Lemon Drops Candy Recipe (With or Without Citric Acid) (2024)

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Original post published June 10th, 2017. Last updated on January 26th, 2024.

I originally created this old-fashioned lemon drops candy recipe way back in 2017, as part of a series of candy and confectionery recipes for National Candy Month. Lately it’s become quite popular on my Pinterest page, so I thought I’d give it a bit of a refresh. This Baste Cut Fold recipe for making hard candy is an oldie but a goodie!

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The recipe for these lemon drops issimilar to my old-fashioned hard candy recipe. The only major difference is the omission of light corn syrup (this recipe employs a combination of granulated sugar and water instead.)

I’ve also added a small amount of cream of tartar to the mixture. Like corn syrup, cream of tartar acts as an agent to prevent crystallization.

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Flavoring and Coloring the Lemon Drop Candy

As with my old-fashioned hard candy, I flavored these sweets using Lorann Oils. Their natural lemon oil offers a fresh, vibrant lemon-y flavor, without tasting fake or bitter. Any brand of good-quality lemon oil will work for this recipe; just be sure you opt for a natural lemon oil (rather than an extract). Also double-check that you’ve chosen a food-grade oil.

I’m not a huge fan of sour candies, so I don’t always add citric acid to my lemon drops. You can definitely make this lemon drop candy recipe without citric acid. However, this is a versatile recipe. You can certainly add citric acid to your batch if you prefer a sour, tangy lemon candy. See my detailed notes on citric acid, below.

To color these lemon drops, and all of my candies, I use gel food coloring. My go-to is the Chefmaster brand; in this recipe, I’ve used their Lemon Yellow (what else?!)

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Notes on Citric Acid

Citric acid is a natural product used for candy making, co*cktails, and other “sour” foods, as well as for canning, freshening, and preserving. It also has a range of non-culinary uses, including laundry, cleaning, degreasing, softening hard water, and more.

Adding citric acid to this lemon drop hard candy recipe will give your lemon drops a sour flavor, like Sour Patch Kids or Warheads. If preferred, you can make this lemon drop candy recipe without citric acid. Without the citric acid, you’ll have a more traditional lemon hard candy. It’s delicious either way.

In this recipe, I’ve indicated 1 teaspoon of citric acid. This gives the lemon hard candy a mild/moderate sour taste, but it isn’t “make your lips pucker” levels of sour. If you want a very sour candy, try upping the citric acid to 2 or 3 teaspoons, as desired. And for an even more extreme sour taste, you can also add a spoonful of citric acid to your sugar coating. It’s really up to you!

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Lemon Drops Candy Recipe Tips and Tricks

While this recipe doesn’t require much in the way of fancy tools, I definitely recommend purchasing a silicone mat if you don’t already own one. These come in handy for candymaking, sugarwork, chocolate, cookies, and many other kitchen projects. (I actually own them in multiple sizes, so I have a mat to fit whichever size tray I’m using!) Silicone baking mats (sometimes referred to as silpats) perform well at high temperatures, make cleanup easy, and prevent just about anything from sticking to your trays or countertops.

You will also need a good digital thermometer. My go-to is this Taylor Instant Read Digital Thermometer. (I love that it has a little clip; I’ll usually keep it clipped to the front of my apron, or in the pocket of my chef’s jacket, as I’m working!) When making hard candy, your sugar temperatures need to be precise (otherwise, you risk ending up with taffy, or caramel!) I do not suggest attempting this recipe without a thermometer.

While cooking the sugar, keep a small bowl of water and a pastry brush nearby, to brush down the sides of the pan periodically. This helps to prevent crystallization.

Finally, I recommend kitchen shears to cut your sugar rope into individual candies. I don’t recommend doing this with a knife—you should never cut directly on silicone mat.

Confectioner’s Sugar Notes

If you don’t want to coat your candies in confectioner’s sugar, you can omit this step for a classic hard candy. Or, coat your candy in a mix of granulated and citric acid for an ultra-sour treat.

When storing your candy, you might notice that it starts to become sticky or that the pieces stick together, especially if you live in a humid climate. When storing, you may need to periodically toss the candy in additional sugar to prevent it from sticking. If you find that it’s too sticky, store between layers of parchment rather than in a jar.

If you have some confectioner’s sugar left over after finishing the coating step, feel free to reuse it for another batch of lemon drops. You can also use it for another recipe requiring powdered sugar, but keep in mind that it might have a slightly lemon-y taste.

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Making Hard Candy

This candy recipe is actually much easier than it looks. The trickiest part, really, is pulling the sugar. It needs to be cool enough to pull and shape (if it’s too hot, it will immediately revert to a puddle of sugar) but hot enough that it’s still easily pliable. If you haven’t worked with pulled sugar before, there is a bit of a learning curve. I’d suggest making a batch with just sugar and water (no flavoring or coloring) to get the feel for working with hot sugar.

If your sugar becomes too cold, place the ball on a silicone mat and microwave it for 10-15 seconds, or until warm enough to pull.

See the recipe below for more detailed notes on pulling hot sugar, as well as step-by-step process photos.

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Handling Hot Sugar

For sugarwork, most chefs will wear a pair of soft cotton gloves, with 1-2 pairs of rubber gloves layered over top, like this:

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The cotton will protect your hands from the heat of the molten sugar, while the rubber gloves will prevent your hands from sticking to the candy as you work.

If you don’t have cotton and rubber gloves, I suggest picking up a pair of each before attempting this recipe. Both are easily purchased from Amazon, or at a big box store. (Look for white cotton gloves in the beauty section.) If you can’t find white cotton gloves at a big box store, a Halloween or costume store will definitely have these for sale.

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Gifting Homemade Lemon Drop Candy

These lemon drop candies ship well and stay fresh for a long time. They’re ideal for mailing in care packages, especially in the warm summer months, and can be made several weeks in advance.

I think these would look especially cute packaged in a cello bag, tied with a big yellow bow. There are some fun yellow print cello bags on Amazon—I’ve even found some with citrus prints!

Another option? Package these in a small cello bag and place in a fun lemon-print mug, then add a packet of tea, a honey stick, and a white-and-yellow ribbon bow!

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Candymaking Cookbooks and Classes

There are quite a few fun candy recipes on the Internet, and several fun cookbooks on the topic, too.

These include:

The Sweet Book of Candy Making by Elizabeth LaBau
Sally’s Candy Addiction by Sally McKenney
Candy Making for Beginners by Karen Neugebauer
The Ultimate Candy Book by Bruce Weinstein

I’ve also studied sugarwork at both Le Cordon Bleu London and the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City. (Visit this post to read about my recent adventures creating a goldfish-themed sugar sculpture!) If you’re ready to move beyond hard candy and into more complex sugar applications, I highly recommend giving sugarwork a try.

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More fruit-themed candy recipes you might enjoy:

Watermelon Lollipops
Cranberry Gummy Candies
Strawberry Marshmallows
Simple Candied Orange Peels

And if you make these, or any of my recipes, don’t forget to to tag me @bastecutfold or use the hashtag #bastecutfold on Instagram. I always love to see what you’re making!

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Lemon Drops Hard Candy

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  • Author: becky
  • Total Time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: 60 3/4-inch lemon drop candies 1x


A homemade lemon drops candy recipe, made with or without citric acid! Featuring a sunny yellow color palette and dusted in powdered sugar, this sweet-and-sour homemade lemon candy is easy to make and great for gifting.



200 grams granulated sugar (1 cup)
110 milliliters water (1/2 cup)
1 teaspoon natural lemon oil
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
23 drops yellow gel food coloring, or as desired
1 teaspoon citric acid (optional)

70 grams confectioner’s sugar (1/2 cup), in a large bowl
Vegetable oil or nonstick spray, for coating kitchen scissors


Cover countertop or work surface with a silicone baking mat.

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Spray kitchen shears with vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray.

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Place the confectioners sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.

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In a medium saucepan, combine granulated sugar, water, and cream of tartar. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.

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Once sugar has dissolved, stop stirring* and add a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature (or keep a hand-held digital thermometer nearby!)

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Continue cooking the sugar mixture until it reaches 300° F / 149° C on a candy thermometer, periodically brushing down the sides of the pan with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystallization. Cooking the sugar will take about 15 minutes, so be patient!

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Remove saucepan from heat. Stir in lemon oil, yellow food coloring, and citric acid if using.

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Pour hot sugar mixture onto prepared silicone mat. Put on your cotton gloves, then add a pair of rubber gloves over top.

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Allow the sugar syrup to rest on the mat, periodically folding the mat over itself. As you do this, you’ll start to see the sugar sticking to itself and forming a mass, rather than immediately running back into a puddle.

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You’ll know the sugar is ready to pull when it comes together into a ball, and does not lose its shape. It will still be hot and easily pliable, but no longer “gooey” or runny.

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With gloved hands, fold the sugar over itself several times (it will start to feel thicker and slightly less pliable, and you’ll see fine white streaks in the sugar). Do this 4-5 times, then pull it into a short, thick tube.

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With your hands, pull a section of the tube into a long rope, about 1/2-inch in diameter. Use kitchen shears to cut the rope into 3/4-inch pieces.

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Note: Work in small sections rather than pulling all of the sugar at once. Otherwise, the sugar will cool and become difficult to cut (or might even shatter when you try to cut it!) Pull the ropes in 12-inch increments, and keep the remaining sugar in a large mass/tube until ready to pull.

Add the lemon drop candy pieces to the bowl confectioner’s sugar, and toss to coat.

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Store lemon drop candy in an airtight container at room temperature for up to six weeks.


*Do not stir the sugar while it cooks, or crystallization may occur.

  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Category: Candy and Confectionery
  • Method: Stovetop
  • Cuisine: Sweets

Lemon Drops Candy Recipe (With or Without Citric Acid) (41)About Rebecca:
Rebecca earned the Diplôme de Pâtisserie from Le Cordon Bleu London in 2020. She also holds an MSc in Culinary Innovation from Le Cordon Bleu and Birkbeck, University of London, and a Professional Chocolatier’s Certificate from Ecole Chocolate. She currently works as a recipe developer, food stylist, food photographer, writer, and pastry chef. Feel free to make one of her original recipes, or to follow her on Instagram @bastecutfold for more baking and pastry inspiration!

Lemon Drops Candy Recipe (With or Without Citric Acid) (2024)


How much citric acid do you put in candy? ›

When making hard candy using the microwave method, always use a clean spoon to stir the candy after it has been cooked. Another tip is to not add too much citric acid, as this can cause the candy to break down (and become grainy). Generally, ¼ teaspoon of citric acid is all that is needed per pound of candy.

What is the purpose of citric acid in candy? ›

In candy making, it's used to add sourness, similar to the way vinegar adds tang to salad dressings. The strength of citric acid is notable, so a little goes a long way. For candy making, it's available in a powdered form, which is what you'll be using to make your sour candies.

How do you use citric acid for candy? ›

If you want to use citric acid as a flavor, you should use it sparingly and add it only after the candy has been cooked to the desired stage. Use 1/8 teaspoon citric acid per 2 cups of sugar and work your way up from there.

How much citric acid to use instead of lemon juice? ›

Citric Acid can be substituted – it will adjust the acidity (lower the pH) of the fruit, which is what you want to do. ¼ teaspoon powdered Citric Acid is equivalent to 1 Tablespoon lemon juice. 1 teaspoon powdered Citric Acid is equivalent to ¼ cup lemon juice (4 Tablespoons).

How much citric acid should I use? ›

Citric Acid Dosage and Use

Here are some guidelines for safe use: Up to 0.5% solution for flavor balancing. This works out to about 500 mg citric acid per 100 ml of total beverage. Up to 1% solution for preservative effects.

What happens if you add too much citric acid? ›

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not set a specific limit on how much citric acid is safe to consume. However, some studies have shown that consuming large amounts of citric acid can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and kidney stones.

Is citric acid necessary? ›

Citric acid is a common food additive and chemical that's naturally found in citrus fruits and their juices. It's considered a weak organic acid but not an essential vitamin or mineral because we don't require it from our diets.

What can I use instead of citric acid in sour candy? ›

Lemon Juice

This is found in many households, and is a great substitute for citric acid. It gives a similar sour flavor with the addition of vitamin C. There are around 3 grams of citric acid in one juiced lemon, and add 4-5 tablespoons of lemon juice for every 1 tablespoon of citric acid the recipe calls for.

What damage does citric acid do? ›

Ingesting a sizeable amount of citric acid may damage tooth enamel over time. After eating or drinking products high in citric acid, a person should rinse their mouth to protect their teeth. People using citric acid in skin care should also be careful, as high concentrations applied to the skin may cause irritation.

Can you sprinkle citric acid on candy? ›

You can easily use citric acid to coat homemade gummies and candy or even sprinkle some into a fresh batch of lemonade, or fancy lemon water, to make it more tart and tangy.

Is citric acid in candy good for you? ›

Citric acid is naturally found in citrus fruits, but synthetic versions, which are produced from a type of mold, are commonly added to foods, medicines, supplements, and cleaning agents. While mold residues from the manufacturing process may trigger allergies in rare cases, citric acid is generally deemed safe.

When should I use citric acid? ›

Citric Acid is a mild organic acid. As a cleaner, it is very effective and appropriate to use for light descaling, removal of hard water stains, mineral deposits, etc. Some areas where a Citric Acid solution may be useful are: bathrooms, toilets, toilet tanks, kitchens, coffee machines, kettles, dehumidifiers, etc.

Can I use lemon instead of citric acid? ›

However, either can be used and they can easily be exchanged one for another. One tablespoon of bottled lemon juice is equal to 1/4 teaspoon citric acid.

Can I use bottled lemon juice instead of fresh? ›

It's (Almost) Never Okay To Use Store-Bought Citrus Juice

The stuff you squeeze by hand has less time to oxidize and no funny preservatives, which means its flavor is brighter and more pronounced compared to the bitter or muted bottled versions.

Which is better lemon juice or citric acid? ›

Lemon juice also has nutritional value, but citric acid contains no nutrients and very few calories. Citric acid is extremely useful in the kitchen because it's affordable, it can be purchased in bulk, and it has a long shelf-life.

How much citric acid to use in gummy bears? ›

If you'd like to make them sour, add between one and two teaspoons of citric acid to the jello and gelatin.

What is the ratio of citric acid to sugar for gummy coating? ›

The real power with this coating is in the citric acid, it can provide enough tartness to accentuate flavor or enough sour kick to make you pucker your lips. The balance is entirely up to you, but a good ratio to start with is 1:4 acid to sugar.

What temperature do you add citric acid to hard candy? ›

Remove the pan from the heat immediately and let the syrup cool to about 275° F before adding flavor, color, and citric acid (adding it sooner causes most of the flavor to cook away). Some tips for flavoring hard candy. Be careful!

How much citric acid do I need to preserve syrup? ›

Citric Acid is the recommended acid for use with the Sodium Benzoate. However, most other approved food acids such as phosphoric, tartaric and Malic acids will suffice. Simple syrup can be preserved for months by adding 1 ounce of sodium benzoate with ¼ ounce of citric acid, per gallon of simple syrup.


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