How to Zest a Lemon

Here’s how to zest a lemon: 3 different ways! Here’s the best method for adding citrus to all your recipes…without a zester.

How to zest a lemon

Got a recipe that calls for lemon zest? If you’re looking to zest without a zester, we’re here to help! Here at A Couple Cooks, Alex and I have lots of recipes that call for this ingredient that adds a unique zing. Here’s the thing: the best way is not with a zester at all. Ready to get zesting? This method yields fine zest for using in recipes (not cocktail garnishes). **Want to zest a lemon for a cocktail garnish? Go to How to Make a Lemon Twist.

All about zest

Lemon zest is the yellow outside portion of its peel. It’s often used with or without lemon juice to add tangy flavor to recipes. The zest can taste even stronger than the juice; it’s often used in lemon-flavored baked or cooked recipes like lemon poppy seed pancakes. Zest can also be used as a substitute for lemon juice.

Here’s the most important part of zesting a lemon! When you’re grating, make sure grate away the yellow part of the peel only, not the white pith! The pith has a bitter flavor and should be avoided.

Lemon zest

How to zest a lemon: with a microplane (or box grater)

The best way to zest a lemon for using in recipes? Use a microplane grater. A microplane is a handheld grater with sharp holes in it. Grating foods with a microplane is faster and more consistent than a box grater. Alex and I use ours all the time for zest, or things like garlic and ginger. If you don’t have a microplane, no worries! You can use a box grater instead.

Here’s how to zest a lemon with a microplane (or fine holes on a box grater):

  1. Hold the microplane in one hand, place one end on a flat surface and hold it at an angle.
  2. Hold the lemon in the other hand, and drag it down over the microplane holes. Important: make sure to remove the yellow part of the skin only! Avoid the bitter pith.
  3. Gradually turn the lemon until all yellow parts of the peel have been removed.
How to zest a lemon

How to zest a lemon: with a vegetable peeler

Another way to zest a lemon is with a vegetable peeler. This way is not ideal, but it works in a pinch! The peel is a bit harder to remove with a peeler, but don’t worry! This way works too. Here’s what to do:

  • Use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel off large pieces of the yellow part of the skin only (avoiding the pith). 
  • Use a chef’s knife to mince the peel into very small pieces.

How much zest is in 1 lemon?

Here’s a tip that’s helpful when cooking with lemons. How much juice and zest is in 1 lemon? We’ve got the magic formula. Keep in mind that this quantity varies slightly if you have very large or very small lemons.

Here’s the formula: One regular lemon yields about 1 tablespoon zest and 2 to 3 tablespoons juice.

Lemon

Recipes with lemon zest

We use this zesty ingredient often in our recipes to add a zing! It can’t be replaced by anything else. Here are a few of the types of recipes that call for it:

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How to zest a lemon

How to Zest a Lemon


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  • Author: Sonja Overhiser
  • Prep Time: 2 minutes
  • Cook Time: 0 minutes
  • Total Time: 2 minutes
  • Yield: 1 tablespoon zest 1x

Description

Here’s how to zest a lemon: 3 different ways! Here’s the best method for adding citrus to all your recipes…without a zester.

Note: This method yields fine zest for using in recipes (not cocktail garnishes). **Want to zest a lemon for a cocktail garnish? Go to How to Make a Lemon Twist.

 


Scale

Ingredients

  • 1 lemon
  • 1 coarse microplane, fine grater, or vegetable peeler

Instructions

  1. Wash the lemon and dry it. Then use one of the zesting methods below:
  2. Microplane: Hold the microplane in one hand, place one end on a flat surface and hold it at an angle. Hold the lemon in the other hand, and drag it down over the microplane holes. Remove the colored part of the skin only (not the pith). Gradually turn the lemon until all sides are zested.
  3. Fine grater: Do the same as the microplane, using the finest holes on your box grater.
  4. Peeler: Use a vegetable peeler to carefully peel off large pieces of the colored part of the skin only, dragging from the top to the bottom (not the pith). Then use a knife to mince the peel into very small pieces.

  • Category: Essentials
  • Method: Zested
  • Cuisine: Citrus

Keywords: How to Zest a Lemon

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About the Authors

Sonja Overhiser

Cookbook Author and writer

Sonja Overhiser is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best healthy cookbooks of 2018. She’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the food blog A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Sonja seeks to inspire adventurous eating to make the world a better place one bite at a time.

Alex Overhiser

Cookbook Author and photographer

Alex Overhiser is an acclaimed food photographer and author based in Indianapolis. He’s host of the food podcast Small Bites and founder of the recipe website A Couple Cooks. Featured from the TODAY Show to Bon Appetit, Alex is author of Pretty Simple Cooking, named one of the best vegetarian cookbooks by Epicurious.

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