How To Make Lemon Sugar To Flavor Desserts And Drinks

1 jar
10 min

Are you looking for a simple way to add a burst of lemon flavor to your edible creations? Search no more; the solution lies with this simple two-ingredient lemon sugar. This easy-to-make ingredient is perfect for adding a tangy twist to everything from cakes and cookies to your favorite drinks.

Lemon sugar jars with a spoon of lemon sugar.

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Making lemon sugar is simple and requires two ingredients: lemon zest and granulated sugar. Simply rubbing the two ingredients together until the sugar is infused with the oils from the lemon zest results in a lemony-colored and fresh lemon flavor that can be added to your favorite recipes for a burst of citrusy flavor. You can even store the sugar to use later.

“I love to garnish lemon cocktails with a lemon sugar rim. The tart lemon adds extra zesty flavor and balances the sweet sugar. Lemon sugar is especially great on the rim of lemon drop martinis and lemon margaritas.”

— Susannah Brinkley Henry, Feast + West

The two ingredients

You will be amazed at the flavor of just two ingredients.

A blue bowl with sugar and lemons with a Microplane citrus grater.


The citrusy flavor of fresh lemons lends a bright and acidic taste to food and drinks, perfect for enhancing sweet and savory dishes.

When you zest a lemon, the essential oils and flavors in the peel are released. A citrus zester or vegetable peeler can be used to remove the lemon zest. Be sure to remove only the colored part of the peel and avoid the white pith, which can be bitter.


Sugar is the other main ingredient in lemon sugar. The sugar can be granulated sugar or caster sugar, which is a more finely ground sugar. The sugar absorbs the essential oil and flavor from the lemon zest creating a sweet and tangy sugar.

The best ratio to use

It is important to use the right ratio of lemon zest to sugar. Using too much sugar will hide the lemon flavor, while too little sugar can make the mixture too tart. Try using about one cup of sugar for every two lemons for the best results. Expect a medium-sized lemon to yield about one tablespoon of zest.

“I love baking with lemon sugar, and I always have a jar of it all the time. I simply replace granulated sugar in lemon recipes with lemon sugar for a delightful burst of lemon flavor. Use it next time you make lemon muffins, lemon cupcakes or lemon cakes.”

— Jolina, The Unlikely Baker

Preparing the lemons

These are all the simple steps that will bring out the best citrus flavor.

Choose the best lemons

Fresh is always best; look for bright yellow, firm lemons. Any lemons that are wrinkled or have soft skin will have less oil and fragrance and are probably old. This is when choosing organic lemons is a good idea so they are free of chemicals and pesticides.

Cleaning the lemons

Since most lemons are covered in wax, pour boiling water over the lemon, then rinse under cold running water and use a soft brush to remove any debris. Dry the lemons with a clean cloth before zesting.

Zesting the lemons

Zesting is a simple process of removing the yellow layer of the lemon that is cut or grated into very fine pieces. This layer contains oil and flavor. There are several tools to zest a lemon, depending on the size of the zest you need for your recipe.

  1. A long Microplane is the easiest tool to use. The serrated edges are very sharp, and cut the lemon peel into a fine zest.
  2. A Channel knife citrus zester has small holes at the top that you drag down through the lemon peel to make long, thin strips.
  3. If using a box grater, use the side with the smaller holes for the best results.
A white plate with two types of lemon zest with a citrus zester and lemons.

This Microplane citrus grater is one of my favorite kitchen tools. It's perfect for all citrus, and I also use it to grate ginger and garlic. I've found the long-blade version to work the best.

This channel knife zester is a rather unique tool and makes two types of zest that are perfect for garnishes, and to add to this lemon sugar mixture. I like the extra wide handle to hold on to while making the lemon zest.

Here’s a tip, once you zest the lemons go ahead and use the fresh lemon juice for lemon water.

Here’s a tip, once you zest the lemons go ahead and use the fresh lemon juice for lemon water.

How to make Lemon Sugar: Step-by-step

There are two ways to make this homemade sugar, and both are easy.

By hand

To make the sugar by hand, add one cup of sugar to a medium bowl and add the zest of two lemons or about two tablespoons. Thoroughly blend the sugar and the lemon zest by gently combining the two ingredients, making sure every grain of sugar is coated with the aromatic lemon oils. Rubbing the mixture between your fingertips will release the fragrance, and the sugar will turn light yellow.

With the Microplane zester
Zesting with a Microplane
Mix the lemon zest and sugar
A blue bowl with lemon sugar and a spoon.

With the channel knife zester

Zesting lemons with a channel knife
Rub the zest into the sugar
A white bowl of sugar and citrus zest threads on a white and gold towel.

With a food processor

Use a mini food processor, add the sugar, and peel the lemon with a vegetable peeler, then add to the food processor bowl and pulse a few times until incorporated. This method will make more of a wet sandy mixture since you use more peel.

When using the vegetable peeler, try to get just the yellow part of the lemon without the bitter white pith layer.

This mixture should be refrigerated if you are not using it immediately.

Add the sugar and peel to the food processor bowl
Pulse to chop the lemon peel

“We have a lemon tree that produces hundreds of lemons each year, so I am always looking for creative ways to use them! Lemon sugar is a great way to add extra lemon flavor to baked goods. I love using it in recipes like my lemon blueberry muffins or lemon cupcakes!”

— Madison Wetherill, Joyfully Mad


If you are not using the sugar immediately, place it in an airtight container. I store my sugar in 8-ounce mason jars.

Lemon sugar does not need to be refrigerated; however, storing it away from direct sunlight in a cool, dry place will maintain its quality. If you live in a hot and humid area, it’s best to refrigerate it to prevent the sugar from getting sticky and clumping together.

You can freeze the sugar for up to six months in an airtight container.

Lemon FAQs

Is there a difference between lemon zest and lemon peel?

The peel is the complete outer covering of a fruit. The peel is both the zest and the pith, the latter being the white and bitter part.

The zest is the outermost layer of the lemon and contains the aromatic essential oils that carry the fruit's distinct and refreshing citrus flavor.

Three jars of lemon sugar with fresh lemons and a citrus zester.

Not only can you mix lemon zest and sugar, but you can use other citrus fruits, like in this Mandarin Orange Bundt Cake that uses orange sugar. Limes and grapefruit will also make flavorful citrus sugars.

Uses for lemon sugar

The list can be endless, and once you start using this fragrant sugar, you will find even more uses.

  • Give a fruit salad a burst of citrusy sweetness.
  • Use in place of regular sugar in lemon-scented recipes for extra lemon flavor.
  • Use in baked goods like cakes and cookies.
  • Rim a cocktail glass with lemon sugar.
  • Add to lemonade instead of just using sugar.
  • Add to the top of a quickbread or scones before baking for a sweet, crunchy topping.
  • Make a sugar scrub by mixing lemon sugar with coconut oil.
A fresh mandarin orange cake
Lemon bundt cake

Lemon sugar makes a versatile and flavorful addition to any kitchen. Its refreshing and tangy citrus flavor brightens sweet and savory recipes and beverages.

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About Jere'

From learning to cook on a farm in Indiana to culinary school in California, my passion for food is never-ending. Turning on my oven to bake something for friends and family is my happy place, and I am glad to be here at One Hot Oven sharing sweet and savory family-friendly recipes for your cooking and baking inspiration.

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Jere Cassidy is the writer and recipe developer behind the blog One Hot Oven. A passion for all things food-related led her to culinary school to expand on her baking skills and now to sharing easy recipes for all home cooks and bakers of all skill levels. When not in the kitchen, Jere’ likes to travel far and wide to find delicious food.

This article originally appeared on Food Drink Life

How To Make Lemon Sugar To Flavor Desserts And Drinks
Recipe details
  • 1  jar
  • Prep time: 10 Minutes Cook time: 0 Minutes Total time: 10 min
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  • 1 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons
With Citrus Zesters
Wash and dry the lemons.
Add the sugar to a medium-sized bowl
Zest the lemons with a citrus zester, a channel knife zester, or a box grater. It's best to this over a large plate, or a piece of parchment paper.
Add the zest to the bowl of sugar and mix it in with your fingers, rubbing the zest to release the oils and distribute thoroughly.
The lemon sugar can be used immediately in your recipe.
Store any leftover sugar in an airtight container for up to six months. You can also freeze the lemon sugar.
Using A Mini Food Processor
Wash and dry the lemons.
Add the sugar to the bowl of a mini food processor.
With a vegetable peeler, peel just the yellow layer of the lemon and avoid the white pith layer, which can be bitter. Add the peels to the food processor.
Cover the processor with the lid and pulse two to three times, or until the peel has been chopped fine and no large pieces are visible. The mixture will look moist and sandy.
The lemon sugar can be used immediately in your recipe.
Store any leftover sugar in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can also freeze the lemon sugar in airtight freezer containers or freezer bags for up to six months.
Jere Cassidy
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