How to Make Lemon Sugar

Making citrus sugar in a food processor with sugar and lemon zest

How to Make Lemon Sugar ~ this is an easy technique for infusing real lemon flavor into sugar for all your baking projects. If you’re a lemon lover you need to know about this trick! (Works with other citrus fruits like oranges and limes, too.)

Homemade lemon sugar in a jar with spoon

Most of the time when we cook with lemons the majority of the flavor gets tossed in the trash!

I’ve been making lemon sugar for a few years now and so many of you have loved it that I thought it was time to feature the technique in a post. It started with my Scottish Lemon Sugar Shortbread, and I loved the result so much I almost immediately made a Lemon Sugar Crumb Cake. Now any time I’m baking something lemony that includes granulated sugar, I make lemon sugar. It takes no time at all and has such a big payoff. Once you try this you’ll never want to do without it.

fresh lemons for lemon sugar

What is lemon sugar?

Lemon sugar is plain granulated sugar that has been processed with the zest of fresh lemons, resulting in a flavor infused sugar that explodes with classic lemony flavor.

Most of the flavor in a lemon comes from the very outside of the peel, or the zest. If you look closely you’ll see little ‘pores’ all over the skin of a lemon. Each one of those contains a bit of incredibly aromatic, intense lemon oil, which is responsible for most of the flavor of the fruit.

My citrus sugar technique is a way of capturing that volatile flavor in sugar.

A stack of Buttermilk Lemon Bread slices

What is lemon infused sugar used for?

Lemon sugar can be used just like regular sugar in recipes, whenever citrus flavor is called for.

You’ll use lemon sugar in the same way and in the same amount you would use regular sugar in a recipe.

If you bake a lot you might know that it can be difficult to infuse lemon flavor into baked goods without resorting to artificial tasting flavorings or extracts, and this solves that problem.

Lemon sugar is used in my Buttermilk Lemon Bread, above, and my Lemon Layer Cake with Lemon Poppy Seed Buttercream, below, to give them a naturally vibrant lemony flavor throughout the cake.

You can use lemon sugar in any lemon flavored recipe that uses granulated sugar. Try it in iced tea or lemonade!

A piece lemon poppy seed of cake on a plate with a fork.

The difference between the zest and the peel of a lemon

There’s an important difference between the zest and the peel of citrus fruits.

The peel is the whole outer layer of the fruit. It can be thick, as on a grapefruit, or quite thin, as on a Meyer lemon. The peel includes the zest and the pith, which is white and bitter.

The zest is only the very outer colored layer of the peel. This is where the flavor oils are stored.

You can remove the zest with  zesting tool, which peels off small thin bits of the zest, or you can use a vegetable peeler to remove larger pieces, which I do for this lemon sugar.

lemon zest in a small bowl

What you need to make lemon sugar

  • fresh lemons, preferably organic, since you’ll be using the whole zest.
  • granulated white sugar
  • a vegetable peeler (a serrated peeler works best)
  • a food processor or high speed blender. I prefer the processor, but if you use a blender like a Vitamix, be careful not to over process the sugar. (This is one time where a machine can be too powerful for a job.)

Making lemon sugar in a food processor

How to make lemon sugar

  • Wash and dry your lemons
  • Carefully remove the outer zest with a serrated peeler. Don’t include any of the bitter white part, you can see from the photo above that my peel is all bright yellow.
  • For every cup of sugar your recipe calls for, use the zest of 1 lemon.
  • You can play with the ratios: for instance you can halve that amount and use 1 lemon for 2 cups of sugar for a more subtle flavor.
  • I don’t recommend exceeding one lemon to one cup of sugar because the flavor could be bitter.
  • Put the sugar and peels into a food processor or blender and pulse/blend to combine. Process until the zest is completely incorporated into the sugar, this will take less than a minute. The sugar will become fragrant and pale yellow. If you see large pieces of zest in the sugar, process longer. Small bits are fine, as you can see  in the photo below.
  • The sugar should be aromatic, moist (like brown sugar) and pale yellow.
  • Note: measure and use the amount of granulated sugar your recipe calls for, and then process with the lemon. The processing will alter the volume of the sugar somewhat and shouldn’t be measured after processing, only before.
  • Plan to use lemon sugar shortly after you make it, while the flavor oils are fresh.

Freshly made lemon sugar in a food processor

Can I make lemon sugar ahead?

  • Lemon sugar should be made fresh for each recipe, using the amount of sugar the recipe calls for if you want the freshest flavor. The oils in zest dissipate easily.
  • If you must store it for a short period, put the lemon sugar in a zip lock freezer bag, remove any excess air before zipping, and refrigerate.
  • Cooks Illustrated says that you can freeze zest for up to 3 months, so you can do that if you like and make your sugar as needed.

To make infused sugar with other citrus fruits

  • This method works well with oranges and thinner skinned tangerines.
  • Meyer lemons are especially wonderful!
  • Grapefruit and limes are more bitter and you may want to experiment with less of their zest.
Making citrus sugar in a food processor with sugar and lemon zest
3.87 from 29 votes

How to Make Lemon Sugar

How to Make Lemon Sugar ~ this is an easy technique for infusing real lemon flavor into sugar for all your baking projects.
Course flavored sugar
Cuisine dessert
Prep Time 5 minutes
Yield 2 cups
Author Sue Moran


  • 2 cups of granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons preferably organic


  • Wash and dry the lemons. Carefully remove the zest from the lemons, using a serrated vegetable peeler. You want to remove only the bright yellow part, not the bitter white pith underneath.
  • Put the sugar and the zest in a food processor and pulse to combine. Then process until the zest is fully incorporated into the sugar. This will take under a minute. Take a look, the sugar should be fragrant, moist, and pale yellow. If you see chunks of zest, process a little longer. Fine bits of zest are ok.
  • Use your sugar in your recipe right away for freshest flavor, or store in a zip lock freezer bag in the refrigerator and use promptly.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.


Making lemon sugar in a food processor.


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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    Valerie Nielsen
    June 25, 2021 at 6:40 pm

    5 stars
    Sue, Maybe I was dreaming, but don’t you have a lemon cake that uses lemon sugar in the batter and then you save some of the sugar and sprinkle in top of the frosted cake? I was POSSITIVE, I made something like that a few years ago. Thanks

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      June 25, 2021 at 7:17 pm

      I have lots of lemon cakes, but I can’t think of one that has lemon sugar sprinkled on frosting…you could search lemon cake in my search bar and see if you can spot it.

      • Reply
        Valerie Nielsen
        June 27, 2021 at 12:21 pm

        Went with the lemon crunch cake, sooo good!
        Followed recipe as written, but wondered if you could make extra lemon sugar and use that instead of the regular sugaron top? The lemon sugar is moist so not sure it would sprinkle well, but may try.

        • Reply
          Sue Moran
          June 27, 2021 at 5:07 pm

          Yes, definitely try on top, it should be fine, in fact it might be great!

  • Reply
    Susan Nickels
    February 22, 2021 at 5:34 pm

    What is the cake recipe that shows poppyseeds in the frosting? It looks delish!

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      February 22, 2021 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Susan, my lemon poppy seed layer cake is here

  • Reply
    February 3, 2021 at 1:58 pm

    This sounds heavenly! Would it work to sprinkle on top of muffins just before baking, like you would with cinnamon sugar?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      February 3, 2021 at 2:15 pm

      Yes, you could definitely do that.

  • Reply
    January 9, 2021 at 9:25 am

    How long can I Jeep it in the fridge? I did lemon zest for a sugar rim on glasses

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      January 9, 2021 at 10:39 am

      I generally use it asap and don’t store it, but for cocktails it should keep overnight. The issue is it gets dried so I’d put it in a zip lock baggie right after making.

  • Reply
    Kathy Luczak
    June 9, 2020 at 11:41 am

    Is there a way to make this for future use? Often I use juice of lemons, and would like to save the zest to use for this recipe. Would it be best to freeze the zest then make sugar when using in a recipe? Or could the finished product be frozen to keep until ready to use?

  • Reply
    June 19, 2019 at 11:15 am

    Wow, this is an excellent idea! Imagine how it will taste rimming a cocktail glass. My friend loves gin and fresh grapefruit juice mixed in a shaker, served in a martini glass dipped in sugar. Grapefruit sugar will take her cocktail to a whole new level! Thanks so much.

    • Reply
      June 19, 2019 at 11:35 am

      I have to do a recipe with grapefruit sugar soon 🙂

  • Reply
    June 17, 2019 at 6:48 pm

    When you read a recipe like this you do wonder why you’ve never thought of it yourself.
    Thanks Sue, this is fantastic!!

    • Reply
      June 17, 2019 at 8:31 pm

      Thanks Mary <3

  • Reply
    Anne Harrigan
    June 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm

    Would this be good to use for lemonade?

    • Reply
      June 17, 2019 at 5:53 pm

      I think it would be good in lemonade!

  • Reply
    June 17, 2019 at 3:30 pm

    I always do the Dorie rub:) Love this idea and everything looks delicious Sue.
    Next lemon recipe..this:)

  • Reply
    June 17, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    This lemon sugar sounds so good, Sue! I wonder if it might be good in a simple syrup for cocktails, too? And certainly wonderful in baked goods. Great idea! Thanks for the recipe!

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