Whole Story

The Official Whole Foods Market® Blog

Kitchen Basics: Zesting Citrus

This week, Susan demonstrates two easy techniques for zesting citrus.

During the winter months, I search for ways to capture the warmth of the sun in my kitchen. Few flavors brighten my mood or dinner table like fresh lemons. Lemons offer two ingredients in one: tart, refreshing juice and fragrant aromatic oils. These low calorie flavor boosters add spunk and freshness to soups and salads and any other dish they grace.   

The other good news? It takes very little time to gather a lemon’s aromatic oils (and the oils of oranges, limes, and other citrus). They are housed in its outermost skin, or zest. Just below the zest lays the bitter, cream-colored pith. When you reach the pith, you know you’ve gone too far.

You can use a vegetable peeler, microplane, or citrus zester to "zest" a lemon. I prefer a vegetable peeler or microplane as both are multi-purpose kitchen tools. Avoid box graters as they tear the lemon’s skin, making it hard to gather the zest and avoid the pith. 

Whenever possible, use an organic lemon that is free of pesticides.  

Before you start, thoroughly wash the outside of the lemon. 

How to Zest Citrus with a Peeler

Hold the lemon in one hand, widthwise. Hold the vegetable peeler in the other hand. Make a shallow slit into the peel by gently pressing the vegetable peeler into the top of the lemon. Pull the peeler down the contour of the lemon, removing the outermost skin in long strips.

If you end up with pith on any of the strips, place the strip on a cutting board with the pith side up. Hold the bottom of the strip with one hand and carefully cut away the pith using the tip of a sharp knife. 

To create fine strips or julienne: Hold a strip of lemon with one hand and with a chef's knife in the other hand, slice it lengthwise. 

To produce fine zest: Slice the strips lengthwise following the instructions above. Group a few strips together. Starting at one end, finely chop them with a chef's knife. Then, rotate your chef's knife over the peel to achieve a fine texture.

How to Zest Citrus with a Microplane

Hold the microplane in one hand at a 45-degree angle with the tip resting on a cutting board. Hold the lemon widthwise in your other hand. Slide the lemon down the microplane. 

Rotate the lemon and repeat until all of the zest is removed. Tap the tip of the microplane on your cutting board to remove any zest that is clinging to the microplane. 

Zest produced from a microplane (left) has a finer texture than zest created from the peel-and-mince method

I’d love to see your tips for zesting citrus! Share them with your fellow cooks in the comments section below.