Find out how to zest a lemon with these three easy methods! Lemon zest is a quick and easy way to add zesty citrus flavor to any recipe.
Whether you’re making a batch or our delicious lemon ricotta cookies, or a homemade lemon cake, you’ll want to know how to properly zest a lemon!
Table of Contents
What is Lemon Zest
The zest of a lemon is the thin outermost layer of the lemon peel. It’s the colorful part that sits right onto of the white rind.
The zest stores much of the lemons natural citrus oil, making it almost more flavorful and aromatic than the juice. It’s used in cooking and baking to give foods a tangy lemon flavor. It’s what gives our Starbucks lemon bread it’s delicous flavor!
Contrary to what some home cooks believe, you don’t need any kind of fancy zesting appliances to zest lemons.
- Vegetable Peeler
- Box Grater (cheese grater)
These citrus zesting methods use common kitchen tools. You’re bound to have at least one in your kitchen drawer already. They work beautifully for zesting limes and oranges too!
Use one of these techniques to make our award winning Lemon Curd recipe!
How to Zest a Lemon with a Microplane
A microplane grater makes zesting lemons fast and foolproof. It’s specially designed for fine grating making it easier to remove only the yellow portion of the peel and none of the white pith.
- Hold the microplane in one hand and the lemon in the other.
- Draw the lemon away from you along the grater.
- Rotate the lemon after each stroke until the entire lemon has been zested.
How to Zest a Lemon with a Vegetable Peeler
This technique is just as easy but requires a second step.
- First, run the vegetable peeler vertically over the lemon to draw the yellow part off the peel. You will have long strips of zest.
- Use a knife to finely chop the zest before adding it to a recipe.
When using a vegetable peeler to zest citrus, I recommend using a gentle touch. This makes it easier to control how thick you are peeling the lemon so you get just the thin yellow portion and none of the thick white pith.
How to Zest a Lemon with a Box Grater
The cheese grater (or box grater) is another perfect kitchen tool for zesting lemons.
- Hold the box grater over a bowl with one hand, using the “fine” side (or the side with the tiny grates). Hold the lemon in your other hand.
- Push the lemon away from you along the box grater to remove the zest.
- Rotate the lemon in your hand after each stroke. Repeat until the whole lemon is zested.
As with the other zesting methods we discussed, take care to remove only the yellow part of the peel. The white part (the pith) has a strong bitter taste you don’t want in your recipes.
How to Use Lemon Zest
I recommend using lemon zest right away for strongest lemon flavor. Over time, the aroma and taste can become muted.
Once you’ve mastered lemon zesting you can use it in all of these delicious lemon recipes.
- Lemon Cheesecake Bars
- Lemon Poppy Seed Cake
- Citrus Cookies
- Lemon Cheesecake Cake
- Lemon Buttercream Frosting
- Lemon Cupcakes
- Lemon Meringue Pie
- The Best Lemon Bars
How to Zest a Lemon
- 1 medium lemon
Zesting with a Microplane:
- With one hand holding the microplane, use your other hand to run the lemon away from you along the grater. Only remove the yellow part of the lemon, avoiding the pith (the white part undeneath).
- Rotate the lemon with each stroke along the grater until the entire lemon has been zested.
Zesting with a Vegetable Peeler:
- Hold the lemon with one hand and the vegetable peeler with the other. Use the peeler to cut the yellow part of the peel off in strips, being careful to avoid the pith (the white part).
- Use a knife to finely chop the strips of lemon peel.
Zesting with a Cheese Grater:
- If using a box grater, position it over a cutting board. Hold the cheese grater with one hand while pushing the lemon away from you on the grater, using the opposite hand.
- Remove only the yellow part of the lemon, avoiding the pith (the white part). Rotate the lemon with each stroke along the box grater until the entire lemon has been zested.
- One medium lemon will result in about 2 Tablespoon of lemon zest.
- The same process can be used with limes and oranges. Depending upon their sizes, you may have more or less zest.
- Store zest in airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Lemon zest can be frozen for up to 3 weeks, but the color will fade. Storing longer will result in a less flavorful zest.
I’ve always struggled to zest lemons properly and this post was so so helpful! Found this just in time for Spring to make ALL the lemon desserts! 🙂
this post really went into depth on how to zest a lemon – and I never thought of using a vegetable peeler to get big pieces of zest like that! genius!
Thank you so much for this! Lemon season is coming up and I can’t wait to make all the lemon recipes!