What Is Lemon Zest?

By: Sharise Cunningham  | 

zesting lemon
Zesting a lemon using a microplane like this one is the easiest method. You get the smallest zest to add a bright punch of flavor to your foods. 4kodiak/Getty Images

Lemon — or any citrus — can be zested. But what does that even mean? What is lemon zest and where do you get it?

Simply put, lemon zest is the finely shredded rind — or skin — of a citrus fruit, most commonly lemons, but you might also see recipes call for lime or orange zest, too. You can buy dried lemon zest, but as with most things in cooking, nothing beats that punch of freshness. And it's super easy to scrape up (and dry) a pile of your own.

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Since most recipes — whether savory or sweet — call for a small amount, you can usually just use the rind of the fruit that's called for in your recipe. If there's no actual lemon in the recipe, then go ahead and zest one and save the fruit for another use.

The easiest way to zest a lemon is using a zester, also known as a microplane. Or you can use the smallest side of a box cheese grater. Using either of these, just hold the tool over your bowl or pot while lightly dragging the lemon across the blades in short strokes. Be sure to turn the fruit constantly in all directions and use a light hand so you don't dig into the bitter pith (the white membrane).

You can also use other kitchen tools like a vegetable peeler or a paring knife, though you won't get the fine shavings and it won't be as easy.

What to Do With Lemon Zest?

If you're zesting a lemon you probably already have a recipe in mind but if for some reason you decided to just zest up some fruit, you can use it to add or enhance the citrusy flavor of most any dish:

  • Add a sweet, citrusy zing that can be more intense than juice alone
  • Punch up the lemony bite of muffins, cake or bread
  • Infuse some tang into salad dressings or marinades
  • Add a layer of complexity to seafood like salmon or shrimp
  • Yum-up your tartar sauce with dried lemon zest

Drying your own zest is simple. Just place the zest onto a sheet pan lined with parchment and place it into a 170-degrees Fahrenheit (76-degrees Celsius) oven. Let it dry out in the oven for about 30 minutes. When it's completely dry, store it in an airtight container.

You can also store your fresh zest in a jar in the fridge for up to about two weeks, but you can use it safely beyond that — it just may lack that extra punch of flavor as the natural oils will eventually dry up.

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Originally Published: Nov 18, 2007

Lemon Zest FAQ

How do you make lemon zest?
All you have to do to make lemon zest is grate the exterior skin of a lemon. Just make sure to only use the colorful part of the skin. Once you hit the white pith, you've gone beyond the zest.
Can you zest a lemon with a cheese grater?
You can use a regular cheese grater to zest a lemon. However, you may want to choose the smallest grate size.
Can you zest without a zester?
You can use a normal cheese grater, a vegetable peeler, or even a sharp paring knife to zest citrus fruit.
Can you buy dried lemon zest?
You can buy dried lemon zest at your local grocery store. It's sold alongside other spices and dried herbs or seasonings.
How much lemon zest do you get from one lemon?
The average medium-sized lemon will yield about one tablespoon of zest.

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