Simple Substitutes for Lemon Zest

Possible Lemon Zest Substitutes

The right substitute depends on your recipe, how much you need and what you have available.

The Spruce / Ashley Deleon Nicole

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More Uses For Lemon Zest

There’s so many great uses for lemon zest, you’ll regret ever tossing it before. Add it to the breadcrumb coating for your meat, like we do in this Rack of Lamb. Stir some into your homemade salad dressing or vinaigrette for a burst of freshness. Finish your favorite roasted or steamed veggies with a sprinkling of zest. Yum!

Now that you’ve read all my lemon zest ideas I bet your mouth is watering. Well, I have some more inspiration for you. Try this simple Lemon Zest Pasta. It’s amazing! And yes, the zest from your freezer will work beautifully here!

This post originally appeared in August 2012 and was revised and republished in July 2020.



See COOK the STORY's nutrition and recipe discla

See COOK the STORY’s nutrition and recipe disclaimers.

How to Store Lemon Zest

Freezing Lemon Zest

Lemon zest will stay fresh in the freezer for about six months. Freeze the zest on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Once it is frozen, you can transfer it to a freezer-safe bag.

Use the frozen lemon zest as you would fresh lemon zest. You do not need to bring it to room temperature before using it.

Drying Lemon Zest

You can dehydrate lemon zest with a dehydrator or in the oven on the lowest setting for about six hours. The dehydrated zest can be stored at room temperature for about one year and used just as you would regular zest.

Tip: I also like to make powdered zest from citrus peels to have on hand when I need it. You can read more details about that process in my post on saving citrus rinds.

How to Zest a Lemon

The easiest way to zest a lemon isn't the best way. Learn how to zest a lemon for maximum flavor! Course Condiments

Cuisine American

Active Time 2 minutes

Total Time 2 minutes

Yield 1 tablespoon Author Stefani Cost $1.50

Instructions

Use a paring knife to slice both ends off of the lemon. Use a paring knife to slice off the rind right where it meets the white pith. If you cut off some of the pith along with the rind, use a horizontal cut to remove as much of the pith as you can. Use a chef's knife to julienne the pieces of rind.(Julienne means to cut into small strips.) Finely dice the strips. The size and shape of the cubes should be consistent.

Notes

The easiest way to zest a lemon is to use a microplane grater. Slide the lemon back and forth along the steel shaft, shaving off tiny bits at a time. The zest will collect in the microplane and you can measure it and add it to your recipes. The reason to use this knife method is: When you zest with a microplane, many of the lemon oils are released into the air – that flavor is not going into your dish. With a microplane, you are ripping the skin off of the fruit instead of slicing it. This means the cuts aren’t clean. The zest is more likely to stick together in clumps, and this yields an uneven distribution in your food.

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How much zest is in 1 lemon?

Here’s a tip that’s helpful when cooking with lemons. How much juice and zest is in 1 lemon? We’ve got the magic formula. Keep in mind that this quantity varies slightly if you have very large or very small lemons.

Here’s the formula: One regular lemon yields about 1 tablespoon zest and 2 to 3 tablespoons juice.

2. Lemon juice

Victoria_Hunter/Shutterstock Victoria_Hunter/Shutterstock

Lemon juice, obviously, is the juice that is squeezed from a lemon. You can also buy bottled lemon juice, but this tends to have an “off” flavor that makes it a less desirable substitute. In certain types of recipes, fresh lemon juice can be substituted for lemon zest, although, obviously, if you have the raw materials for the one, you probably have the materials for the other. (Unless, of course, you have just one lemon in the house and you’ve already used the zest in a different recipe.) Subbing lemon juice for lemon zest is a change that you might want to make in a recipe if you’re looking for some of that sourness.

Lemon juice doesn’t have as concentrated a flavor as lemon zest, so A Couple Cooks says you’ll need to use a tablespoon of the stuff in place of 1/2 teaspoon of zest. (Again, you may need to reduce the liquid accordingly.) Lemon juice should not be added directly to milk or cream, however, as it is likely to cause these dairy products to curdle. Taste of Home also notes that you might not want to add too much lemon juice to baked goods if it’s not already called for in the recipe. The acid it contains will react with the alkaline baking soda and/or powder and alter the texture of the finished product.

Culinary Uses of Lemon Zest: Lemon Zest Recipes

Baked goods like lemon bars, lemon meringue pies, lemon poppy seed muffins, and pound cake all benefit beautifully from a hit of lemon zest, which packs in flavor without the extra moisture. For a sweet preparation, try lemon zest in Chef Dominique Ansel’s mini madeleines recipe.

You can also use it in savory preparations: as a garnish over roasted vegetables, steeped in olive oil, or massaged into fresh salad greens. Chef Thomas Keller’s spaghetti aglio e olio features lemon zest as a bright finishing note.

Tips for zesting lemons

  • Whatever technique used for zesting, never dig in so deep that you cut out the pith or flesh.
  • Zested lemons don’t need to be discarded, instead, they can be juiced immediately or wrapped in cling wrap and refrigerated or frozen until required.
  • If you decide to use a grater then cover the holes with plastic wrap before grating to stop the lemon from getting stuck in the holes.
  • If you have a lot of lemons, then zest a bulk load and stir it into sugar for adding to frostings and drinks. Alternatively, add the zest to softened butter and use for topping salmon, steak, or roasted vegetables.

Lemon Zest vs Lemon Peel​

Some recipes will call for the use of the lemon peel rather than the zest and vice versa.

As a general rule it is usually okay to substitute the zest for the peel but and if you have it to hand even a splash of lemon juice can help beef up the flavor of the zest. ​

However, if a recipe calls for the use of the lemon zest then you should not substitute with the peel. The peel is usually a lot more bitter in flavor and won't have the lighter, fresher taste that is usually associated with the zest.​

How to zest a lemon: with a microplane (or box grater)

The best way to zest a lemon for using in recipes? Use a microplane grater. A microplane is a handheld grater with sharp holes in it. Grating foods with a microplane is faster and more consistent than a box grater. Alex and I use ours all the time for zest, or things like garlic and ginger. If you don’t have a microplane, no worries! You can use a box grater instead.

Here’s how to zest a lemon with a microplane (or fine holes on a box grater):

  1. Hold the microplane in one hand, place one end on a flat surface and hold it at an angle.
  2. Hold the lemon in the other hand, and drag it down over the microplane holes. Important: make sure to remove the yellow part of the skin only! Avoid the bitter pith.
  3. Gradually turn the lemon until all yellow parts of the peel have been removed.

FAQs

How long does it last?

It’s best to use lemon zest immediately after grating or zesting for the most flavor.

If you must store it for later, freezing citrus zest is the best option.

How to store citrus zest?

Fresh citrus zest can be stored in a small airtight container for up to 6 months in the freezer.

Do not pre-zest citrus and store in the refrigerator as it loses it’s natural oils, and thus it’s pungency, rather quickly.

How much zest in one lemon?

A medium-sized lemon will yield roughly 1 tablespoon of zest.

How Much Does One Lemon Yield?

You can typically expect to get one tablespoon of zest from a medium-sized lemon. It is helpful information if you're trying to determine how many lemons to buy, or if you're trying to get your substitution right, and the recipe says something vague like, "the zest of half a lemon." Base your substitutions on this rule of thumb, and you should be pleased with the results every time.

What’s the Difference Between Lemon Zest and Lemon Peel? 

lemon zest, thick lemon peel, and thin lemon peel side by side Credit: Kathryn Gamble Lozier/Meredith

Lemon zest comes from the peel of a lemon, but it does not include the inner layer of the peel known as the albedo. This inner layer contains the "pith," or the soft, white, substance that has a naturally bitter taste. 

Zest is most commonly grated, but so long as you're only removing the outermost layer of the peel, you can also use zest in large pieces, thin strips, or even curled pieces for garnish. 

What lemons are best for zesting?

Organic or freshly picked lemons from the tree are the best for zesting because they have no wax covering. Some organic lemons will have a beeswax coating which can easily be washed off in hot water.

Regular lemons from the supermarket will usually have a wax coating to make it look more appealing on the shelf and to help preserve the fruit. To remove this coating add the fruit to a colander and pour a jug of boiling water over them before scrubbing the fruit clean. Give them a thorough dry with a tea towel before zesting.

Is Lemon Zest Safe to Eat?

We don’t usually eat the peel of citrus fruits. But this is only because it doesn’t taste very nice. Especially the bitter white pith.

But the zest is full of flavor and completely safe. A lot of non-organic lemons that you would find in the grocery store will be covered with wax or pesticides.

So it’s a good idea to give the lemon a wash before zesting it. 

Step 3: Zester

This one is my favorite! I know most people don’t have a zester or see any point of having one, and I’m sure Alton Brown is upset with me somewhere for buying a one trick pony kitchen gadget… but I love it anyway. And I use it more than you would think. Place the zester sharp edges down on the skin of the fruit, and pull it along the length. The longer and harder your contact with the skin is, the better your strips of zest will look. I like to make mine as long as possible. I like to do strips all around the lemon, and you can even do a second pass getting all the grooves of skin left behind since it’s so evenly spaced. And a zester is great for one other reason – it’s designed so you don’t dig deep enough into the skin to get to the pith. 🙂

4. Zest from a different type of citrus

domnitsky/Shutterstock domnitsky/Shutterstock

Lemon may be one of the most versatile fruits in the citrus family for culinary purposes as it features prominently in dishes both sweet and savory as well as in numerous beverages. There are, however, many other types of citrus fruits — more than 100 in all, according to Leafy Place. While you may not have any yuzu, pomelos, or kumquats ready to hand, you might be able to root around in your fruit bin and come up with a lime or an orange.

Of these two fruits, lime zest is going to give you a flavor closest to lemon, and can be used in place of lemon zest for just about any type of recipe. Taste of Home says to substitute lime zest for lemon zest on a 1:1 basis. Orange zest has a somewhat different flavor profile, but it may also work well for you, particularly in something sweet like a dessert where you don’t mind shifting the flavor from lemon to orange. Again, you can use an amount equal to the lemon zest you’re replacing.

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How to Use Dried Lemon Zest

Dried lemon zest is best used for decoration. Although it will add a great flavor to a dish, it will be chewy or crunchy.

Depending on the dish, this might not be quite the texture you’re looking for. Although fresh lemon zest can also be chewy, it will break down better than dried zest. 

Merchandise

At least two Equestria Girls dolls of Lemon Zest were released as part of the toyline’s Friendship Games lineup: a “Sporty Style” variant and a “School Spirit” variant. The Sporty Style doll comes with roller blades.

Step 1: Weapons of Choice

There are three good ways to zest any citrus fruit:
  • a paring knife
  • a zester
  • a microplane or grater
I’ve also heard of people using vegetable peelers, but I’m guessing you need a very fancy and very sharp peeler. I have tried several times and been less than impressed. So I’m gonna say those people are fibbers. Each will give you entirely different results. Using a paring knife is great for candied lemon or orange peels, using a grater or microplane is great for getting zest into baked goods, salad dressing or other cooking that requires tiny bits of zest, and using a zester is great for decorative zest. Also, a note about which fruit to buy – your best bet when using zest it to get organic produce! Nearly all conventional produce is coated with wax. The wax can make the zest taste funny sometimes, and it’s pretty hard to remove. Can’t find organic produce? Scrub the fruit under hot water and that’s a start. I’ve used conventional lemons, limes and oranges for zest quite a few times and I’m not dead yet and everything still tasted good. 😀

How Much Lemon Zest Is In One Lemon?

pile of lemon zest next to cup with lemon juice and whole lemon Credit: Jacob Fox/Meredith

It varies from lemon to lemon, but one medium-sized lemon equals about two to three tablespoons juice and about one tablespoon lemon zest

Related: How Much Juice Is Really In One Lime? 

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