How to Zest a Lemon

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Lemon zest has come a long way – it’s not just a garnish for a cocktail anymore. The skin of the lemon has the oil in it, and when zested, it adds loads of bright, citrusy flavor to your recipe.

Lemon zest in a bowl.

I love to cook with lemons. The flavor they bring to a dish or baked goods is incomparable. They’re so bright and cheerful – they taste like sunshine.

Just the suggestion of lemons conjures up images of homemade lemonade, glistening in a pitcher, for sale for 25 cents a cup at a neighborhood lemonade stand. Full blown summer vibes.

I have so many lemon desserts I adore to make: rich and decadent lemon cheesecake, bright lemon blueberry bread, cheery lemon meringue pie. This list goes on and on. To make most of these lemon desserts, you will need the juice of fresh squeezed lemons.

But the secret ingredient, which brights a bigger citrus burst to any of your recipes is the zested lemon peel. The peel of the lemon contains the oil, which is loaded with lemon flavor. The problem is that the white part of the peel – the pith – is incredibly bitter. So the trick is just getting to the very top layer of the skin. That’s where zesting comes in.

I have a few different ways I like to zest lemons. For a thicker peel, you can use a vegetable peeler. A microplane grater will help you zest the peel into the smallest pieces. And a citrus zester allows for those little curly peel pieces.

Each technique is a little different. Just remember to remove any stickers and wash the lemons thoroughly before zesting. And when you zest, only take the very outer yellow layer – one you hit the white layer, you’ll get more bitter than citrus.

How to Zest a Lemon

Wash the lemons and remove any stickers before you zest. Only zest the very outer yellow layer – one you hit the white layer, it will be bitter, not lemony.

Zest lemon with a peeler:

  1. To zest a lemon with a lemon peeler, hold the lemon in the palm of your hand and pull the vegetable peeler across the lemon.

Be careful not to grab too deep into the skin when you start the peeler. You want it thick enough so that you don’t rip the peel, but you don’t want it to grab the bitter pith. Mince to the desired size.

Zesting a lemon with a peeler.

Zest lemon with a microplane:

My microplane grater is probably one of my top 10 most used items in my kitchen.

  1. Hold the microplane in one hand and the lemon in the other.
  2. Grate the zest of the lemon, turning the lemon frequently so you don’t grate yellow pith.

Be aware of where your knuckles and fingers are in relation to the microplane grater! Sometimes the zest will accumulate on the underside of the microplane, so you may need to give it a good whack on the side of a bowl to get the zest free.

Zesting a lemon with a microplane.

Zest with a lemon zester:

The lemon zester is the original method of zesting lemons. It’s a small tool about the size of a can opener with little holes at the top.

  1. Hold the lemon in one hand and press the edge of the zester against the lemon, pulling it towards you, like you were starting to peel it.
  2. As you can see in the below photo, this will pull the skin off in strands. Use the zest as is or dice it to the desired size.
Zesting a lemon with a lemon zester.

Handy tip:

One medium-sized lemon will yield about 1 tablespoon of zest.

Lemon zest on a spoon.

Storage & Freezing

You can zest a lemon peel ahead of time, dice it, and store it in the fridge. I wet a paper towel in the sink and fold it up and place it on top of the zest to keep it from drying out.

How to Zest a Lemon

5 from 1 vote
Lemon zest on a spoon.
Learn three simple techniques for how to zest a lemon.
Jen Sobjack
Prep Time 5 minutes
Total Time 5 minutes
Serving Size 1 tablespoon


  • 1 lemon


Zest lemon with a peeler

  • Beginning at the top of the lemon, use the peeler to cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips. Finely chop the strips to make lemon zest.

Zest Lemon with a microplane

  • Move the lemon back and forth over the grates of the microplane, rotating as you go. Continue until you have removed all the yellow from the fruit.

Zest with a lemon zester

  • Starting at the top of the lemon, press the sharp-edged holes into the skin and move them across the fruit. Repeat until the entire lemon is zested and only the pith remains.


  • One medium-sized lemon will yield about 1 tablespoon of zest.
  • Lemon zest will store for up to 6 months in the freezer.


Serving: 1g | Calories: 24kcal | Carbohydrates: 8g | Protein: 1g | Sodium: 2mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 2g

The nutrition information provided is for convenience and as a courtesy only. It is not guaranteed to be accurate because nutrition information can vary for a variety of reasons. For precise nutritional data use your preferred nutrition calculator and input the exact ingredients and brands you used in the recipe.

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: American

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