How to Zest a Lemon

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

A little lemon zest, or any citrus zest, really, can do amazing things to food. If you’re making something that needs a little oomph, but you don’t quite know what—chances are a little fragrant lemon zest can rescue it from being stashed away in the fridge, never to be eaten again.

And good news! You don’t have to have the most well-stocked kitchen in the world to make lemon zest, either. There’s lots of ways to zest a lemon without a zester. Here’s how to do it, so there’s simply no excuse…unless, that is, you’re out of lemons.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

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What is the meaning of lemon zest?

And, while we’re at it, what’s the difference between lemon zest and lemon peel?

Well, citrus fruit is covered with a peel. That peel includes the inner skin layer, called an albedo, what many refer to as “pith.” The white, fleshy pith is what people usually avoid because it tastes bitter.

The outer skin layer is called a flavedo. It has all the flavor, thanks to the natural citrus oils that are located just under the surface.

The difference between lemon zest and lemon peel is that zest is purely made of the very outermost layer of the citrus fruit: all flavedo (flavor) and no bitterness.

Not all citrus fruits have the same ratio of pith to skin, however. For example, grapefruit tends to have thick skin with a lot of protective pith, while limes have almost no pith at all. This is an important distinction when you start zesting different fruits.

Things you can use to zest a lemon:

(BTW, if you feel like you can’t live without any of this, buying through these links helps with running this site, so thank you very much!)

A box grater. An old fashioned box grater will do the trick.

A paring knife. A super sharp paring knife is a cook’s bff, and just perfect for zesting citrus.

A vegetable peeler.  No matter which one you have, old fashioned or new-fangled, a peeler works great for zesting lemons.

A zester. Maybe you have one of these in a drawer somewhere. This type has a channel cutter built in for quick and easy cocktail twists.

A surform tool.  A fancy name for a stick-type grater, also known as a microplane, that works double duty for grating cheese, nutmeg, ginger, or chocolate. If you plan on doing a lot of zesting, this is one tool to invest in.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

How to zest a lemon, all the ways:

A few tips before you begin:

Wash your fruit. First things first, before you begin to zest any citrus fruit, make sure that any protective wax is scrubbed off the fruit so all you add to your food is bright, zesty flavor! This extra little step makes a big difference!

Don’t go too far. No matter what technique you use, don’t dig in too deep to the bitter pith or the juicy fruit. Use a light touch, and make sure you rotate the fruit so you don’t over grate. Remember, different fruit=different thickness of skin.

Make extra. Extra citrus zest can be mixed into salt to make Margarita Salt, or into sugar for adding to tea or frosting. You can also mix extra citrus zest into soft butter to make a compound butter that can be served onto fresh asparagus, or baked salmon.

When life hands you lemons, make lemon juice. Don’t throw away your zested lemons! They won’t last as long without their protective skin, so juice ‘em up and put them to use in a fabulous salad dressing, an amazing rice pilaf or a Whiskey Sour Cocktail.

If you can’t think of anything to use with the juice right away, freeze the fresh juice in an ice cube tray and save it for Lemon Bars or adding to a homemade soup to brighten it up.

How to zest a lemon with a knife:

A sharp paring knife is a simple way to get larger pieces of peel for pies, cocktails, and recipes where you might need to remove the peel after it has infused what you’re cooking with flavor.

Hold the lemon in one hand and the knife in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, working your way around the lemon. Be careful that you don’t cut in too deeply; your goal is to get the shallowest slice possible.

Once you have fully peeled the lemon, you can chop or mince the large pieces into a smaller, thinner size.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

 

How to zest a lemon with a box grater:

A box grater is effective for making lemon zest. Use the smallest openings on the box grater, the one that looks like little rough holes.

Place the grater over a cutting board or clean work surface. Holding the box grater by the handle firmly with one hand, and the lemon in the other, push the lemon away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lemon as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

Much of the zest might get stuck into the little holes of the box grater; just rap the grater solidly against the work surface, and most of the zest should come loose.

How to zest a lemon with a peeler:

Many cooks find that using a standard or y-style vegetable peeler works splendidly for removing the outer peel of the lemon.

Hold the lemon in one hand and the peeler in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, use the peeler to cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, or a spiral if you’re feeling fancy, working your way around the lemon.

Be careful that you don’t cut in too deeply; your goal is to get the shallowest slice possible.

Once you have fully peeled the lemon, you can chop or mince the long pieces into a smaller, thinner size.

 

How to zest a lemon with a microplane:

This is one of the easiest ways to zest a lemon, but a grater like the Deiss or Microplane is a very sharp tool and should be treated with caution.

Hold the grater in one hand and the lemon in the other over a cutting board or clean work surface. Going in one direction, push the lemon away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lemon as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

The zest might stick to the underside of the grater; just give it a tap and it will fall off.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

How to use a lemon zester or a channel knife:

A lemon zester is a one-duty gadget that may or may not include a channel knife on one side.

Depending on whether you need a garnish or zest, you can use one part or the other. To use the zester, hold the lemon in one hand and the zester in the other. Starting at the top of the lemon, press the round blades into the skin and move them across the fruit, rotating so that you get all of the zest you can.

To use a channel knife, hold the lemon in one hand and the channel knife in the other. Dig the tip of the channel-shaped blade into the lemon at the middle, and rotate the lemon so that you make one long, narrow peel.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

How to make a lemon twist:

To make a lemon twist, gently rotate a long strip of lemon peel around a drinking straw, securing each end with pins to hold it in place. This can be done in advance; by the time your cocktail is ready, your twist will be beautiful and perfectly curled. Just remember to give it an extra twist over the drink, to release the natural oils over the surface of the cocktail.

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.

Lemon Zest Substitute:

If you just don’t have lemons, but the recipe calls for zest, here’s some tricks to get that fragrant lemon essence anyway:

For 1 teaspoon lemon zest, substitute:

  • 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon lime zest

 

How to Zest a Lemon

Lemon zest adds sunshine to all your favorite spring and summer soups, salads, and lemon desserts! You don’t need a fancy gadget, either; here’s how to zest a lemon with (almost) anything you have in the kitchen, as well as make a picture perfect twist for any cocktail.
Course Drinks, Pantry
Cuisine American
Keyword lemon
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Calories 1kcal

To zest lemon with a peeler:

  • Hold the lemon in one hand and the peeler in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, use the peeler to cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, or a spiral if you’re feeling fancy, working your way around the lemon.

To zest a lemon with a knife:

  • Hold the lemon in one hand and the knife in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, working your way around the lemon. Be careful that you don’t cut in too deeply; your goal is to get the shallowest slice possible.

To zest a lemon with a box grater:

  • Place the grater over a cutting board or clean work surface. Holding the box grater by the handle firmly with one hand, and the lemon in the other, push the lemon away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lemon as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

To zest a lemon with a microplane:

  • Hold the grater in one hand and the lemon in the other over a cutting board or clean work surface. Going in one direction, push the lemon away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lemon as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

To zest a lemon with a lemon zester or channel knife:

  • Depending on whether you need a garnish or zest, you can use one part or the other. To use the zester, hold the lemon in one hand and the zester in the other. Starting at the top of the lemon, press the round blades into the skin and move them across the fruit, rotating so that you get all of the zest you can.
  • To use a channel knife, hold the lemon in one hand and the channel knife in the other. Dig the tip of the channel-shaped blade into the lemon at the middle, and rotate the lemon so that you make one long, narrow peel.

To make a lemon twist:

  • Gently rotate a long strip of lemon peel around a drinking straw, securing each end with pins to hold it in place. This can be done in advance; by the time your cocktail is ready, your twist will be beautiful and perfectly curled. Just remember to give it an extra twist over the drink, to release the natural oils over the surface of the cocktail.

Nutrition

Calories: 1kcal

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