar. Pour vodka over the zest. Put the lid on the jar. Shake.

3. Set the jar aside for a month. Shake every few days or when you think of it.

4. Strain and use the lemon extract in cakes, pancakes, cookies, pies or anything else to which you’d like to add lemon flavor.


1. Follow these same directions to make orange extract or grapefruit extract.

14 Replies to “Lemon Extract”

  1. I made some citrus enzyme with grapefruit skins that hubby has daily. I imagine lemons, after juicing would ferment into an enzyme cleaner well. Wish I had a lemon tree. I also use lemon discard to make wild yeast waters for my bread making. It is quite potent and makes a starter in a couple of feeds for sourdough bread.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Oooh that all sounds wonderful. How do you make the enzyme? How does your starter like the yeast water? A lot, I bet! Thanks for these brilliant ideas. ~ Anne Marie

  2. What an interesting post! `You certainly are VERY lucky to have that lemon tree. I go through LOTS of lemons and here in Ohio I’m sure they aren’t half as nice as your’s. I’ve never had a “preserved lemon”….intriguing.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! I know I’m so lucky to have that tree. The preserved lemons are delicious. They are very pungent, so you use just a little bit. I put chop mine up for a garnish for Indian dishes and also put them in my hummus, and other savory dishes that need a little oomph.

  3. I would LOVE a lemon tree. Lucky you. 😊

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      I know it! My sister (and mom) wants me to move back to Canada but when I talk about the lemon tree, she says it’s hopeless :p

  4. When we have extra citrus peels that I don’t have an immediate need for, we throw them in the freezer and use them to clean our garbage disposal. We barely use the disposal (we use the drain but don’t put food in the disposal for being ground up) and it seems to have a constant smell issue so we love having a surplus of peels to throw in there on a regular basis.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Great idea Sara! I do that occasionally with half a lemon but I’ll try it with the peels. I have so many! Thanks ~ Anne Marie

  5. Great post! I like salted, preserved lemons, particularly in homemade fudge! Love the idea of the extract in rice and with fish!

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you! Now I have to make some fudge! Great idea to use the extract in rice and fish. I better make more of this stuff 😉

  6. Ah, this is a very helpful post! We have three, count ’em THREE large lemon trees, all going full to bursting at the moment. I have done lemon curd, marmalade, preserved lemons, limoncello (which is too crazy sweet, that was a one-time thing), shaker lemon pie, etc., but never lemon extract. Great idea! We are a neighborhood attraction over here, so we get some help distributing the bounty, but it’s always great to have another truly useful lemon recipe. Mostly it ends up as lemon water for drinking and into salad dressing. Lemon zest is pretty awesome on any vegetable, or really, on any food item.

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Wow three trees! Your neighbors are very lucky! I had planned on making marmalade but I haven’t yet. My boss keeps telling me to make lemoncello. Actually everyone keeps telling me to make it! Enjoy your bounty 🙂 ~ Anne Marie

    1. The Zero-Waste Chef says: Reply

      Thank you!

Leave a Reply