Far too many people don’t give orange peels the credit they deserve. We simply view it as the protector of the juicy, delicious fruit inside. And when we’re done eating said fruit, we throw away the peel (hopefully in a compost bin). It’s a shame, though, because the peel has a lot to offer, too—like orange zest! 

In this article, we’ll cover why orange zest is used so often, in addition to how to zest an orange.

orange peel in drink
Source: Unsplash
Orange zest is a key ingredient in cocktails like the negroni.

What Is Orange Zest?

To put it simply, orange zest is made up of tiny pieces or very skinny strips of an orange peel. People typically add a little bit of zest to certain foods or drinks. 

Why Do Recipes Use Orange Zest?

Orange zest can be a wonderful addition to many different types of food and drinks—from salad dressings to cakes and cookies to cocktails and mocktails. Don’t be fooled by the size of these morsels. It is packed with flavor, adding a pleasant (and slightly tangy) pop of citrus and taking each bite or sip to the next level.

Plus, the scent of the zest adds to the overall experience, too. In fact, it’s widely believed that about 80% of your flavor perception comes from the smell of the food (not the actual taste!). 

Is Orange Peel the Same as Zest?

The short answer: No, not exactly! You see, there are two main parts of an orange peel: the rind and the pith. The orange-colored rind is the very outer part of the peel, and the pith, which is a white-ish color, is the part between the rind and the orange’s delectable juicy center. The rind—and only the rind—provides zest.

Now that you know what it is, you may be wondering how to make orange zest. Well, we’ve got you covered there, too.

How to Zest an Orange

orange zest
Source: Pixabay
One orange provides plenty of zest!

Tools You Can Use for Zesting

Good news: When it comes to how to make orange zest, there are a few different kitchen tools you can use. If you’re wondering how to zest an orange without a zester, we have even better news: Of the six items on the list below, only one is a zester. So, chances are, you’ll have at least one of these and be able to zest just fine. Here’s what you can use:

  • Zester
  • Microplane (or rasp grater)
  • Hand grater
  • Box grater
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Paring knife (or a similar small, short-bladed knife)

Step 1: Wash the Orange

First things first: Wash your fruit to remove any bacteria or dirt.

Step 2: Hold the Orange in One Hand and Your Tool in the Other

An important note: Don’t take the peel off your orange before doing this! You should zest an orange with the peel still on. Hold the orange in your non-dominant hand and your tool of choice in your dominant hand (or your writing hand). 

Step 3: Press the Tool Lightly Against the Orange and Drag

Press your zester, grater, peeler, or knife against the orange. If you’re using a knife, you should press the sharp edge of the blade against the orange. It should be pointing diagonally away from you so that you can press into the peel but also drag the blade along the curve of the orange. Apply a small amount of pressure and drag the tool away from you.

If you’re not pressing hard enough, the tool will just skim along the surface. Apply a bit more pressure until some of the rind starts to fall off the orange. If you’re pressing too hard, you’ll see some of white pith separate from the orange. That’s okay—just be a bit gentler. Once you find the right amount of pressure, keep going until you have the amount of zest you need. 

Step 4: Cut the Zest into Tiny Pieces

Note: This step is only for those of you who use a knife or vegetable peeler, as these two tools will leave you with pieces that are larger than you want. Take each strip and mince it into smaller pieces. Voilà—you’ve got orange zest!

How to Store Orange Zest

Separate the zest into tablespoon-sized clumps on a piece of wax paper. Then, keeping the wax paper flat, lay it on top of a plate or on the bottom of a food storage container and put it in the freezer for a few hours. Once frozen, remove the spoonfuls of zest from the paper, put them into an airtight bag, and place it in the freezer until you need it. 

Orange Zest Substitutes

There are a few different ingredients you can use as a zest substitute. If it’s that pop of citrus you’re looking for, you can use the zest from other citrus fruits, like lemon, lime, or grapefruit. You can also use citrus fruit extract. If you want to use zest to add a bit of acid to your dish (like in your salad dressing or marinade), you have another orange zest substitute option: vinegar!

Learn How to Mince

Knife Skills: A Mini Class to Chop Like a Chef

Orange Zest Recipe

Total time: 5 minutes

Yield: 2-3 tablespoons


  • 1 orange


  1. Rinse the orange before zesting. 
  2. Hold the whole orange in your non-dominant hand and your tool of choice in your dominant hand. 
  3. Press your tool of choice against the orange until some of the rind starts to fall off the orange, moving around the orange to extract more rind.
  4. If needed, mince each strip into smaller pieces.

Written by:

Abby Wolfe