Want to add citrus flavor to your cooking or baking? Zesting citrus is the best way to do it. Learn how to zest a lemon using three different tools as well as everything you need to know about zesting any citrus fruit.
Everything you Need to Know about Zesting Lemons
When you are looking to incorporate a fresh and bright citrus flavor into your cooking and baking, adding zest is certainly the right move. Yes, the fresh juice imparts some flavor, but the zest is far more concentrated in flavor. Also, the citrus zest doesn't contribute a significant volume of liquid. This trick is useful if you wish to add citrus to a recipe, but you're a little apprehensive about adding extra liquid to it. If you find you want to alter a recipe with a bit of lemon or lime flavor, the zest might be your best bet.
Where is the Zest Located on the Fruit?
Before we dive into how to zest a lemon, let's talk about the zest itself. On the outside of any citrus fruit, you'll find there are two layers of the peel.
The zest is located on the thin outer-colored skin of a lemon, orange, lime, or other citrus fruit. It's is technically known as the flavado. This is where the natural essential oils are located; generally speaking, all the flavor is found here!
Below the thin outer layer is a thick white layer, technically known as the albedo, or pith! The pith is generally bitter and not used when zesting fruit.
Tools to Zest a Lemon
There are three main tools you could use to zest a lemon, and one you likely already have on hand if you don't want to add any new tools to your kitchen collection. The links below may contain affiliate links.
A citrus zester is the most obvious tool to use when you are looking to zest a lemon or lime. However, it's not always the best to use depending on the recipe. This tool creates two different types of zest. The small sharp holes at the end of the tool can create long strands of zest. The secondary small v-shaped blade on the side can be used to create thick pieces of zest to make a twist. Those are perfect for cocktails.
A Microplane is a long and thin grater with small teeth perfect for zesting lemons and limes. For most recipes, this is the best tool because it creates fine pieces of zest that don't contain any pith. This tool also can grate garlic, ginger, cheese and spices which means--unlike a citrus zester--it has many uses in the kitchen.
A good vegetable peeler, especially these Y peelers, can do a great job of removing just the zest from citrus. However, they remove the zest in large pieces. So, if you need them to be fine pieces for a recipe, you'll have to dice up the zest. Sometimes, large pieces of zest are needed for some recipes, such as infusions, and using a vegetable peeler might be the best tool for those jobs.
Need to make some zest and don't have any of these tools? A sharp paring knife will work! Using a paring knife in the same manner as you would a vegetable peeler, you can remove the zest in large strips from the citrus, and then finely dice it if needed.
How to Zest a Lemon
There is one basic rule you should follow when it comes to zesting a lemon: make sure to only get the zest (the exterior colored layer) and not any of the pith (which is the white part). Beyond that, how you actually zest a lemon will depend on the tool you are using. In general, if you zesting a lemon (especially with a citrus zester or a microplane) you want to firmly run the tool over the lemon in one smooth motion. Make sure not to "double zest" the same section of the fruit to avoid getting any pith.
Some other tips that are useful before zesting a lemon:
- Buy organic! If you know you are going to use the zest, it's best to buy organic citrus which will either have no wax coating on the fruit or a natural wax coating on the fruit. Also, the exterior of the citrus is where any non-organic pesticides would be located, so it's best to use organic citrus for zest when possible.
- Wash the fruit! You want to wash and dry the citrus well, preferably with very warm water and a scrub brush to remove any possible wax on the outside of the fruit.
- Avoid the pith! Even though I covered this above, it must be mentioned again. Do not zest the pith, just zest the colored outside layer of the citrus, and don't go over the same spot twice!
How to Keep a Lemon Fresh After It's Been Zested
Once you zest a lemon, it loses its protective coating and the interior will immediately start losing moisture. To help the lemon stay fresh for a few days after it has been zested, cover it in plastic wrap and store it in the refrigerator.
How to Use Zest in Recipes
Adding zest to both baking and cooking recipes is a great way to add flavor and brightness to any dish. Essentially, you can add zest to anything both before and after it is cooked. The flavor of citrus will be stronger if you add it to a recipe at the end, such as a garnish. The flavor becomes slightly mellow when cooked.
Do keep in mind that a little bit of zest goes a long way. Zest is quite potent, so if you are just looking to impart a subtle citrus flavor, be judicious in the amount that you use.
Can Zest be Frozen?
Yes! If you find yourself in good fortune with an abundance of lemons, limes, or other citrus and are looking for ways to preserve the fruit for a longer period of time, you can totally freeze the zest.
You can freeze the zest on its own, or you could freeze the zest in the suspension of another liquid. You can add zest to olive oil and freeze for future use of savory dishes. Or you could freeze it in melted sugar. Add a bit of water to sugar and let it dissolve, then add the zest to it. Either of these can be frozen in ice cube trays for single-use portions of zest.
Zest will lose its potency over time, starting at about the 1-month mark. So each month that it is frozen, it will become less potent over time.
Recipe that Use Zest:Print
Want to add citrus flavor to your cooking or baking? Zesting citrus is the best way to do it. Learn how to zest a lemon using three different tools as well as everything you need to know about zesting citrus.
- Citrus: lemons, limes, oranges or other citrus fruit
- Microplane (or other grater)
- Citrus Zester
- Vegetable Peeler
- Pairing Knife
- Wash and dry the citrus fruit.
- To zest using a microplane or other grater: in one smooth and firm motion, scrape the citrus over the holes. Continue this action throughout the entire fruit, but never going over the same spot twice. The finely grated zest will drop down on your surface below, and gather behind the microplane, so be sure to collect all of it.
- To zest using a citrus zester: Drag the sharp edge side of the tool (typically they look like small holes) in a line down the side of the fruit. Continue this action throughout the entire fruit, never going over the same spot twice. The long, thin strips of zest will fall to the surface below.
- To zest using a vegetable peeler: Using moderate to light pressure, drag the peeler along just the outer skin of the citrus. Peel off a small piece first to observe how thick the zest is, this step will ensure you do not remove any of the white pith. Adjust your pressure accordingly. Continue to remove all of the zest. This will result in long, wide strips of zest. You can use these to infuse oils or sugars, or you can use a knife to finely dice the large strips of zest into very small pieces.
- How to remove the zest with a paring knife: Using a very sharp paring knife, slice off a small piece of the zest first to observe how thick the zest is to make sure you do not remove any of the white pith. Adjust your pressure accordingly. Continue to slice off all of the zest. This will result in long, wide strips of zest. You can use these to infuse oils or sugars, or you can further dice the large strips of zest into very small pieces.
Keywords: How to Zest a Lemon
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