How to Zest Citrus

Whole and cut lemons, ready to be zested

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Table of Contents

What is Zesting?

Zesting is removing the outermost layer of a citrus fruit’s peel. You can zest a lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, or any other type of citrus. This thin layer of the peel is oily, and serves as a natural barrier for the fruit as it’s growing. In turn, these oils contain a fantastic flavor that isn’t as sour or bitter as other part of the fruit.

Zest is used throughout different cuisines, making appearances in everything from sauces to baked goods. For example, our Blueberry Muffin recipe uses lemon zest to add a bit of sweetness and lemon flavor to the dish. It’s often used with the citrus juice, but you’ll also find it used without any juice from the fruit itself. 

It’s used as an alternative to the fruit’s juice since adding zest doesn’t increase the moisture or acid content in the dish. 

Equipment Needed

You can zest with almost any type of grater, but typically one with smaller holes will be best. This prevents the grater from going too deep in the citrus peel and getting the bitter white part.

While you can technically zest fruit with a knife, you’re better off using a grater. If you don’t have a grater, then consider adding one of these inexpensive and versatile tools to your kitchen.

Here are links to some of our favorite tools to use for zesting:

Whole and cut lemons, ready to be zested
Demonstrating how to zest citrus

How to Zest

When we zest a fruit, we only want the layer on the very outside. Think about peeling an orange. Once you’ve removed the peel, you see the bright orange skin on one side, and the white fibrous material on the other side. This material is called “pith”. 

The pith makes the peel bitter, so the goal is to remove the outside layer of the peel without getting any pith.

Step 1) Wash your fruit!

Step 2) Using any kind of grater, push your citrus along the rough side of the grater to remove the outside skin (remember not to remove the pith with it)


  • If your recipe includes juice from the fruit, zest first, then juice
  • If you’re not going to juice, wrap the fruit in plastic wrap – you just removed the protective outer layer
  •  Don’t go back over the area you’ve already zested – once should be enough

Do you have any other questions or tips for zesting? Let us know in the comments below! We’ll use your insight to make these guides better and better. 

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