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How to Zest Lemons Without a Zester (Plus a Lemon-Bread Recipe)

Left: zested peel; top: peel cut with a knife; bottom: grated peel.

Left: zested peel; top: peel cut with a knife; bottom: grated peel.

Lemon Zest vs. Lemon Peel

  • Lemon zest is thin strips of the colored outside peel of a lemon. Some recipes call this "grated lemon peel", but technically, that's different.
  • Lemon peel includes the white part of the rind (the pith). Lemon peel is used in some recipes, but it is more bitter, so if your recipe says lemon zest or grated lemon peel, try to use just the colored part.

A zester (sometimes called a Microplane) is a kitchen tool that removes the outermost layer of citrus peel in thin strips. It can be used for lemons, limes, oranges, etc. Just be careful to stop zesting once you've reached the pith!

2 Ways to Zest Lemons Without a Zester

Use a Small Grater

This is the fastest method, and I use it all the time:

  1. Run the lemon lightly across the grater so that just the bright yellow part of the rind is grated.
  2. Keep on turning the lemon as you pull it across the grater.
  3. You should be able to get about 1 tablespoon of grated lemon zest per lemon.
  4. Grated lemon peel is thinner, and works better than zested lemon peel in recipes like cakes and cookies because it blends better with other tastes.

Use a Knife

This method takes a little longer but is closer to zested lemon.

  1. Carefully use the knife to peel off a section (roughly half an inch wide) of the yellow rind.
  2. Then put that section on a cutting board and cut it into very thin strips.
  3. These strips will look very much like zested lemon, but they will be straight rather than curled.
  4. This sort of lemon peel is better for decorating baked goods, like the top of puddings, frosted lemon cookies, or lemon meringue pie, especially when candied.

How to Use a Zester

Before buying a zester, you might want to check your cheese grater. Many of them have a small section that is actually a zester. It looks like holes that are poking up, or a very fine grate.

If your grater doesn't have a built-in zester, you may choose to invest in this inexpensive kitchen tool that helps you make pretty garnish out of any citrus fruit (lemons, limes, oranges). A zester makes thin, curling zest which looks nice as a garnish. It is a pretty inexpensive kitchen tool. I bought mine at the grocery store and it can be used for grating zest and also juicing citrus too. You use a zester by:

  1. Holding the lemon in one hand and the zester in the other hand.
  2. Put the zester at a 45-degree angle to the lemon and push down while pulling it toward you slowly.
  3. You should see curling zest come out the top of the zester.
  4. Rotate the lemon and continue pulling down until you've gotten as much zest as you need, or until you've finished getting the yellow rind off the lemon.


Lots of baking and meat recipes ask for lemon zest because it adds a lot of flavor and a wonderful smell to many foods. Here are some important facts:

  1. The white rind (pith) below the outermost peel is bitter, so try to use just the colored part.
  2. Lemon rind has lemon oil in it, so it adds more flavor than the juice (although many recipes ask for both).
  3. Measure carefully because too much lemon zest may make your recipe bitter; start with 1 teaspoon or less.
  4. Lemon zest should usually be added last.
  5. Leftover lemon zest can be stored in an airtight container for 1 week in the refrigerator, or it can be frozen for up to a month.

Lemon Zest Substitutes

IngredientAmountSubstitute 1Substitute 2Substitute 3

lemon zest

1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

2 tablespoons lemon juice (may need to adjust other liquids in recipe)

1 tablespoon vinegar or lime juice

lemon zest

1 tablespoon (equals 3 teaspoons U.S. measurement or 4 teaspoons in Australia)

2 teaspoons lemon extract

4 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons vinegar or lime juice

lemon juice

1 teaspoon

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract or lemon zest

1 teaspoon lime juice

1/2 teaspoon vinegar or white wine

lime zest

1 teaspoon

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/2 teaspoon lemon extract

1 teaspoon lemon juice

lime juice

1 teaspoon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon vinegar

1 teaspoon white wine

Lemon Bread.

Lemon Bread.

Easy Lemon Bread Recipe

I love the taste of lemons, and this lemon bread recipe has a deep lemon flavor. I always get asked for the recipe when I bring it to share or give it as a gift. The lemon flavor is a nice change from banana bread or blueberry. You can add blueberries, nuts, coconut or mini chocolate chips.

Cooking Time

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

5 min

40 min

45 min

16 servings

Ingredients Needed

  • 1 package yellow cake mix, (can use sugar free Pillsbury)
  • 1 package lemon jello, (regular or sugar free)
  • 2/3 cup oil, (or applesauce)
  • 2/3 cup hot water
  • 4 eggs, (or one cup egg substitute)
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest


  1. Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Mix all of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl with a mixer. Beat for about 2 minutes until thick and well blended.
  2. Pour batter into 2 loaf pans, 24 cupcake holders or a bundt pan. Bake until light brown (about 20 minutes for cupcakes, 30 for loaf pans and 40 for bundt pan).
  3. Take out, and while warm, you can add an optional glaze of 1/2 cup of powdered sugar, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and 1 teaspoon lemon zest. Or you can serve with butter and lemon sugar (see recipe below).

How to Make Lemon Sugar

Lemon sugar makes a nice gift along with a loaf of homemade bread or a mug and tea.


  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon zest

Mix together and put in a covered container. Use as a topping for toast or to sweeten your tea.

© 2013 Virginia Kearney