How To Zest A Lime

Lime zest is the finely grated outer layer of the peel. It is fragrant, and concentrated in citrus flavor. 

From desserts and baked goods to dressings and garnishes, lime zest adds aromatic and potent tones of lime without the acidity, or liquid, of lime juice.

As a line cook that had to pinch hit as a pastry chef at times, knowing how to prepare lime zest was a handy skill that aided in many recipes.

In this article, we’ll examine several different ways to zest a lime.

Always Wash A Lime Before Zesting

Woman washes limes

Since lime zest is made of the outer layer of the peel, proper washing is key. Consider using soapy water and rinsing, or a commercial fruit & vegetable wash.

The peel may be exposed to pesticides that are not fit for consumption. 

5 Quick Methods To Zest A Lime

Method #1: Microplane

Raw Green Organic Lime Zest

A microplane is a handheld fine grater, and is my favorite way to zest a lime.

In one hand, hold the microplane, and in the other hand, hold and firmly but gently press the lime against the microplane, and make a long stroking motion with it.

Rotate the lime as you see the white layer underneath exposed. This is the pith, and is bitter. Avoid grating any pith. The rich citrus flavor is in the outer layer of the peel and its essential oils.

I prefer to hold and keep the microplane stationary, while pushing the lime against the grain. I find this less likely to cause injury, and I have more control over the orientation of the lime, and what part of the peel I am zesting.

Microplanes are very sharp, so mind where your fingers and knuckles are. It is very easy to nick yourself, and I’ve had to raid the kitchen first aid kit for a bandage on more occasions than I would like to admit.

Because a microplane has such a fine grate, it’s easy to gunk up. Give the microplane a solid tap and shake to loosen any remaining zest.

Wipe with the grain, and rinse.

A toothbrush is really good at getting the rest of the bits out, too!

Method #2: Zester

Zest of lime.

A zester is a small tool, with a handle like a peeler, and a metal end with a row of sharp perforated holes.

This tool is ideal for garnishes, as it zests the peel into “ribbons.”

To use the zester, hold the lime in one hand, and the zester in the other. With the zester, firmly press into the peel and pull it toward yourself. You should be cutting the peel into small “ribbons.”

As with the microplane, avoid going too deep into the pith.

Finely dice these ribbons for zest.

Leaving them in ribbon form can make for a nice garnish. I have sprinkled both ribbons and finely diced zest on top of key lime pie for some extra flavor and a nice presentation!

Method #3: Grater

Grater with Fresh Limes .

With a box grater, find the side with the smallest holes. The smaller the better.

Hold the lime in one hand and firmly push the lime against the grain in a stroking motion.

If the holes are big, finely chop the grated peel further with a knife.

Method #4: Peeler

Bartender Removing Peel from Lime at Bar

To make zest with a peeler, peel in strips, carefully minding not to go too deep or peel too much pith.

With the peeled strips, chop very finely with a sharp chef’s knife.

Method #5: Serrated Butter or Steak Knife

Limes, Lemons and Knife

If you’re in a hurry, or only need a tiny bit of zest, firmly scraping the outer peel with a sharp serrated butter or steak knife can do the trick!

I’ve done this to add a little bit of zest to a dressing with a lime I was about to juice.

Substitutes

lemon zester

Lime zest has a distinct flavor, and certain recipes, such as key lime pie, merit the specificity. 

However, if you are simply needing a “citrus” flavor, lemon zest will suffice.

Lime juice is not an appropriate substitute for lime zest in most recipes. Lime juice, as a liquid, can alter the texture of a dish, and its acidity may compromise the flavor. 

Zest imparts concentrated citrus flavor and its aroma. 

Storage

With lime zest, you want to use it immediately in most circumstances.

Storing it in the refrigerator will dry it out, but if you must make some ahead of time, putting extra zest in a sealed zipper storage bag and putting it in the freezer will keep it well without compromising the flavor.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to zest a lime?

A microplane is the easiest and most efficient tool when it comes to lime zest. Luckily, they are not too expensive and are a worthy part of any kitchen tool set.

How can I zest a lime without a zester?

A box grater (the smaller the holes, the better), a peeler and a chef’s knife, a serrated butter or steak knife, or a fork can work in a pinch. 

How much zest is in a single lime?

One average sized lime will net you about two teaspoons of lime zest.

Photo of author

Ryan Limbag

About the author

Ryan worked the Twin Cities circuit as a line cook, sous chef, and kitchen manager for over 15 years. Though he doesn’t cook professionally anymore, he loves to share his restaurant expertise with anyone that needs a tip. Once a cook, always a cook.