How to Use Lemon Zest

While we use the juice from a lemon most often, the peel has a ton of flavor too. Here’s how to use lemon zest so none of that delicious citrus gets wasted.

Get the Most Out of Your Lemons

I really hate wasting lemons. A lemon is such a bright and cheery thing. The thought of all that sunshine going to waste makes me sad.

Lemons have two useful parts when it comes to cooking and baking: the juice and the rind or zest. Very often I only need the juice. It breaks my heart to squeeze out the juice and then see that unused daffodil of peel peeking out of the garbage can. And so I make sure that never happens.

Before cutting a lemon, I always harvest its rind (except if the lemon is going into someone’s drink. Can you imaging being served a refreshing beverage with a peel-less wedge of lemon floating in it?). Make sure to thoroughly wash and dry the lemon first. Then, I either grate it up on a microplane grater or I use a paring knife to remove long wisps (being careful not to take the white pith along with the zest). Then I can juice the lemon and not worry about the white husk that is thrown away.

How to Preserve Lemon Zest

Now, if you’re like me and you use A LOT of lemons, then you will quickly find yourself swimming in rind. What to do with it all? I preserve the lemon rind in several different ways:

  1. I put the finely grated zest in a bag in the freezer. This can be used in any recipe that calls for lemon zest. Just let it defrost for a moment or two on the counter before adding it to anything so that it will spread around better and not be a frozen clump. Uses for the frozen zest: Throw a bit into white cake batter (or even chocolate cake batter), muffins, cookies, breads, and veggie dips for an extra zing of flavor. I also like to mix it with the tea leaves in my tea ball.
  2. I scoop the larger rind cuttings from one lemon into a cup of sugar in a sealed jar. After a few days the sugar starts to take on some lemony notes which it then passes on to anything it sweetens.
  3. Use strips of lemon peel and candy them by boiling them in water and sugar. Get step by step instructions over at Splendid Table. It’s tasty and works beautifully to decorate cupcakes or other baked goods.
  4. When I have time on my hands I set the oven to 200°F, line a pan with foil, and put the longer wisps of lemon rind on the pan. After awhile, they become totally dry. I then chop them into smaller pieces and put them in a pepper mill along with some sea salt and black peppercorns. Homemade Lemon Pepper!
  5. I warm the long pieces of zest from one lemon over low heat in a small saucepan with 1/3 cup of olive oil. Once everything is nice and warm I remove it from the heat and let the oil steep. I usually cover it and leave it steeping overnight. Then I strain the oil into a container with a tight-fitting lid. This oil is lovely drizzled into soups just before serving or as the oil used to lightly pan-fry fish. It’s also pretty spectacular drizzled over roasted asparagus.


More Uses for Lemon Zest

There’s so many great uses for lemon zest, you’ll regret ever tossing it before. Add it to the breadcrumb coating for your meat, like we do in this Rack of Lamb. Stir some into your homemade salad dressing or vinaigrette for a burst of freshness. Finish your favorite roasted or steamed veggies with a sprinkling of zest. Yum!

Now that you’ve read all my lemon zest ideas I bet your mouth is watering. Well, I have some more inspiration for you. Head over to Live Pretty and try their Lemon Zest Pasta. I’ve tried it. It’s amazing! And yes, the zest from your freezer will work beautifully here!


This post originally appeared in August 2012 and was revised and republished in July 2020.
How to Use Lemon Zest

32 responses to “How to Use Lemon Zest”

  1. Tybee says:

    Thank you for all the wonderful ideas for using lemon peel! I frequently buy lemon infused olive oil at a specialty store at a relatively high price. I would love to try making it myself. Do you know how long will it keep? 

  2. Einir Mason says:

    I peel the lemon rind in strips and soak it for 3-4 weeks in white vinegar . I then water this down and put in a spray bottle, fantastic as a all round cleaner.
    I use up every bit of a lemon as I freeze the zest in portions and the juice in ice trays and I also freeze the remainder of the lemons excluding the seeds in bags and use inside whole chicken or under chicken or lamb when roasting ( no need to defrost)

  3. Nurali Lakhani says:

    Very good articles Don’t know if everyday peels can be preserved in salt water without refrigeration and used these collected peels to make pickles

  4. Brenda says:

    Thank you for the wonderful ideas, I’ll definitely be trying them all 👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻😊😊😊

  5. Deni says:

    Drop some of that zest or pieces of the peel in a smoothie as well. I do it every morning, along with some frozen fruit, yogurt, half an avocado and coconut milk.  Yummy, nutritious and refreshing!

  6. Wendy says:

    When I have a lot of lemons I freeze the juice in plastic ice trays and then bag up the 1 oz. cubes for when I need lemon juice and then I make candy from the lemon peels.

  7. Andi Nodal says:

    Thanks for your wonderful ideas to help me find more uses for lemon rind. I enjoyed this article. 

  8. Hi I have lots of rind left from making lemon square and not enough juice from it thanks for this useful advice.
    I use the peeled lemon skin after zesting and squeezing for lemon water.
    And use the skin as fertilizer after, and have someone plant the seed.
    Lemons in our place is kind of rare and a bit pricey.
    No need to waste there.

    Thanks a bunch!


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  12. Felice says:

    Thanks for the tip! Got to save every bit of my slightly-more-pricey organic lemon :)

  13. Ros says:

    Hi will be trying your recipes, but I am looking for a specific one for preserving lemon rind in jars. Are you able to help me please

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Hi Ros,
      I actually don’t have a recipe like that. You could try just using lemon rind in this to see what happens. When preserving lemons using this method the rind does end up being the primary thing that you eat. Worth a try.

  14. marilyn says:

    Thanks for the great lemon ideas. My tree is my pride & joy and although I give away buckets full, I will be glad to save some in the freezer and in the pepper mill. Great Blog!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and commenting. I am very jealous of your lemon tree. We had one at the first house we lived in in Florida but its lemons were not particularly tasty. It is a delight to live here though so that in the winter I can find fresh local lemons (that taste good!) at the farmer’s market. I hope you stop by the blog again soon or consider subscribing to my newsletter or following on Facebook. All the links are below. Happy Zesting!

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    I’ve been surfing online more than 2 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for
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    will be much more useful than ever before.

  16. WHAT?! I never knew there were so many things that you could do with lemon peels!!! I LOVIT!!!! Thanks for sharing!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Amanda, I know! Lemon peel is amazing. I just love it. Such a great ingredient with its ability to transform any dish. Thanks for visiting!

  17. […] In The Rind. Lemon zest can be frozen and lemon rind has so many uses. Check out what Christine has to say about zesting and preserving lemon rind before you grab your next […]

  18. […] Lemon Zest Pasta from Rod at Live Pretty for dinner on Monday night. On Tuesday morning I told you my tips for saving lemon zest. And then Tuesday evening I chatted about some lemony goodness with Katie (from Katie’s […]

  19. katie says:

    Christine I love all of these ideas! I never thought to freeze my zest. I also love the idea of making my own lemon pepper and lemon sugar! So many possibilities!

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Katie, Do you have a dehydrator? That works best for drying out the zest and then making lemon pepper. You can also just add bits of the dried zest to salt and put it in a pepper mill for seasoning fish and veggies.

  20. phyllis says:

    Great ideas. I freeze my zest too, but I just keep a zip lock in the freezer and keep adding to it. I get to a point that I feel guilty if I don’t zest the lemon before I juice it. I also zest the oranges before we use them.

  21. Love these ideas! The lemon olive oil would be so beautiful on seafood, and the lemon sugar on cookies. So going to try :-)

    • Christine Pittman says:

      Thanks Julia! Let me know how they turn out. And thanks again for chatting with us on Tuesday. It was a great show!

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