How to zest a lemon

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Zest is the outer peel of the fruit (without the white pith underneath) and is often used in baking and cooking because of the strong flavored oils it contains. Here are three different ways you can zest a lemon plus a few tips that include ideas for using the rest of the peel (instead of wasting it).

GadgetsGood to Know: These techniques also work for other citrus fruits (like oranges and limes).

  • Use a zester tool that will easily scrape away the bright yellow peel, it is designed to have sharp edges and holes that will pull up the peel as you drag the gadget across the fruit. This little gadget is a small but handy kitchen tool! You’ll also find a variation of this tool (Lemon Stripper) that removes the outer peel one strip at a time. I found a quick video on YouTube that shows you how both gadgets work (I added it to the bottom of the page so you can view it if you like).
  • Use a grater with fine holes (a small hand grater is great but you can use the larger graters too–just use the side with the fine holes). Carefully drag the fruit across the surface and make sure to only grate the top bright yellow peel and not the white pith underneath.
  • If you have a sharp vegetable peeler, this will also work. Drag it across the fruit back and forth to pull up the peel then use a knife to cut off the strands that are still attached to the fruit.
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There are a few different ways you can save it for future use…

  • Drying: Spread excess zest in a thin layer across a sheet of parchment paper or waxed paper, allow to dry at room temperature for about 24 hours. Once fully dried, keep in an airtight container and store away from heat (pantry shelf or cupboard). Some prefer grinding it fine before storing away.
  • Freezing: Wrap in plastic wrap then freeze in an airtight container. You can also freeze the peels like this then just grate the frozen peels as you need.
  • Refrigeration: Keep excess sealed in an airtight plastic bag and refrigerate until needed, will keep for a few days.


  • You’ll get about 1 tablespoon of zest from one medium lemon.
  • Handy Equivalents: 1 teaspoon fresh zest = 2 tablespoon juice = 1 teaspoon dried zest = 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract.
  • When zesting, make sure to leave behind the white pith, it’s bitter and typically avoided in recipes.
  • Have more than you need? Use it to make flavored sugar, it’s delicious in baking and added to beverages (like tea). Find ideas for using those peels here.
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