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3 Ways to Zest an Orange, Plus Tips, Tricks, and Recipes

VirginiaLynne has been experimenting in the kitchen for almost 50 years. She loves to share her recipes, cooking tips, and reviews.

Learn all of the amazing things you can make using orange zest.

Learn all of the amazing things you can make using orange zest.

What Is Orange Zest?

Zest is strips of the colored part of orange peel that you make with a special tool called a microplane, a grater, or a small knife.

Zest is used for flavoring and decorations.

Zest is used for flavoring and decorations.

Three Methods to Make Zest

  1. Microplane: The best way to make zest is using a special kitchen tool called a microplane. You pull along the orange across the microplane to scrape off thin strips of the colored peel. The advantage of this method is that the strips of peel are longer and thinner. This is not an expensive kitchen tool; however, using this method takes longer and is a little bit harder to do. This method looks best when decorating a cake, drinks, candy, or other food.
  2. Grater: If you need a lot, or are using peel in cooking, this is the fastest and easiest method. All you need is a grater with small holes, which you probably have as part of your cheese grater. Just push the orange down the grater the way you would cheese. Be sure to turn the orange as you go and try not to get too much of the white part of the peel, which is more bitter and has less flavor.
  3. Paring Knife: In a pinch, you can make zest from any citrus fruit by using a paring knife or potato peeler. Carefully cut off thin slices of the top of the peel. Then cut those slices into strips. This method also works if you want longer, larger, or thicker zest, or peel cut into different shapes.
Grating method to make orange zest.

Grating method to make orange zest.

Orange zest for decoration

Orange zest for decoration

Substitutes

When you need orange flavor, your best choice is fresh zest or juice. However, in a pinch you can try one of these substitutes, which are all the same as 1 teaspoon freshly grated zest:

  • 2 tablespoons fresh juice
  • 2 teaspoons concentrated juice
  • 1 teaspoon dried zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon extract
  • 2 teaspoons grated candied peel

Storage

Fresh zest can be stored in a Ziplock bag or other airtight container:

  • In the refrigerator for one week.
  • In the freezer for one month.
Store remaining leftovers in a Ziplock bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for a month.  Or dry your n the oven and store indefinitely.  Or use it to make orange sugar.

Store remaining leftovers in a Ziplock bag in the refrigerator for 3-4 days, or in the freezer for a month. Or dry your n the oven and store indefinitely. Or use it to make orange sugar.

Using Dried Peel

Is it all right to use dried peel? Does it taste any good? Sure! Dried may not have quite the flavor punch, but it works just fine in a pinch, especially if you are adding it to baked goods.

Where do you find dried? I usually buy McCormick Gourmet Valencia Orange Peel from Amazon because it is of good quality for the price. You can sometimes find it in the spice section of a supermarket. Dried doesn't look as nice as a garnish, but it is a lot easier to have some in your cupboard that you just pull out and use.

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Drying Your Own Peel

Generally, I store what I make in the freezer because I know I'll use it within a month and buy the dried to have in a pinch or to use in baked goods. However, if you want to save money or have a lot of fruit available, you might just want to make your own dried zest. Here is how to do it:

How Dry Microplaned Orange Peel

  1. Put the peel on parchment on a baking sheet.
  2. Spread it out so that the pieces don't clump.
  3. Put in an oven at 250 degrees for 30 minutes or until dry (or just turn on the oven, let it heat up, and then turn it off and leave overnight).

If you have a dehydrator, that works too. Put some in a small fancy jar with a ribbon on top and you have a very nice gift!

Ways to Use Orange Zest

Lots of products use orange for cleaning or as an insect repellent. Here are some ways you can use it:

In CookingHousehold UsesOutdoor Uses

baked goods

for shining wood

repelling insects

flavoring for marinade

removing water stains from metal

keeping garbage cans smelling better

topping drinks

mixed with vinegar for cleaner

fire starters

Interesting Facts

"Zest" is an excellent word for grated orange peelings because it adds a distinctive flavor and smell to foods. Here are some facts to know:

  1. The colored part of the rind is less bitter than the white.
  2. Citrus rinds have more oil in them than juice, so they actually add more flavor than juice to recipes.
  3. You need to be careful to add it lightly because too much can make your recipe bitter.
  4. Usually, 1/2 to 1 teaspoon is enough. Start with that and add more if you want more flavor.
  5. Add last to most recipes, especially frostings.
Orange sugar on toast

Orange sugar on toast

Orange Sugar Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1-2 tablespoons orange zest

Instructions

  1. Mix the zest with the sugar. Put in covered container and store in a cool place.
  2. Use as a topping for fruits and desserts. Use to flavor teas, coffee or other drinks.

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Questions & Answers

Question: What about zesting orange, lemon, and lime peels?

Answer: You can zest lime and lemon peels in the same way. For full instructions, you can see my article on How to Zest a Lime and How to Zest a lemon.

Question: Can orange essential oil be substituted for orange zest?

Answer: Most essential oils are not food-grade and should not be used in baking. If you do have an essential oil that is food grade, you could possibly substitute it for orange zest but it really wouldn't have quite the same taste in most recipes because the zest adds texture as well as flavor and smell.

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