How to Zest a Lemon




Introduction: How to Zest a Lemon

About: I work at instructables by day, and turn into a stitch witch by night. follow me on instagram @jessyratfink to see what i'm working on! ^_^

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.

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18 Discussions

I ground up 6 large lemons seeds & all in my blender, stored this in a thin layer on a cookie sheet to dry overnight. Will this became zest or do I need to put it in a dehydrator?

This is my first try I usually just cook without major receipes. Sounds like the salmon patties will be delicious.

I wish I had read this before attempting Jamie Oliver's recipe for Lebanese lamb wraps with minted tzatziki and toasted almonds. I attempted to scrape off the zest with a knife, which did not really work, although it smelt nice. I think I need to invest in a zester.

Great tutorial! I have used a vegetable peeler successfully for many years! Very easy to use and most of us already own one! Might want to add that to your list!

I use a grater for zesting straight into cooking - then use whatever is cooking (be it cake dough, or pancake mix etc., ) to "rinse" the grater - always want to get the most of the citrus oil to go into the cooking!

Funny, I used a peeler today and it worked flawlessly on some regular and Meyer lemons. If I do it again, I'll get proof for you :p

I'm not sure how long fresh zest can be kept in the fridge -- I would guess a couple of days. I freeze whole lemons and oranges in a resealable plastic bag. I just grab one and use what I need and throw it back in the freezer. After I've used all the zest I use the fruit in smoothies (half a lemon in a green smoothie is amazing!), tea, or lemonade.

What a grate (ha, ha) idea! I've found that old lemons, which have lost some of their firmness, are really hard to zest. Will try this.

Here's one you didn't mention. As a bartender / waiter years ago, I made 'twists' of lemon peel as a regular duty, prepping the garnishes for drinks. Cut both ends off a fresh lemon, a bit into the pulp, so you can see the cross-section of zest / pith / & pulp on each end. Then use a 'bar spoon' (? it works with any spoon, sharper edges are better) to carve out the pulp, including as much pith as you can get, by shoving the spoon along the inside edge of the zest all the way around. You should then be able to push the whole lemon body (pulp, with pith on) out of the remaining peel (zest), which can then be sliced into twists or chopped fine for cooking, etc. Seems easier to me than getting all that stuff off a grater.

1 reply

Does that remove all of the white part of the peeling? The zest (the colored outer most skin *only*) has none of the white(pith) in it.

I have an inexpensive vegetable peeler I got at a big box store and use it to zest lemons all the time, I use to use a grater, but have gone to the peeler. I freeze the zest and juice and make lemon curd as I desire.

I make my own Lemoncello, which requires you to zest 15+ lemons without any pith. I use a vegetable peeler, as a general rule. You must go shallow, but it is doable, if time consuming.

I'm not fibbing and my veg peddler is inexpensive. I use it to get the zest then I juliane it and chop. Veg peddlers DO work

I love your photos, on all of your Instructables.

I've done this "backward." Peel the lemon (pith and all.) Then, starting from the backside, cut/scrape off the pith to leave nothing but the zest. This works well for making candied lemon peel, but I always feel like it's not finely enough grated for recipes that call for "zest."

Oranges, grapefruits, and other orange-like citrus zest MUCH easier with a vegetable peeler. Lemons and limes are definitely better to stick with the micro planer :)

Our microplane will not touch the pith. The pith seems to be too soft to catch on the plane's sharp edges.