Introduction: How to Zest a Lemon

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Well, this is not just about how to zest a lemon - you can zest any citrus fruit. What is zesting? It's removing the very outer layer of skin from a citrus fruit. Zest is a great way to add extra flavor to cooking and extra oomph to food and drink presentation. :D

You can candy it, preserve it, dry it, grind it with spices, add it to baked goods - almost anything!

In this instructable I'm going to show you how to zest a lemon or any other citrus fruit in three easy ways. Soon you will be the zest master!

Step 1: Weapons of Choice

There are three good ways to zest any citrus fruit:
  • a paring knife
  • a zester
  • a microplane or grater
I've also heard of people using vegetable peelers, but I'm guessing you need a very fancy and very sharp peeler. I have tried several times and been less than impressed. So I'm gonna say those people are fibbers.

Each will give you entirely different results. Using a paring knife is great for candied lemon or orange peels, using a grater or microplane is great for getting zest into baked goods, salad dressing or other cooking that requires tiny bits of zest, and using a zester is great for decorative zest.

Also, a note about which fruit to buy - your best bet when using zest it to get organic produce! Nearly all conventional produce is coated with wax. The wax can make the zest taste funny sometimes, and it's pretty hard to remove. Can't find organic produce? Scrub the fruit under hot water and that's a start.

I've used conventional lemons, limes and oranges for zest quite a few times and I'm not dead yet and everything still tasted good. :D

Step 2: Paring Knife

This one is a little tricky, but easy to get once you've done it a few times. You want to cut off strips of zest, but avoid as much of the pith as possible. You'll always have a little on there, though.

I start by cutting off the top and bottom of the fruit so that I can see where the skin ends and the pith begins.

Place your knife right at the edge of the skin and guide it down and around the curve of the lemon. The amount of pith left on mine is really the most you'll ever want to have, any more than that and it can effect the taste of your zest!

Big strips look the best, but you can always slice off the skin in smaller pieces if it helps you get less pith. Depending on what you're using the zest for, you can leave the zest in big strips, julienne it, or chop it finely.

Step 3: Zester

This one is my favorite! I know most people don't have a zester or see any point of having one, and I'm sure Alton Brown is upset with me somewhere for buying a one trick pony kitchen gadget... but I love it anyway. And I use it more than you would think.

Place the zester sharp edges down on the skin of the fruit, and pull it along the length. The longer and harder your contact with the skin is, the better your strips of zest will look. I like to make mine as long as possible.

I like to do strips all around the lemon, and you can even do a second pass getting all the grooves of skin left behind since it's so evenly spaced.

And a zester is great for one other reason - it's designed so you don't dig deep enough into the skin to get to the pith. :)

Step 4: Microplane or Grater

This one is the easiest! Lightly graze the skin of the fruit, moving either in stripes or in a circular motion to take as much zest off as possible. If you go crazy and disorderly, you'll be left with lots of good patches of skin surrounded by white pith.

Make sure to avoid already zested areas - you'll take off the pith instead and it can be bitter. :)

If you're wanting to add the zest to cooking or baking, do the zesting right over the bowl or pot it'll be going in to! It's easier and you'll get more yummy oils that way.