How to zest a lemon, orange or lime

When a recipe calls for lemon or orange or lime zest, which part of the fruit do you need? Let’s differentiate between the zest and the peel. When we talk about citrus fruits, as far as I know, the peel is the entire skin of the fruit, including the white pith, while the zest is the outermost layer of the peel.

When you need the zest, how do you get it from the fruit? First of all, determine how the zest will be used. Will the zest be boiled in liquid and will it need to be fished out before the liquid is used? Will the zest be used for garnish? Or will it be mixed into the food?

The size and shape of the zest that you want determines the tool you will use. No singular tool for all jobs? Sure, you can use a small knife. More work but it’ll do. However, if you’d like your zest to have a little more finesse (important when using it for garnish), you might want to use specialty tools to remove it from the fruit.

We use three tools to remove the zest from citrus fruit. The first is a plain vegetable peeler, the second is a zester and the third is a grater.

When we want the zest to be in large pieces (easy to spot, remove and discard after use), we use the vegetable peeler. How to zest a lemon, orange or lime

When we want long ribbon-like shreds, we use the zester. lemon zest How to zest a lemon, orange or lime

When we want really small pieces that will be indiscernible when when mixed into food (such as cake batter), we use the finest holes in the grater.

That’s a lot of tools and rituals for eating fruit skin — is it even edible?

Oh, yes, citrus fruit is edible. In fact, it can even be dried and made into candy. As an ingredient, the zest contains a lot of essential oils that gives it a wonderful aroma and flavor that you won’t get from the juice and pulp.

You may also like...

The Author

Hello, my name is Connie Veneracion. I cook, I shoot, I write. But I don't do the laundry. I don't like housekeeping very much either... (more about me)

9 Responses

  1. A says:

    We Chinese add mandarin peels (called kam-pe) to adobo and other soy-based or braised dishes. It’s good for you and accentuates herbal flavors. It also takes away the “panghi” of pork and other gamey odours.

    • Connie says:

      Wow. I’ve heard of adding a bit of sugar to adobo but adding peel is new to me. Sounds great especially since vinegar can stench to the high heavens. Thanks!

      • A says:

        I forgot to add: orange peels are added to fatty dishes because in traditional chinese medicine, it is believed that the enzymes in the peel change the structure of the fat, making it taste less “greasy” and easier for the body to burn off. That is another secret to why a really good pork asado or braised pork always tastes rich but not greasy. Just add the whole peel from one or two oranges per kilo of pork or duck, less for chicken (wash the orange first with salt and baking soda to remove chemicals) and fish it out after cooking. :-) Ms. Connie, please do tell us how it goes for you if you decide to try it :-)

        • A says:

          As for vinegar, there’s another technique we Chinese use to make it stink less. To a cup of vinegar add about 1/4 cup of champoy (the sweet black kind). Soak until the vinegar turns black, 4 hours to overnight. The acrid smell of the vinegar will disappear, and the sweetness of the champoy will make it less astringent. Mash and then discard the seeds of the champoy, and use like regular vinegar for adobo or hot and sour soup. My grandmother uses this technique for her dishes.

          Ayan, I gave away many secrets from a Chinese kitchen :p

  2. Maricel says:

    A, thanks for the heads up on Chinese cooking secrets. It is very interesting.

  3. Chi says:

    Hi Connie!

    Have you ever used Microplane for zesting? It is incredibly fast and painless. It is the most amazing tool and indispensible for so many things. One of my favorite other uses is grating frozen ginger. I freeze my fresh ginger and grate the required amount with my Microplane.

    I love the length too – it makes it easy to grate directly into your cooking pot. Clean-up is a breeze too!

    Here’s what it looks like:

    • Connie says:

      Yep, we have two different kinds at home. Trouble with microplane is you’re stuck with just one size of zest.

  4. evelyn says:

    Can the lemon zest be kept in the freezer? If yes, for how long?