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If you’re upping your dessert game and looking at baking tasty cakes, mousses, and cheesecakes, you’ve likely come across recipes that call for the “zest of one lime”, or something similar. But what is lime zest? And how do you zest a lime? Read on to find out more about this tangy fruit garnish.

key lime pie
Source: Unsplash
To make this pie, Key Lime, zest is essential.

What Is Lime Zest?

lime zest
Source: Pixabay
How to get lime zest from a lime? Use a zesting tool.

Lime zest is made from the outermost layer of the lime fruit (also called the rind), the top green (sometimes more yellow) layer of coating that sits on top of the softer whiter pith and the juicy fruit underneath. When recipes refer to lime zest, they mean the gratings or peelings that you can extract from the fruit.

Why Do Recipes Use Lime Zest?

Lime zest has a strong tangy flavor that’s similar in flavor to the juice. However, while the juice is (naturally) wet, zest is not. Recipes that don’t need the added moisture of lime juice may call for lime zest instead, to achieve that unique lime flavor. Some recipes call for lime zest and juice, for extra zing.

Is Lime Peel or Juice the Same as Lime Zest?

Nope—lime peel contains both the rind and the pith underneath (which has a bitter flavor and isn’t often used in cooking). Lime juice isn’t the same as lime zest either, though they have similar flavors. If a recipe calls for one or the other, there is probably a good reason for that, so try to use the correct part of the lime.

How Much Zest Is in One Lime?

zest lime
A standard lime has about this much zest.

How much zest you get from one lime will somewhat depend on the size of the fruit, but most limes are smaller than lemons. A standard-sized lime should yield about two teaspoons of zest. Although this might not sound like much, many recipes will only require a pinch or a teaspoon.

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How to Zest a Lime

zest lime
How do you zest a lime? Whole, before cutting it up to squeeze the juice out.

Step 1: Wash the Lime

Rinse the lime in cold water and pat dry, or leave to dry, before zesting. 

Step 2: Zest the Lime Whole

A trick for how to get zest without hurting your fingers is to zest the lime whole. Don’t cut the lime into pieces before zesting. It’s much harder to scrape the zest off the surface of cut-up pieces of fruit.

Rub or scratch the green outer skin of the fruit against the sharp holes of a zester or grater. 

Step 3: Avoid the Pith

When zesting, be careful not to get too much pith mixed in with the zest. The white pith has a different texture and taste to the zest, and can even be bitter (in contrast to the sourness of lime zest and juice). Move the zester around the fruit so that you’re always grating against green skin. 

Tools You Can Use for Zesting

zester
A microplane zester is a useful tool for zesting limes or lemons.

To zest a lime, you can use a zester or a multi-purpose cheese grater. Many standard cheese grater blocks will have a zesting portion: these are the holes that are much smaller than the holes you use for grating cheese. Don’t use these larger holes for zesting a lime, though. You’ll end up with enormous chunks of pith and zest and a messed-up lime!

If you don’t have a zester or a grater, you may be wondering how to zest a lime without a zester. You can use a sharp knife to remove the green zest of the lime. Then, chop the zest up finely. You probably won’t get as fine a zest as you would using other tools, but this method works in a bind.

How to Store Zest

If you’ve got to the trouble of zesting a whole lime (or two!) and don’t need to use it all in one recipe, you can store lime zest in the freezer for up to six months. Add it to a small freezer bag so it’s there the next time you need it.

Substitutes

lemon zest
Source: Pixabay
Lemon zest can be used as a substitute for lime zest, in some recipes.

If lime zest isn’t available, you can use lime juice, lemon zest, lemon juice, or even orange zest instead. 

Be mindful about the type of recipe you’re cooking before making a substitution. If you’re making certain types of pie, such as Key Lime, zest from a lime is essential. Substituting lime zest for lemon juice won’t do! But if the lime flavor is less central to the integrity of the dish (for instance, in a sauce for a baked fish) then a substitute could work. 

If you only have lemons available, though, remember that you can make lots of yummy desserts from lemons, too. Why not try making lemon meringue pie next?!

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Lime Zest Recipe

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: About 2 teaspoons 

Ingredients

  • 1 lime

Instructions 

  1. Rinse the lime in cold water and pat dry, or leave to dry, before zesting. 
  2. Hold your zesting tool—a zester, knife, or microplane—in one hand and the lime in the other.
  3. Rub or scratch the green outer skin of the fruit against the sharp holes of your zester or grater, avoiding the pith.
  4. Rotate the lime as needed and continue grating until all of the zest has been removed.