Zesting Citrus

CATEGORIES: How To..., Sara

If you are a regular reader of this blog, or become one, it will not take long to see that I love citrus. I use lime zest, lemon zest, and orange zest a lot in my cooking. It’s one of the best ways to quickly brighten and freshen a dish and it’s so dang pretty too! Grating the skin of the fruit releases the oils so you get a great punch of flavor with just a tiny bit of zest. So before I post some of my favorite recipes using citrus zest (like some fabulous lemon cheesecake bars coming next week) I thought I’d give you a few tips on the whole zesting process.

  • First of all, make sure before using the skin of any fruit, you wash it well.You can use normal dish/hand soap and lather those babies up.It sounds weird, but regular soap will remove the wax based products often applied for horticultural purposes.
  • If you are going to be using both the juice and the skin for a recipe, always zest first, then juice.

Now come the tools.There are several options, but I will tell you about the best.

This is one you MUST have in your kitchen! The Microplane zester/grater.It only costs about 10 bucks (in stores, not their website) and it is wonderful for using on hard cheeses, garlic, nutmeg, chocolate, ginger and a myriad of other things.However, it is THE best way to zest citrus.

Why is it the best? Because while the outside skin of the fruit is wonderful and flavorful, the white membrane right under it is bitter and yucky. Using a big ol’ regular cheese grater is not only awkward, but the holes are so big that you end up getting that bitter membrane along with your zest. You are also then left with giant chunks of zest to bite into in your final product. The Microplane is so fine that it quickly zests only the best part of the fruit and leaves you with a super fine pile of zest that will disperse well in your dish. The sharp little blades glide over the fruit like silk and you’re left with this beautiful product:

If you don’t have one, go get one.If you are too lazy to go get one, then your best bet will be a very fine cheese grater, the smaller holes the better.

Another fun tool is an actual “zester”.

Photo courtesy of Williams-Sonoma

A zester like this will give you very attractive pieces of rind.You’ll get long, fine, uniform strings of zest which work beautifully for garnishing.

I have both of these tools and I use them both depending on the purpose.Generally, I use the Microplane when I want the zest dispersed throughout the dish and the zester when I want it to look pretty.

Try adding lemon zest to mayo for sandwiches, and grate some fresh lime zest on top of tortilla soup. You can add it to just about anything!


  1. I got mine at Williams-Sonoma, but I bet you could get one at any store that has cooking gadgets. Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. Mistie, you should be able to find them at any large cooking store, but I’ve bought my Microplane products at either Bed Bath & Beyond or Linens ‘n Things. I just looked and it’s a bit cheaper at LNT ($12.99) plus you can use a coupon! Hope that helps.

  3. Wow! I LOVE that last picture. Can I just frame it?

    I like stuff with zest too. Although I have to admit I’m always freaked out to put peels of anything in my food.

  4. Microplanes are awesome. Before I had mine, I had a little hand-held grater with small holes that I used for stuff like this, but I left it at my parents’ house and ended up buying a microplane in a moment of desperation. Total world of difference. One thing is that you should keep the plastic sleeve it comes in and put it back in the sleeve after you clean your microplane, both to keep it from getting dinged and nicked (thereby keeping it sharp) and also so you don’t ding or nick yourself. Because it IS sharp!

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