How to zest a lemon: 5 methods that work

How to zest a lemon

This detailed guide on how to zest a lemon outlines several methods, some clever tips to make it easier and what to avoid.

Find more food guides, tips and advice

The essential oil in the peel provides the typical citrus scent of the lemon peel. This oil is also used by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries. Of the minerals and vitamins contained, only the vitamin C content is remarkable, which is very high in the shell. The shell also contains flavonoids, a subspecies of secondary plant substances that are said to have an antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effect. 

Wide range of uses for lemon zest

Grated lemon peel provides a pleasantly fresh citrus aroma in pies, cakes and dairy dishes, for example. A stronger taste is created by zests, which are removed from the shell as narrow strips with a zester. They are mainly used for sauces and baked goods and for flavoring beverages.

A typical baking ingredient, which is mainly popular in Christmas baking, is the candied lemon or orange peel, which is known as lemon peel or succade or orange pee

Freshly grated lemon zest gives many sweet and savory recipes that certain something. But because it can be quite tedious to zest the lemon peel, many people use ready-made products instead, the aroma of which is by no means so fine and which also cause unnecessary packaging waste.

To flavor baked goods, bowls or desserts with citrus peel, the fruits should be washed thoroughly to remove dirt from transport and any bacteria. At the same time, hot water removes the natural wax layer from the citrus fruits.

How to zest a lemon: 5 ways

The cleaned and dried fruits are then rubbed with a rasp or a grater. For the production of citrus zests you need a so-called zester, for flavoring punch bowls or stews you simply peel off the peel with a potato peeler.

Finely grated lemon peel, lemon zest or coarser pieces of lemon peel – different kitchen utensils and methods are used for each shape of lemon peel. With the following methods, lemon zest is easy and clean, and you can stock up on a small supply right away.

How to zest a lemon: with a grater

How to zest a lemon

If you want the lemon peel to be particularly fine, a kitchen grater is particularly good for zesting the lemon peel. Before grating, the lemon should be washed off with hot water. When rubbing the lemon peel, always make sure that you only rub the lemon peel very thinly so that the white skin of the lemon remains untouched. This is because it tastes very bitter.

How to zest a lemon: Use a zest tool

How to zest a lemon

If the lemon peel is to be used in the form of thin, fine strips, the so-called zest tool is used. Use light pressure to move the zester over the skin of the washed lemon and peel off thin strips of the lemon peel. Here, too, make sure that you leave the white, bitter skin of the lemon untouched.

How to zest a lemon: with a peeler

For dishes from which the lemon peel is removed after cooking, for punch or for decorative purposes, lemon peel is often required in coarser strips. The easiest way to get this is with the help of a peeler. With this, carefully peel the lemon peel from the washed lemon and make sure that the lemon peel is peeled off thinly so that the white, bitter skin of the lemon remains untouched.

How to zest a lemon: Grate frozen lemons

Often, fresh lemons are so soft that more liquid than lemon zest collects on the grater. An easy workaround for this problem is to freeze the lemon before grating – either the whole fruit or the squeezed halves if you’ve already used the juice for something else.

A positive side effect of freezing: the fruit will keep for a very long time. Even if you want to use the lemon juice one day and the peel a few weeks later, it works with just one fruit that can be used so effectively and completely.

Tip: Leftovers of lemon juice can be frozen in ice cube molds and used later.

To protect yourself from the cold when grating, hold the fruit in your hands with a cloth and move it over the grating surface as usual. The frozen lemon is much firmer and less crushed when grated. Grated peel that gets stuck in the grater can be easily knocked out.

How to zest a lemon: Use baking paper

How to zest a lemon

With the help of a piece of baking paper, fresh lemons can also be rubbed cleanly and effectively. So you can easily get the fine citrus aromas and then only need to briefly rinse the grater because almost nothing sticks in the grater.

For the parchment paper trick you will need:

Grater (fruit grater / nutmeg grater)
Organic lemon
a small piece of baking paper or uncoated kitchen paper

And this is how the trick for simple lemon zest works:

  • Wash and dry the lemon. This removes the natural wax layer that also forms on untreated fruits. Cut a piece of baking paper the size of the grater and place it on the grater.
  • Hold the parchment paper and grater with one hand and rub the lemon over it with the other hand.
  • Even if the first attempts don’t look as effective, the following ones will push the parchment paper into the gaps. This creates small holes in the baking paper.
  • Completely rub off the yellow part of the skin around the fruit. The white part underneath is often too bitter to be used in sweet recipes.
  • Remove the parchment paper and simply wipe off the grated lemon peel stuck to it. With your hand or a brush, wipe off the fruit peel from below the grater (the non-sharp side!)

With a simple rinse, the grater is clean again. The lemon peel can be used immediately or spread out to air dry on a surface and then stored in a screw-top jar and used, for example, as a natural vitamin C supplement.

Why it is best to use organic lemons!

If you want to use lemon peel for baking, organic lemons are ideal. The peel of organic fruits must not be chemically treated, they are only cleaned with water. In conventional cultivation, pesticides, waxes and preservatives are used for flawless oranges or lemons. These are not suitable for consumption and may be harmful to health. 

The same applies to “untreated” citrus fruits. This labeling often relates solely to post-harvest treatment. It excludes the use of pesticides while not growing. Only organic citrus fruits are suitable for eating the peel. 

If you cannot obtain organic lemons, make sure you wash the lemons very well in warm soapy water then clean water before you zest them. You do NOT want pesticides to enter your food with the zest!