How to Zest a Lime

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Whether you use a zesting gadget or a common kitchen tool, learn How to Zest a Lime. With 5 ways to tackle the task, add some bright lime flavor to cocktails, desserts, salsas, salads, and grilled meats.

Zested limes and tools to zest a lime on a countertop.

 

There are so many ways a little lime zest can bright up your cooking. Grilled meats and poultry, fresh salsas, salads, soups, desserts, and cocktails – the list goes on!

There are plenty of gadgets to help you zest with the rest, but chances are you already have at least one tool lying around that will get the job done. Fresh citrus zest freezes really well, too, so you don’t have to use it all right away. And, I have plenty of ideas to put your lime juice to work in case you have extra.

Ingredient notes

  • Limes: Always begin by washing and drying your limes. No matter what technique you use, don’t dig in too deep to the bitter white part of the juicy fruit. Use a light touch on the rind (the outer layer part of the lime), and make sure you rotate the fruit so you don’t over grate the citrus peel. This technique works for smaller key limes and regular limes alike.

Step-by-step instructions

1. To zest a lime with a microplane:

  • Hold the fine grater in one hand and the lime in the other over a cutting board or clean flat surface. Going in one direction, push the lime away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lime as you go to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.
Someone using a microplane grater to zest a lime.

2. To zest a lime with a vegetable peeler:

  • Hold the lime in one hand and the peeler in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit and working your way around the lime, use the peeler to cut into the skin and carefully remove part of the peel in thick, wide strips. Avoid going so deep as to remove the bitter white pith.
Someone peeling a lime with a peeler.

3. To zest a lime with a paring knife:

  • Hold the lime in one hand and the sharp knife in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, working your way around the lime. Avoid going so deep as to remove the white pith which has a bitter taste. You can slice these larger strips into thing strips or small pieces if desired.
Someone peeling a lime with a paring knife.

4. To zest a lime with a box grater:

  • Place the cheese grater over a cutting board or clean work surface. Holding the box grater by the handle firmly with one hand, and the lime in the other, push the lime away from you across side of the grater with small holes, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lime as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.
Someone zesting a lime on a box grater.

5. To zest a lime with a zesting channel knife:

  • To make zest, hold the lime in one hand and the citrus zester in the other. Starting at the top of the lime, press the round blades into the skin and move them across the fruit, rotating so that you get all of the zest you can.
Someone zesting a lime with a zesting tool.
  • To use a channel knife for garnishes, hold the lime in one hand and the channel knife in the other. Dig the tip of the channel-shaped blade into the lime at the middle, and rotate the lime so that you make one long, narrow peel.
Someone zesting a lime with a zesting tool.

To make a lime twist:

  • Gently rotate a long strip of lime peel around a drinking straw, securing each end with pins to hold it in place. This can be done in advance; by the time your cocktail is ready, your twist will be beautiful and perfectly curled. Just remember to give it an extra twist over the drink, to release the natural oils over the surface of the cocktail.
Lime twists being made on straws.

Recipe tips and variations

  • Yield: 1 large lime will yield about 2 teaspoons grated lime zest.
  • Storage: Store leftover lime zest covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
  • Freezer: Add lime zest to a freezer-safe container, label, date, and freeze up to 6 months.
  • Zest before juice: When a recipe calls for both juice and zest, always zest before you squeeze because it’s much easier to hold and rotate a whole lime.
  • Lemon Zest and Orange Zest: Follow all the same procedures to zest lemons and oranges.
  • Margarita Salt: Lime zest is delicious stirred into homemade Margarita Salt.
  • Lime butter: Stir lime zest (and maybe garlic and fresh thyme?) into softened butter for a delicious lime Compound Butter for Pan-Fried Tilapia, Baked Salmon, and Grilled New York Strip.
  • Marinade: Lime zest is makes a delicious ingredient in marinades for Chicken Fajitas or Cilantro-Lime Chicken.
  • Lime desserts: Fresh lime zest is delicious in homemade cake, cookies, and muffins.
  • Leftover lime juice: If your recipe doesn’t call for lime juice, squeeze those limes anyway! If needed, freeze fresh lime juice until you’re ready to use it.
  • Happy Hour: Add a piece of lime peel or twist to cocktails like a Hemingway Daiquiri (pictured below).
A Hemingway Daiquiri in a cocktail glass.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much zest do you get from 1 lime?

1 large lime will yield about 2 teaspoons grated lime zest.

What is a good lime zest substitute?

If you don’t have fresh lime to zest on hand, lime extract will deliver a similar citrus flavor.

What is the difference between lime zest and lime peel?

Citrus fruit is covered with a peel. The outer skin layer is called a flavedo. It has all the flavor, thanks to the natural citrus oils that are located just under the surface. That peel includes the inner skin layer, called an albedo, which many refer to as “pith.” The white, fleshy pith is what people usually avoid because it tastes bitter.

The difference between lime zest and lime peel is that zest is purely made of the very outermost layer of the citrus fruit: all flavedo (flavor) and no bitterness. Not all citrus fruits have the same ratio of pith to skin, however. For example, grapefruit tends to have thick skin with a lot of protective pith, while limes have almost no pith at all. This is an important distinction when you start zesting different fruits.

Zested limes and tools to zest a lime on a countertop.

Put your lime zest to work

How to Zest a Lime

Whether you use a zesting gadget or a common kitchen tool, learn How to Zest a Lime. With 5 ways to tackle the task, add some bright lime flavor to cocktails, desserts, salsas, salads, and grilled meats.

Prep Time 5 minutes

Total Time 5 minutes

Servings 3 servings (1 tsp each)

Course Pantry

Cuisine American

Calories 10

  • Microplane grater (My favorite! Use this for zest, cheese, nutmeg, garlic, and chocolate)
  • Vegetable peeler (My go-to peeler for thick strips of zest and for peeling potatoes or any vegetable)
  • Paring knife (A super-sharp paring knife is a kitchen staple that works great for zesting citrus)
  • Box grater (Use the fine-grater side for citrus and try the coarse and medium grates or slicing side for vegetables, herbs, and cheese)
  • Channel knife (This 2-in-1 tool zests or makes strips for citrus garnishes)

To zest a lime with a microplane:

  • Hold the grater in one hand and the lime in the other over a cutting board or clean work surface. Going in one direction, push the lime away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lime as you go to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

To zest a lime with a vegetable peeler:

  • Hold the lime in one hand and the peeler in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit and working your way around the lime, use the peeler to cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in thick, wide strips. Avoid going so deep as to remove the white pith.

To zest a lime with a paring knife:

  • Hold the lime in one hand and the knife in the other. Beginning at the top of the fruit, cut into the skin and carefully remove the peel in strips, working your way around the lime. Avoid going so deep as to remove the white pith.

To zest a lime with a box grater:

  • Place the grater over a cutting board or clean work surface. Holding the box grater by the handle firmly with one hand, and the lime in the other, push the lime away from you across the rough side of the grater, removing the colorful part of the fruit, exposing the pith. Gently rotate the lime as you go, to get all of the zest you can from each fruit.

To zest a lime with a zesting channel knife:

  • To make zest, hold the lime in one hand and the zester in the other. Starting at the top of the lime, press the round blades into the skin and move them across the fruit, rotating so that you get all of the zest you can.

  • To use a channel knife for garnishes, hold the lime in one hand and the channel knife in the other. Dig the tip of the channel-shaped blade into the lime at the middle, and rotate the lime so that you make one long, narrow peel.

To make a lime twist:

  • Gently rotate a long strip of lime peel around a drinking straw, securing each end with pins to hold it in place. This can be done in advance; by the time your cocktail is ready, your twist will be beautiful and perfectly curled. Just remember to give it an extra twist over the drink, to release the natural oils over the surface of the cocktail.

  1. Limes: Always begin by washing and drying your limes. No matter what technique you use, don’t dig in too deep to the bitter pith or the juicy fruit. Use a light touch, and make sure you rotate the fruit so you don’t over grate.
  2. Yield: 1 large lime will yield about 2 teaspoons grated lime zest.
  3. Storage: Store leftover lime zest covered in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Serving: 1 tspCalories: 10kcalCarbohydrates: 3gProtein: 0.4gFat: 0.1gSaturated Fat: 0.01gPolyunsaturated Fat: 0.03gMonounsaturated Fat: 0.003gSodium: 1mgPotassium: 50mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 8IUVitamin C: 19mgCalcium: 9mgIron: 0.2mg


Meggan Hill is a classically-trained chef and professional writer. Her meticulously-tested recipes and detailed tutorials bring confidence and success to home cooks everywhere. Meggan has been featured on NPR, HuffPost, FoxNews, LA Times, and more.




#Zest #Lime

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