How to Zest a Lemon or Other Citrus Fruit to Brighten a Recipe

Whether your recipe calls for lemon zest or you just want to add a pretty garnish to a cocktail, it's good to know how to zest citrus—and we'll show you how.

A squeeze of lemon or another citrus fruit can really make a dish pop, but you can add even more brightness by utilizing the zest as well. Zest is appropriately named, as it adds flavor and life to all sorts of recipes. When used in cooking, the term zest is defined by the intensely perfumed outermost colored layer of citrus peel (not the white pith, which is bitter). There are several ways to zest citrus fruit. One is to finely grate the peel with a grater. Or, you can use a citrus zester, which has a stainless-steel edge with a series of cutting holes that strip off fine threadlike pieces of peel. Read on to learn how to zest a lemon, lime, orange, or other citrus fruit using the method that works best for you.

How to Zest a Lemon (or Other Citrus)

To make the most of orange peel, lemon peel, or lime peel's flavor, you should avoid any of the fruit's white membrane, which can add unwanted bitterness to your dish.

orange grated zest on microplane

How to Shred Citrus Peel with a Microplane Zester

Chefs and home cooks put a woodworking tool called a Microplane to use for easily making lemon zest and other citrus zest. A Microplane zester allows you to shred tiny, uniform pieces of peel faster and with less pressure than a regular grater or citrus zester. Bonus: It also can be used to create fine shreds of chocolate or fresh ginger.

Best for: Using a Microplane zester to grate citrus peel into such tiny pieces works best for recipes such as cakes, soups, breads, blended into a gremolata, and other uses where it serves as a flavor boost only, not a visual element.

How to Zest Citrus Without a Grater

Looking to zest an orange without a grater or Microplane? Simply use a vegetable peeler, paring knife, or citrus peeler to remove the outermost colored peel in long strips. Try to avoid digging into the fruit so deeply that you cut into the white underskin surrounding the fruit; cut off only the top, colored layer of the peel. From there, use the following steps to achieve the citrus zest you need for your recipe:

  1. Lay each strip of peeling on a cutting board, outer side down. If needed, scrape away any white membrane adhering to the underside of the strip.
  2. When you have cleaned the strips of all the membrane, use a sharp knife to chop zest as finely as you like. Alternatively, you can use kitchen shears to finely snip the zest into small pieces.

Best for: Use citrus zest removed with a vegetable peeler or knife to garnish cocktails or desserts. The larger pieces make for pretty presentation.

How to Store Lemon Zest and Other Citrus Peels

If you have a leftover lemon zest or a handful of orange peel after eating one for a snack, you don't have to toss it. Tightly covered in a jar or airtight container, zest will keep in the refrigerator for one day. If storing in the fridge, store in a small air tight container or wrap in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out and losing flavor. For longer storage, you can store in the freezer for up to 3 months.  

Don't let the fruit go to waste! Use our tips for sectioning citrus so you'll have both the delicious fruit and zest for salads, desserts, and more.

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