Citrus zest is the outer peel of the fruit (without the white pith underneath) and is often used in baking and cooking because of the strongly flavored oils it contains. When called for in recipes, it’s asking for small little shaved or fine pieces that will integrate nicely into the finished product, not chunks that you can easily pull off with a paring knife.
Here are a handful of ways you can zest a lemon using kitchen gadgets that are fairly commonplace (it’s likely you have at least one in your drawers already).
At the bottom of the page I’ve included suggestions for longer storage to keep a steady supply on hand and some ideas for using the rest of the rind (instead of wasting it).
Good to Know: These techniques also work for other citrus fruits (like oranges, grapefruits and limes).
Before Getting Started: Wash the lemons first using soapy, tepid water, rinse off all soap then pat dry with a towel.
Tools For The Job
There’s such a thing as a zester tool that is specifically designed to easily scrape away the bright yellow peel. This little kitchen treasure is small but so handy!
- The magic of this gadget is that it is designed with sharp edges and holes that pulls up the peel as you drag the tool across the fruit.
- You’ll also find a variation of this tool (called a Lemon Stripper) that removes the outer rind one strip at a time.
- I found a quick video on YouTube that shows you how both gadgets work (I added it to the bottom of the page so you can view it if you like).
Microplane: This is the long grater/tool that also does a good job grating ginger root, parmesan and other hard cheeses. Features tiny “grates” that shred fine curls of peel.
- Run the fruit quickly and with some pressure over the sharp edges, turning every so often to avoid pulling up pith.
Work with the fine holes on a regular kitchen grater (a small hand grater is great but you can use the larger ones too–just make sure to select the side with the smallest holes).
- Carefully drag the fruit across the surface and make sure to only grate the top bright yellow part of the rind and not the white pith underneath.
If you have a sharp vegetable peeler, this will also work.
- Pull it across the fruit (using some pressure to dig under the surface a bit) back and forth to pull up the peel then take a knife and cut off the strands that are still attached to the flesh.
Wrap any unused fruit in plastic wrap and refrigerate, use within the next few days.
There are a few different ways you can save zest for future use…
- Drying: Spread excess shavings in a thin layer across a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper, allow to dry at room temperature for about 24 hours. Once fully dried, keep in an airtight container and store away from heat (pantry shelf or cupboard). Some prefer grinding it fine before storing away.
- Freezing: Wrap in plastic wrap or little packets of parchment paper then freeze in an airtight container (I put the packets in a small glass mason jar). You can also freeze the rinds like this then just grate the frozen pieces as you need. They should be ok for about 6 months in the freezer.
- Refrigeration: Keep excess sealed in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate until needed, will keep for a few days.
- You’ll get about 1 tablespoon of zest from one medium lemon.
- Handy Equivalents: 1 teaspoon fresh zest = 2 tablespoon juice = 1 teaspoon dried zest = 1/2 teaspoon extract.
- When zesting, make sure to leave behind the white pith, it’s bitter and typically avoided in recipes.
- Have more than you need? Use it to make flavored sugar, it’s delicious in baking and added to beverages (like tea). Find ideas for using them here.