Melinda Josie

Fresh citrus can wake up even the simplest recipes.

Real Simple Editors
Updated June 18, 2018
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The aromatic oils in the skins of citrus fruits are the secret ingredient in countless dishes, from pastas to cakes. Zest adds bold flavor without the extra acidity found in the juice. The key is removing the outer skin while leaving behind the bitter white pith.

It might seem obvious, but recipes often call for a lemon (or another citrus) to be used two ways, calling in one line first for the juice and then for the zest. However, it’s important to zest first. You’ll get a better grip on the citrus and avoid nicking a thumb with the peeler or Microplane. If you don’t need the citrus afterwards, make sure to refrigerate it. Once zested, the citrus will dry out quickly. Lastly, don’t forget to wash any citrus before zesting as some stores treat fruit with a wax coating so it lasts longer on shelves.

Depending on the type of zest you need, one of these tools will do the trick:

: Use a vegetable peeler to create long, 1-inch-wide strips; cut away any white pith. Toss the peels into braises or martinis—anywhere you want flavor but not a mouthful of grated citrus.

: This tool makes narrow, curly strips that add an assertive bite to pastas and sauces or that can be used as a garnish. (You can also create julienne strips by thinly slicing a larger piece of peel.)

: You'll get fine shavings, with little chance of unwanted pith, that disappear into dressings, cookies, cakes, and pie fillings.

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