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

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

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 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 one. Personally, I think using a zester is mostly for show. 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 juice 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 pull down while pushing slightly.
  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 not taste good; 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


Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on May 02, 2017:

Hi Spanish Food--I admit that I used a grater growing up too. I also love the microplane because it does get better flavor as well as making very nice decorative garnishes.

Lena Durante from San Francisco Bay Area on May 02, 2017:

I grew up zesting citrus with a box grater and that always worked just fine. I have to admit, I love my microplane now!

Suzanne Day from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia on November 01, 2013:

That lemon bread looks divine! Will have to make...

Rose Clearfield from Milwaukee, Wisconsin on October 27, 2013:

Thanks for the detailed overview! I have only zested oranges a handful of times, and I learned a lot from this article. Great resource.

Dianna Mendez on October 25, 2013:

I love lemons and just made a slaw recipe that required the zest of lemon. It really enhanced the flavor. I am drooling over the lemon bread photo! Well done.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 24, 2013:

Cathylynn--you are right. I am actually from the U.S. but did not know this difference between countries. Thanks for teaching me something today! I'll change this on the Hub.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 24, 2013:

Very useful tips on how to zest lemons without a zester!

I love lemon zest in recipes because of its tangy flavour. Well written with helpful pictures and instructions.

Voted up and pinned! Thanks for sharing!

cathylynn99 from northeastern US on October 23, 2013:

you must be from Australia. in US three tsps. (5 cc.) make a tbsb. (15 cc. or 1/2 oz. or 1/16 cup). (1http://answers.reference.com/information/misc/how_...

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 23, 2013:

Hi cathylynn!--I double checked this at several sites. A teaspoon is 1/4 a Tablespoon.

Kathryn from Windsor, Connecticut on October 23, 2013:

This is a handy article! It was nice to learn of the different ways to zest a lemon, and different lemon substitutions. But the recipes at the bottom were a surprising bonus! I love baked goods with lemon in it.

Thanks for sharing this with us. Voted up, sharing, and pinning.

Have a great night!

~ Kathryn

Jill Spencer from United States on October 23, 2013:

What a helpful hub! Thanks.

cathylynn99 from northeastern US on October 23, 2013:

I was taught that there are three tsps. in a tbsp.

FlourishAnyway from USA on October 23, 2013:

What a beautiful and useful hub, and the photos are lovely as well. I love lemon flavor, and your recipe sounds simply divine. Voted up and more. Yum! I'll be trying this one!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on October 23, 2013:

Boy, that lemon bread has my mouth watering. I was glad to learn the difference between lemon zest and peel. Voted really useful, interesting and shared!

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on October 23, 2013:

Yummy, great advice. I just love lemons. Zesting is a cool term. My mom just wrote it as grated lemon peel skin.

Virginia Kearney (author) from United States on October 23, 2013:

Hi lovebuglena--I had used a grater most of my cooking career too, but I really do like the way the zester or knife makes a decorative zest for topping on lemon cookies or this lemon bread.

Lena Kovadlo from Staten Island, NY on October 23, 2013:

Very useful hub with easy to understand and follow instructions. I had no idea there was a special tool for zesting lemons as I always use a grater. So, I wouldn't even think of zesting it with a knife. Wonder if it's worth it to buy one...The lemon bread recipe seems delicious. Thanks for sharing.

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