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What is Lemon Zest

What is Lemon Zest

Lemon zest is the yellow part of the lemon peel, and is used in various culinary and non-culinary applications. To know more about 'what is lemon zest', read on...
Priya Johnson
Citrus limon or lemon is a popular citrus fruit, due to its appealing bright yellow color, tart flavor and odor. Lemons have proved themselves to be useful in culinary as well as non-culinary purposes across the globe. One of the oldest cultivated fruit plants, lemon trees are native to India. However, today lemon trees are cultivated in subtropical climates across the globe, specifically in Florida and the Mediterranean. The fruit is primarily used for its juice, however, its pulp, rind or zest and leaves are also used in cooking and baking. The acerbic taste is due to the citric acid content in the lemon juice. Lemon juice comprises 5% lemon juice, with pH of 2-3, which is responsible for the acerbic taste, which is why several lemon flavored candies and drinks are readily available in the market. The alluring part about this fruit is the fact that its acrid, tangy flavor actually benefits sweet as well as savory dishes. Moreover, lemons are credited for their useful home remedies for different ailments such as arthritis, Vitamin C deficiency, urine retention, gout, digestive disorders, nervousness, inflammation in the mouth, etc. One medium-sized lemon is tantamount to 2 tbsp of lemon juice and 1 tbsp of lemon zest approximately. Lemon juice and its benefits are popularly known, however, let us have a look at what lemon zest is, and its different uses.

Lemon Zest: What is it?
The yellow covering or peel of the lemon consists of two layers:
  • Zest - Outermost part of the rind
  • Pith - A white, fibrous layer directly below the zest
These layers protect the inner, fleshy citrus fruit. In layman terms, zest is the rich, shiny, outermost, bright yellow covering of citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. Thus, lemon zest is not the lemon peel, although it is a part of the lemon peel. It is characterized by intense citrus flavor with minimal bitterness. The white pith below the zest is the one which is marked by bitterness. This zest is prized for the richly fragrant oils infused in it, which impart a lovely, strong citrus flavor to the food. The presence of the aromatic, lemon oil in the zest, is the reason why lemon zest is added in some recipes, in addition to lemon essence or lemon juice.

How to Zest a Lemon?
Zesting is the term used for the process of separating the zest from citrus fruits. Before beginning zesting, one should wash the lemon properly. A mild, salt water solution can be used to soak the lemons for a minute or two. However, don't forget to rinse the lemon well after that and dry it using a dry towel. It is advisable to purchase unwaxed (wax treated for freshness) or organic lemons, so as to avoid wax and chemicals in the zesting.

Zesting can be done using various tools specifically designed for this purpose. Tools for zesting are available at all kitchen equipment stores. These tools only separate the zest from the fruit covering, leaving the bitter pith on the fruit itself. Addition of pith into recipes imparts a bitter underlying taste to the dish. The different tools for zesting are:

Lemon Zester
A traditional zester features tiny cutting holes designed to create long thread-like strips of lemon zest. The long zest strands can then be finely chopped using a kitchen knife. Moreover, the lovely thin strands of lemon zest make great salad decorations and garnishes.

Lemon Grater
Several recipes require grated lemon zest, to which we wonder, what is grated lemon zest and how to get it. Grated lemon zest can be obtained by a tool called Microplane, a lemon grater. Microplane is a rasp-like grater which possesses a long metal shaft with tiny, sharp metal teeth. Shreds of fine, zest ribbons are separated from the peel, when the tool blades are rubbed against the lemon in one direction. This tool is one of the best zesting tools available in the market today.

If one does not possess a lemon grater or zester, then a small, sharp knife or vegetable peeler will also do. All one has to do is cautiously peel the zest off, from the top to the bottom of the lemon. While peeling one should ensure one has not taken the bitter pith along. Lemon zest is most aromatic and flavorful when first removed, thus, it is advisable to use it immediately. However, if one desires to store it, it can be wrapped in plastic wraps and stored at room temperature for the next few days.

Now, let us have a quick look at its different uses. Lemon zest finds its place as a flavoring agent in various cookies, biscuits, lemonade, sorbets, sauces, pastries, pies, and other confectioneries. The zest, unlike the juice, does not change the chemistry of the recipe, by increasing its acidity or making it more liquid. Thus, without any hesitation, one can add a tsp or tbsp of zest to any dish. Besides these culinary uses, lemon zest has various other non-culinary uses like stain removal, taking care of smelly utensils and even shining the taps. It is truly versatile in nature!