I personally taste-tested a variety of calamansi substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
The best substitute for calamansi (also known as calamondins) are kumquats if you can find them. If you can’t, limes are also a decent option, especially key limes. Lemons can also work. If you don’t mind a change of flavor, tamarind is a delicious souring agent.
I juiced various calamansi substitutes to make fruit drinks, then I tasted them all to find the best substitute.
Calamansi are small, round citrus fruits. The juice is sour, but the thin, edible skins are sweet. They’re mostly used for their juice, which you’ll see listed as an ingredient in sauces, marinades, dressing, desserts, marmalades, and drinks.
Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Kumquats||1 calamansi = 2 kumquats||9/10|
|Limes||1 calamansi = ¼ lime||9/10|
|Lemon||1 calamansi = ¼ lemon||8/10|
|Tangerines||1 calamansi = ¼ tangerine||7/10|
|Tamarind||1 calamansi = 1 tsp tamarind||7/10|
|Yuzu||1 calamansi = 1 yuzu||8/10|
|Vinegar||1 calamansi = 1 tbsp vinegar||6/10|
Kumquats are the closest you can get to calamansi in terms of flavor, which is no surprise when you learn that calamansi are a hybrid of kumquats and mandarin oranges. But there are a few issues.
One is that while kumquats are easier to find in Western countries than calamansi, they’re still not that widely available. And the other is that they’re pretty hard to juice because of their small size.
If you do find some, I would puree the whole fruit and use this. Including the skin will add a delicious sweetness to the mix.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with 2 kumquats.
If you have limes on your counter, you’re in luck! They’re a great substitute for calamansi. Their juice has an intense sourness that matches calamansi’s flavor perfectly and you can pick one up pretty much anywhere.
You can’t eat lime skin (it’s definitely not sweet), but you can zest them and use this zest to add extra flavor to your recipes or decorate drinks. A squeeze of orange juice is also a good idea.
Regular limes will get the job done, but if you can get key limes these are a better match. They have a slightly sweet note that mellows out their natural acidity, giving you a more balanced bite. And if you’re using bottled juice, make sure it doesn’t contain sugar.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with ¼ lime.
If you can use limes, then you’ve probably guessed you can also use lemons. Lemons have a less intense sourness than both limes and calamansi, so they’re a good substitute if you don’t like too much acidity.
Similar to limes, you can mix the lemon juice with a dash of orange juice to replicate the orangey undertones of calamansi, but it’s not essential. And make sure you use natural orange juice rather than a sweetened variety. Freshly squeezed is always best, for both the lemon and the orange juice.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with ¼ lemon.
Tangerines are much sweeter than calamansi, but there’s a hint of tartness that makes them an okay substitute. They also have the same refreshing citrus notes as calamansi.
I didn’t add any honey to my drink to make sure it didn’t end up overly sweet. And I would recommend you use less of any sweet ingredients in your recipe. You can also mix in something more acidic like lime juice, vinegar, or even white wine.
Psst… did you know that tangerines are named after a port in Morocco?
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with ¼ tangerine.
Tamarind and calamansi are both sour ingredients, but they have distinct flavor profiles. Tamarinds have an earthy undertone and a more complex flavor profile than calamansi, which has more of a straightforward citrus flavor.
The impact of the flavor difference will depend on how centre-stage the calamansi is. In things like sauces or marinades, that calamansi usually isn’t the main flavor so subbing in tamarind won’t make too much difference. But in my drink, where calamansi was a main ingredient, the end result was pretty different (but still delicious).
Pro tip: a little tamarind goes a long way.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with 1 tsp of tamarind.
Yuzu fruits are Japanese citrus fruits that actually makes a really nice substitute for calamansi. They’re known as Japanese lemons, but the flavors aren’t actually that similar. Lemons have a bright, tart flavor but there isn’t much depth.
Yuzu combines the flavors of grapefruit, mandarin, and Meyer lemons, which give it a lot more complexity. They’re fragrant and tart, but not as sour as a typical lemon, and therefore not as sour as a calamansi either.
They’re not so easy to find though, and you’ll probably have to go to a Japanese or Asian supermarket.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with 1 yuzu fruit.
This final substitute is exclusively for those who are looking to replace calamansi as a souring agent in savory dishes. Varieties of vinegar like apple cider and white wine vinegar will add a fruity tang without overpowering your dish.
I don’t recommend using regular white vinegar though, because it is too sharp and one-dimensional. If you think the vinegar is too tart for your recipe, you can always dilute it with a bit of water.
How to Substitute: Replace 1 calamansi with 1 tbsp vinegar.
Best Calamansi Substitutes + What To Avoid
- 2 to 3 kumquats
- ¼ lime
- ¼ lemon
- ¼ tangerines
- 1 tsp tamarind
- 1 yuzu
- 1 tbsp vinegar
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen calamondin substitutes at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.