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Looking to spruce up your desserts, summer dishes, and drinks? A bit of lemon zest could be the answer! 

Lemon zest can be used to add flavor and fragrance to otherwise bland dishes, enhance the lemon flavor in lemon desserts, or garnish summer cocktails

The best part is, it’s really easy to make with tools you likely already have. Read on to find out how to make lemon zest, which tools to use, and how to zest a lemon without a zester.  

lemon drink
Source: Pexels
Lemon zest used as garnish. 

What is Lemon Zest?

Lemon zest is made from the outermost layer of a lemon. It has a bright yellow color and a strong flavor and fragrance. It’s typically used in grated form when added to dessert creams and fillings and left in strips or spirals when used as a garnish. 

Why Do Recipes Use Lemon Zest?

Zest contains natural lemon oils, which make it incredibly flavorful and fragrant. Unlike the flesh of the lemon, it’s not overly tart, so it’s perfect for adding a touch of freshness to spring and summer dishes. When used in lemon-flavored desserts, zest enhances the lemon flavor much more effectively than lemon juice alone. 

Is Lemon Peel the Same As Zest?

Lemon zest is part of the lemon peel, but the two are not the same thing. The lemon peel contains two layers:

  1. The rind: The outermost part, yellow in color—and what’s used to make zest. 
  2. The pith: The inner part of the peel, white in color and bitter in taste. 

When zesting a lemon, the key is to avoid scraping the pith. Otherwise, your zest will not have the desired texture and flavor. 

lemon zest
Source: Pixabay
Lemon zest.

How to Zest a Lemon

How do you zest a lemon? Follow these easy steps below.

Step 1: Wash the Lemon

Lemons that come from the supermarket are often coated in a protective wax. Wash your lemon thoroughly in warm water to remove the wax and any bacteria from the surface of the fruit. 

Step 2: Select a Tool

Zesting a lemon is possible with a variety of tools, ranging from your everyday kitchen knife to specialized zesting gadgets. The best tool to use will depend largely on what you’re going to use the lemon zest for. For example, if you’re looking to add grated zest into a dessert filling, a grater will work best; if you’re using strips of zest as a garnish, you’re better off using a knife or a vegetable peeler. 

Step 3: Zest! 

For detailed instructions on how to use each of the above tools to zest a lemon, check out the recipe at the end of this article. 

Tools You Can Use for Zesting a Lemon

Knife

Use a small knife to peel off the zest and, if desired, chop it into small pieces. 

Box Grater

Use the side of the box grater with the smallest holes to make grated lemon zest. 

Vegetable Peeler

Use a vegetable peeler to create thin slices of zest.

Microplane

A microplane is a thin long grater, perfect for zesting citrus fruit and grating nutmeg or ginger. 

zesting a lemon
Source: Unsplash
Zesting a lemon using a microplane. 

Citrus Zester 

A citrus zester is a special tool that has sharp round holes at its tip, which help create thin threads of lemon zest. Most zesters also have a channel knife in the middle of their blade, which is perfect for creating long narrow strips of lemon zest to use as garnish.  

lemon zester
Source: Pixabay
Lemon zester. 

Lemon Zest FAQs

How much zest in one lemon?

One lemon yields approximately one tablespoon of grated zest. 

Is there a substitute?

The zest of another citrus fruit, such as a lime or an orange, can make a great substitute for lemon zest. You can also achieve a similar lemon flavor using lemon extract, lemon juice, or dried lemon peels, though the flavor won’t be as intense. 

Can you freeze zest?

Yes! In fact, freezing zest is the best way to store it. Keep it in the freezer in an airtight container for up to six months and thaw before using. 

Can you buy zest? 

Some grocery stores carry dehydrated lemon zest, but it’s not nearly as flavorful and fragrant as the fresh version. Making fresh zest is highly recommended, especially since it’s so simple! 

How to Zest a Lemon: 6 Ways

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: About 1 tablespoon 

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon

Instructions 

Using a knife:

  1. Cut off one end of the lemon. 
  2. Hold the lemon cut side up in one hand and the knife in the other. Starting at the cut, carefully peel vertical strips of zest, using your thumb to guide the knife along the curvature of the lemon. Try to cut strips that are as thin as possible and don’t include any of the white pith. 
  3. Work your way all around the lemon.
  4. Optional: Lay the strips of lemon zest onto a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces. 

Using a box grater:

  1. Place the grater onto a firm surface such as a cutting board and hold firmly in place with one hand. 
  2. Using your other hand, slide the lemon up and down across the side with the smallest holes (they’re usually protruding outwards). 
  3. When you start to reach the white pith, rotate the lemon to start working on a new section. 
  4. Continue until all of the zest has been grated off. 

Using a vegetable peeler:

  1. Hold the lemon in one hand and the vegetable peeler in the other. Starting at the top, peel vertical strips of lemon zest.
  2. Work your way all around the lemon.
  3. Optional: Lay the strips of zest onto a cutting board and chop into smaller pieces. 

Using a microplane:

  1. Hold the microplane at an angle in one hand, resting the tip of it on a flat surface.
  2. Using your other hand, slide the lemon up and down across the microplane. 
  3. Alternatively, you can hold the lemon in one hand and hold the microplane in the other. With the grater side down, move it back and forth on top of the lemon. This way, the zest will collect on top of the microplane. 
  4. When you start to reach the white pith, rotate the lemon to start working on a new section. 
  5. Continue until all of the zest has been grated off. 

Using a zester:

  1. Hold the lemon in one hand and the zester in the other. 
  2. Starting at the top, push the holes of the zester into the lemon and drag it down to the bottom. 
  3. Work your way all around the lemon.

Using the channel knife of the zester:

  1. Hold the lemon in one hand and the zester in the other. 
  2. Starting in the middle, press the channel-shaped blade into the lemon and drag it across, rotating the lemon until you get a peel of desired length.
  3. Work your way all around the lemon.

Use Lemon Zest in a Lemon Meringue Pie

Basic Baking for Beginners (Make a Lemon Meringue Pie)