Can You Use Lemon Juice Instead of Vinegar for Pickling?

Yes, you can use lemon juice instead of vinegar for pickling. While vinegar is the traditional pickling liquid, lemon juice offers a unique and flavorful alternative.

This guide explores the nuances of using lemon juice for pickling, including its benefits, drawbacks, and how to achieve the best results.

Benefits of Using Lemon Juice for Pickling

  • Fresh, citrusy flavor: Lemon juice imparts a bright, zesty flavor to pickled vegetables, fruits, and other foods. This can be a welcome change from the sharp, acidic taste of vinegar.
  • Health benefits: Lemon juice is a good source of vitamin C, an antioxidant that can boost immunity and protect against cell damage.
  • Lower acidity: Compared to vinegar, lemon juice has a lower acidity level. This can be beneficial for preserving delicate foods that might be overwhelmed by the strong acidity of vinegar.
  • Versatility: Lemon juice can be used in a variety of pickling recipes, from cucumbers and onions to carrots and peppers. It also pairs well with different spices and herbs, allowing for customization of flavor profiles.

Drawbacks of Using Lemon Juice for Pickling

  • Shorter shelf life: Pickled foods preserved with lemon juice may have a shorter shelf life compared to those pickled with vinegar. This is because lemon juice has a lower acidity level, which can make it less effective at preventing bacterial growth.
  • Less tangy flavor: While some may prefer the milder acidity of lemon juice, others might find it lacks the tangy punch that vinegar provides.
  • Potential for discoloration: Lemon juice can cause some vegetables, such as beets and artichokes, to discolor. This is due to the presence of anthocyanins, pigments that react with the acid in lemon juice.

How to Use Lemon Juice for Pickling

  • Choose fresh lemons: For the best flavor and acidity, use freshly squeezed lemon juice. Avoid using bottled lemon juice, as it may contain preservatives and additives that can affect the pickling process.
  • Adjust the recipe: When substituting lemon juice for vinegar in a pickling recipe, start with a 1:1 ratio. However, you may need to adjust the amount of lemon juice depending on the desired level of acidity and the type of food being pickled.
  • Add salt: Salt is essential for pickling, as it helps to draw out moisture from the food and inhibits bacterial growth. Use non-iodized salt for pickling, as iodized salt can affect the flavor and color of the pickled food.
  • Use a clean container: Make sure to use a clean, non-reactive container for pickling. Glass jars are a good option, as they are non-porous and will not absorb flavors or odors.
  • Store properly: Once pickled, store the food in the refrigerator. Pickled foods with lemon juice will typically have a shorter shelf life than those pickled with vinegar, so it’s best to consume them within a few weeks.

Tips for Pickling with Lemon Juice

  • Use a combination of lemon juice and vinegar: For a balanced flavor and longer shelf life, consider using a combination of lemon juice and vinegar in your pickling recipe.
  • Add spices and herbs: Experiment with different spices and herbs to create unique flavor profiles. Some popular choices for pickling with lemon juice include dill, coriander, mustard seeds, and bay leaves.
  • Taste as you go: As with any recipe, it’s important to taste your pickling mixture as you go and adjust the seasonings as needed.
  • Be patient: Pickling takes time, so be patient and allow the flavors to develop before enjoying your pickled creations.


While vinegar is the traditional pickling liquid, lemon juice offers a viable alternative for those seeking a fresh, citrusy flavor. By understanding the benefits and drawbacks of using lemon juice for pickling, and following the tips provided, you can create delicious and flavorful pickled foods that will tantalize your taste buds.

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PH of common juices and vinegar, in order of decreasing acidity

Item Approximate pH
Lime Juice 2.00 – 2.35
Lemon Juice 2.00 – 2.60
Vinegar 2.40 – 3.40
Grapefruit Juice, canned 2.90 – 3.25
Vinegar, cider 3.10
Apple Juice 3.35 – 4.00
Orange Juice, California 3.30 – 4.19
Orange, Juice Florida 3.30 – 4.15
Pineapple Juice, canned 3.30 – 3.60
Oranges, Florida “color added” 3.60 – 3.90
Oranges, Florida “color added” 3.60 – 3.90
Oranges, Florida 3.69 – 4.34
  • Research on safely acidifying salsa for boiling water canning at home B. A. Nummer, M. Thacker, E. M. DSa, and E. L. Andress, Dept. of Foods Paper 33C-9. Presented on July 14, 2004, at the Institute of Food Technologists’ Annual Meeting in Las Vegas, Nevada See this study comparing all 3.
  • For those who are interested, 21 CFR 114 also provides an overview of the procedures and requirements for figuring out the pH and acidity of food. 90. Manufacturers of pH meters and electrodes typically provide the methodology for pH measurements.

Ask the Test Kitchen: Can I Substitute Lemon Juice for Vinegar in Your Tomato Sauce?


What can I use instead of vinegar in pickles?

White vinegar substitute: If you need a different vinegar to substitute for white vinegar, use apple cider vinegar or malt vinegar. You could also swap in lemon or lime juice, depending on your recipe. When you’re canning or pickling, there are no comparable substitutes.

Can you replace vinegar with lemon juice?

Lemon juice is less acidic than white vinegar, so when substituting, you may need to use less vinegar to avoid making the dish overly tart. A common rule of thumb is to use about half the amount of vinegar compared to lemon juice.

Can I use lemon juice instead of vinegar when canning?

It is substituted on a cup for cup basis (i.e. equal amounts). This is a safe substitution because lemon juice is more acidic (lower pH), than vinegar.

What is more acidic lemon juice or vinegar?

The pH level of lemon juice is between 2.4 and 4, while the pH level of vinegar is typically around 2.4 to 3.

Can you use lemon juice instead of vinegar for Pickles?

If you don’t like the flavor of vinegar or simply have an abundance of lemons, you can use lemon juice instead of vinegar for your pickling projects. Using lemon juice will give the final product a different flavor, however. If you appreciate the standard flavor of pickles, you might find that you do not enjoy pickles made in lemon juice.

What is the best pickle juice to drink?

The best choice is a vinegar-based pickle juice with no yellow food coloring or preservatives. I would generally not recommend drinking pickle juice, especially if you have health conditions such as high blood pressure or kidney, liver or heart disease.

Can you use white vinegar to make pickle juice?

You could use white vinegar or rice wine for an instant solution. The catch is pickle juice isn’t as sharp or acidic as white vinegar, so you should only use half the amount of vinegar and make up the rest of the liquid with water. It’s also missing the saltiness, but this is easy to fix with a pinch of extra salt for seasoning.

Can you use lemon juice instead of vinegar?

As well as other types of vinegar, there are also some other things, like lemon juice, that you can use instead. However, you will need to be careful with your measurements and proportions to make sure that you aren’t using too much or too little.

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