How to Zest a Lemon

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Freshly grated lemon zest is the perfect addition to any dish—best of all, it requires minimal effort to produce. A small amount can bring a subtle element of brightness and freshness to your meal that lemon juice alone can’t provide. Learn how to zest a lemon, what tools you’ll need, and more with this step-by-step guide.

Also, check out all of our lemon recipes for more ideas and how to zest a lime!

lemon zest in a bowl

What is Lemon Zest?

Lemon zest is essentially what the peel of the lemon becomes once it has been shredded. It can be used in tandem with—or in place of—lemon juice to add a tart brightness to any dish. Lemon zest is great for adding a punchy tang to desserts like these lemon and thyme shortbread cookies or to cut through the richness of savory food like these warm marinated olives.

It is composed of only the fragrant yellow peel—not the white pith underneath, which has a bitter and unpleasant flavor when eaten. Freshly grated zest has a bright, citrusy aroma and can be added to dishes during the cooking process or as a finishing touch for the perfect hint of acidity.

We add it to our recipes like this yogurt tahini dip and ricotta cheesecake!

zesting a lemon with a microplane

How to Zest a Lemon with a Microplane

Microplane’s are the most efficient tool for lemon-zesting. To use a Microplane, follow these steps:

  1. Hold the microplane in one hand, and the lemon in the other.
  2. Drag the lemon across the holes of the microplane, turning the lemon as you go to avoid the bitter pith.
  3. Repeat until you’ve produced the desired amount of zest.

How to Zest a Lemon Without a Zester

If you don’t have a Microplane, you can still add fresh lemon juice to your favorite dish. There are several common kitchen tools you can use, including:

  • A box grater
  • A sharp knife

Using the fine holes of a box grater, drag the lemon back and forth over the surface until you’ve produced the desired amount of zest. To do this using a knife, carefully slice off the outermost layer of the peel and then finely mince.

vegetable peeler and lemons

How to Zest a Lemon with a Vegetable Peeler

Follow these steps when using a vegetable peeler:

  1. Using the peeler, carefully remove the outermost layer of yellow rind.
  2. Mince the peel into small pieces using a sharp knife.
lemon zest in a bowl with a zester
How Much Zest is in One Lemon?

One medium lemon will yield about a tablespoon of zest—or about three teaspoons.

Substitutes

If you don’t have any of the tools above or have run out of lemons completely, you can still add brightness to your meal with these substitute. Potential substitutes include:

  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Lime zest
  • Orange zest
  • Dried lemon peel

Recipes with Lemon Zest

Lemon Margaritas

The Best Lemon Cupcakes

Chocolate Truffles with Zest

Shortbread Cookies

Infusing Sugar

Lemon Loaf Cake

The Best Ricotta Pancakes

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lemon zest in a bowl

How to Zest a Lemon

A simple way to zest a lemon.
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Course: Baking
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 2 minutes
Cook Time: 0 minutes
0 minutes
Total Time: 2 minutes
Servings: 1 lemon
Calories:
Author: Eden

Ingredients

  • 1 large lemon

Instructions

  • Hold the microplane in one hand, and the lemon in the other.
  • Drag the lemon across the holes of the microplane, turning the lemon as you go to avoid the bitter pith.
  • Repeat until you’ve produced the desired amount of zest.
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