Bitterness is not necessarily a bad thing in a dish — the best dishes have a balance of all types of flavors. But if the bitter taste of lemons overpowers other flavors, there are ways to distract your taste buds from focusing on that unpleasantness. You can neutralize lemon’s bitterness during the cooking process or you can balance it in other ways after a dish is finished by adding its opposite or its complementary flavor.
Sugar or Honey
Sweetness balances the bitterness in lemons, so be careful of skimping on the sugar or honey in lemon recipes. If your lemon dish is still bitter after cooking, add sweetened whipped cream or ice cream to a dessert or 1 to 2 teaspoons of honey, syrup or sugar to a lemon sauce, marmalade, vinaigrette or other lemon dish.
Fats and Oils
Fats of all types add richness to dishes and provide relief from the bitter flavors of lemons — you’ll be less aware of any bitterness. The butter in the shortbread of lemon bars, for example, offsets the powerful lemon flavor in the topping. So too, a topping of whipped cream to lemon desserts adds the richness of cream and well as sugar. Add a pat of butter to any lemon sauce or lemon risotto if the dish is too bitter.
Complementary foods for lemons provide sweetness, fats or some other component that deepens the flavors of the tangy fruit and gives your taste buds more flavors to experience, directing attention away from lemon’s bitterness. Nuts, such as almonds, hazelnuts, pine nuts and walnuts, bring fats and flavor to any lemon dish, while herbs, including basil, mint, rosemary and thyme, have bitter notes of their own that effectively mute the bitterness of lemons.
Lemon Rind and Baking Soda
You can experiment with recipes to reduce the bitterness of lemons. For example, if your recipe calls for 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, reduce the amount to 1 teaspoon — the lemon flavor in your bread or cake may be less intense, but so will the bitterness. If a baked product with lemons contains only baking powder, experiment with adding 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda as well, which neutralizes acid, and bitterness, during cooking.
References and ResourcesThe Flavor Bible; Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
My Recipes: Shallot and Grapefruit Dressing
My Recipes: Mixed Citrus Marmalade
Saveur: Lemon Bars
Fine Cooking: Baking Soda *and* Baking Powder: Too Much of a Good Thing?