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How To Cut Lemon Flavor From Any Dish – 6 Tried & Tested Methods

Lemon is an excellent addition to almost every dish. It helps brighten dull flavors.

But, it’s a strong flavor and easy to go overboard. 

I’ve tested several methods of cutting lemon flavor and gone through my results below. I’ve included quick fixes (so you can fix that sauce RIGHT NOW), plus ways to prevent overdoing the lemon in the future.

To cut lemon flavor in a dish, you can add baking soda to neutralize the excess acidity. Add ¼ of a teaspoon per 1 cup of liquid. Stir and taste. Other ways to mask too much lemon flavor include adding sugar or honey, adding cheese, or diluting the sauce.

A note about my experiment:

I used a broccoli and lemon soup that I prepared as my control. I portioned the soup out into smaller equal servings and tested each method individually. I deliberately made the control dish more lemony to replicate the issue as you’d face it in a real-life situation.

Despite just using a soup for this experiment, these techniques also work when you’re dealing with sauces, stews, salsas, guacamole, you name it. Even for icing sugar. They’ll also work just as well if you’re needing to reduce the lime flavor from your dish.

How to cut lemon flavor

Too much lemon can manifest itself in a number of ways.

Your dish can taste too acidic, sour, bitter, or tart. 

You can do three things to cut the lemon flavor:

  • neutralize the acid
  • add something to mask the taste
  • dilute the flavor

In this article, I go through six different ways to tackle too much lemon flavor in your sauce, soup, or any other dish.

Neutralize the acidity with baking soda (or calcium carbonate)

Bowl of soup with baking soda next to it
Baking soda neutralizes the acidity found in lemons

Lemon juice is an acid. Baking soda is a base (alkaline).

Mix them together, and the baking soda will neutralize the lemon juice, taking away the sour flavor and reducing the acidity (pH) of the dish. 

This is the only method that actually tackles the problem at its core. The rest of the suggestions just mask the problem.

You only need a tiny amount of baking soda. ¼ of a teaspoon per 1 cup of liquid.

Add too much, and your dish will start to taste like soap, which is probably worse than too lemony. Be REALLY careful.

As soon as you add the baking soda to the dish, the reaction starts. You might even see some bubbles. This is a good sign because it means the reaction is working.

To make sure the reaction happens evenly across the dish, sprinkle the baking soda over the entire surface rather than just dumping it all in one spot. Stir until the bubbles have subsided and then taste.

Baking soda is suitable for a dish with lots of other flavors, but I probably wouldn’t add it to a drink or a thin sauce. There’s too much risk of it changing the taste for the worse.

An alternative you can try is calcium carbonate (available on Amazon). This works the same way as baking soda but imparts less flavor. So you can use it without worrying about ruining your dish. The added calcium also has some health benefits.

Add sugar/honey to mask the sourness

Soup with honey added
Honey is a great way to counter lemon flavor in soups and sauces

If you were looking at a taste wheel, sweet and sour would be opposites.

They don’t cancel each other out, but mix together to make a new, more pleasant flavor.

If you’ve added too much lemon to a dish, adding something sweet will help counteract the sharp tartness. 

Sugar and honey are great options. Sugar will work well in hot dishes (so the sugar has a chance to dissolve), while honey will work best in cold dishes.

This won’t get rid of the acidity in the dish, and it won’t taste as it would have if you just put less lemon in, but it will still taste delicious. It cuts the perceived acidity (the lemon flavor).

One unconventional source of sweetness I like using is caramelized onions. They make a great addition to pasta!

Add some salt to counteract bitterness

Dish with a pinch of salt added to counteract the lime flavor
Salt helps to dampen lemon flavors by enhancing the sweetness already found in the dish

Maybe surprisingly, salt will also help to mask too much lemon.

I spoke about sweet and sour above and how they interact. Saltiness interacts with sourness in a different way but still helps to balance it out.

It dampens the bitterness of lemon by enhancing the sweetness of the other ingredients.

Salt and sugar have an additive effect, so you can also try adding both simultaneously. Take a small bit of sauce out and experiment with it until you find a taste you’re happy with.

You can then replicate what you added in the main dish.

Add some fat (cheese/oil/butter) to balance out the lemon 

Stew with cheese added to cut the lemon flavor profile
Fats such as cheese, oil and butter help to absorb the acidity found in lemons

A good one for a salad or pasta dish is to add some cheese.

The fat in the cheese will absorb some of the acidity and give a more rounded flavor to the dish.

Parmesan is my cheese of choice, but any will work. 

Olive oil contains fat, so it will also help balance out too much acidity from a lemon. This is a fantastic option for salads. 

Butter can also work, as well as creme fraiche, cream, yogurt or sour cream.

Dilute the sauce to cut the lemon flavor 

If you’re working with a sauce or soup, you can dilute the lemon flavor by adding more of the other ingredients. 

Add more chicken stock, more oil, more water, more of whatever makes up the base of your sauce.

This technique has the added benefit of making extra sauce. You can remove the excess and save it for another day. Win-win.

This will also work with mayonnaise. Once the emulsion is made, it’s pretty stable. You can add in more oil to cut the lemon then add water to manage the thickness.

Note this will dilute all the other flavors too. You can fix this by adding more of the other herbs and spices you used at the same time as the extra liquid.

Add something starchy

Soup with rice added to absorb lemon flavor and acidity
Rice and other starchy foods help to mask acidic lemon flavors

Adding something starchy is a good option for soups or stews.

Potatoes, beans, lentils, and rice all contain starch and will absorb some of the liquid you put them in. This essentially dilutes the mixture.

The starch takes away some of the lemon flavor and replaces it with something less strong (but still delicious!).

The overall effect is a less tart dish.

One downside of this option is you’ll change the texture of your dish. Depending on how many potatoes or how many beans you add, the final dish can get quite thick.

To remedy this, add in some more stock or water along with the starch.

This option works best if you are still in the process of cooking the dish because it gives the potatoes etc more time to absorb in the liquid. However, you can also add the starch to a finished dish.

I found pureeing the potatoes/beans/rice before adding them to a finished dish worked best because it was better at diluting the dish.

How to add lemon to a dish without making it too acidic

I should have titled this section ‘how not to make the same mistake again’. 

Prevention is key here. If you avoid making the dish too lemony in the first place, you wont have to google this again! 

Add less than the recipe suggests starting with

Lemon is a strong flavor and can easily overwhelm a dish.

It’s also possible to be oversensitive to lemon, so you taste it more than someone else would. Same as with chili, a dish could be inedible (too spicy) for one person and perfect for another.

You’ve learned the hard way it’s impossible to take out a flavor once you’ve added too much. But it’s easy to add more in.

So start with less lemon than the dish calls for, and add it in slowly, tasting as you go. This will drastically reduce the risk of you adding too much in and having to conduct a rescue mission.

Use fresh lemons over bottled lemon juice

Fresh lemon juice in small glass jar next to freshly squeezed lemon
Always opt for fresh lemon juice over bottled

Over time, lemon juice oxidizes and becomes less flavorsome and more acidic (sour). 

Bottled lemon juice is old, oxidized lemon juice. It tastes a lot more sour and bitter than the fresh stuff.

Freshly squeezed lemon juice is going to give you the best flavor while not being too acidic.

If you need to squeeze the lemon ahead of time try not to go over 8 hours. After 8 hours the oxidizing will start to affect the flavor.   

Use lemon zest rather than juice

There are two parts of the lemon that can impart flavor: the zest and the juice.

Most people tend to go for the juice because it’s easier (and means less washing up).

But actually, the zest (or a mix of zest and juice) is best for most applications.

The zest has a strong lemon flavor without the tartness. The juice is MUCH more acidic.

Next time the recipe calls for some juice, replace some of the juice with zest. You’ll be able to notice the difference. The dish will be lemony, without the sourness that comes with it.

How To Cut Lemon Flavor From Any Dish

Lemon is an excellent addition to almost every dish. It helps brighten dull flavors.
But, it’s a strong flavor and easy to go overboard.
I’ve tested several methods of cutting lemon flavor and gone through my results below. I’ve included quick fixes (so you can fix that sauce RIGHT NOW), plus ways to prevent overdoing the lemon in the future.
No ratings yet
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 0 mins
Total Time 10 mins
Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Servings 1 person
Calories 1 kcal

Ingredients
 

  • 1 portion baking soda or calcium carbonate
  • 1 portion sugar optional
  • 1 portion honey optional
  • 1 portion salt optional
  • 1 portion fat e.g. butter or cheese
  • 1 portion starch e.g. beans or lentils

Instructions
 

Neutralize the acidity with baking soda (or calcium carbonate)

  • You only need a tiny amount of baking soda. ¼ of a teaspoon per 1 cup of liquid.
    Add too much, and your dish will start to taste like soap, which is probably worse than too lemony. Be REALLY careful.
    As soon as you add the baking soda to the dish, the reaction starts. You might even see some bubbles. This is a good sign because it means the reaction is working.
    To make sure the reaction happens evenly across the dish, sprinkle the baking soda over the entire surface rather than just dumping it all in one spot. Stir until the bubbles have subsided and then taste.
    Baking soda is suitable for a dish with lots of other flavors, but I probably wouldn’t add it to a drink or a thin sauce. There’s too much risk of it changing the taste for the worse.
    An alternative you can try is calcium carbonate (available on Amazon). This works the same way as baking soda but imparts less flavor. So you can use it without worrying about ruining your dish.

Add sugar/honey to mask the sourness

  • If you’ve added too much lemon to a dish, adding something sweet will help counteract the sharp tartness.
    Sugar and honey are great options. Sugar will work well in hot dishes (so the sugar has a chance to dissolve), while honey will work best in cold dishes.
    This won’t get rid of the acidity in the dish, and it won’t taste as it would have if you just put less lemon in, but it will still taste delicious. It cuts the perceived acidity (the lemon flavor).
    One unconventional source of sweetness I like using is caramelized onions. They make a great addition to pasta!

Add some salt to counteract bitterness

  • Maybe surprisingly, salt will also help to mask too much lemon.
    Salt dampens the bitterness of lemon by enhancing the sweetness of the other ingredients.
    Salt and sugar have an additive effect, so you can also try adding both simultaneously. Take a small bit of sauce out and experiment with it until you find a taste you’re happy with.
    You can then replicate what you added in the main dish.

Add some fat (cheese/oil/butter) to balance out the lemon

  • A good one for a salad or pasta dish is to add some cheese.
    The fat in the cheese will absorb some of the acidity and give a more rounded flavor to the dish.
    Parmesan is my cheese of choice, but any will work.
    Olive oil contains fat, so it will also help balance out too much acidity from a lemon. This is a fantastic option for salads.
    Butter can also work, as well as creme fraiche, cream, yogurt or sour cream.

Dilute the sauce to cut the lemon flavor

  • If you’re working with a sauce or soup, you can dilute the lemon flavor by adding more of the other ingredients.
    Add more chicken stock, more oil, more water, more of whatever makes up the base of your sauce.
    This technique has the added benefit of making extra sauce. You can remove the excess and save it for another day. Win-win.
    This will also work with mayonnaise. Once the emulsion is made, it’s pretty stable. You can add in more oil to cut the lemon, then add water to manage the thickness.
    Note this will dilute all the other flavors too. You can fix this by adding more of the other herbs and spices you used at the same time as the extra liquid.

Add something starchy

  • Adding something starchy is a good option for soups or stews.
    Potatoes, beans, lentils, and rice all contain starch and will absorb some of the liquid you put them in. This essentially dilutes the mixture.
    The starch takes away some of the lemon flavor and replaces it with something less strong (but still delicious!).
    The overall effect is a less tart dish.
    One downside of this option is you’ll change the texture of your dish. Depending on how many potatoes or how many beans you add, the final dish can get quite thick.
    To remedy this, add in some more stock or water along with the starch.
    This option works best if you are still in the process of cooking the dish because it gives the potatoes etc more time to absorb in the liquid. However, you can also add the starch to a finished dish.
    I found pureeing the potatoes/beans/rice before adding them to a finished dish worked best because it was better at diluting the dish.

Nutrition

Calories: 1kcal
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