I've been grating a le~mon~, all the live long day~
October 16, 2009 3:48 PM   Subscribe

Fresh Lemon Zest - so yummy yet so annoying to grate. There must be an easier solution!

My first experience with using fresh lemon zest is in a lemon sugar cookie recipe which asks for 2T of it, in a doubled recipe (4T total. egads). After carefully grating away the skin of a couple lemons and having my hands become tender and sore from the lemon oils and still not having enough lemon zest, I'm starting to feel like avoiding dessert recipes that include lemon zest at all.

Googling "lemon zest substitute" suggests a spice aisle product known as "dried lemon peel" which is similar but apparently is not as good as fresh lemon zest (I'm guessing it is less flavorful?).

My questions:

1. Is there a *better* lemon zest substitute that I can easily purchase at a grocery store?

2. If not, and dried lemon peel is the only close choice, should I add a little lemon flavoring to the reconstituted peel? And how much flavoring per t/T of peel should I include?

3. Could I just use lemon flavoring and fake the color in the recipe with yellow food dye? And again, how much flavoring would equal 1t or 1T of fresh lemon zest?
posted by wiretap to Food & Drink (28 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Get either a zester or a microplane grater. Using a regular grater sucks.
posted by GuyZero at 3:50 PM on October 16, 2009

posted by meerkatty at 3:50 PM on October 16, 2009

Have you tried a microplane grater? Sure, you're still grating the lemons, but it's super easy.
posted by leahwrenn at 3:51 PM on October 16, 2009

Maybe you should try a ">microplane grater. Makes the job quicker. And wear gloves. I don't think there are any substitutes for fresh zest.
posted by mokeydraws at 3:51 PM on October 16, 2009

What they said.
posted by mokeydraws at 3:53 PM on October 16, 2009

I am aware of the microplane/lemon zester, but I should also mention that I don't enjoy having to use SO many lemons to get enough zest (I really have no use for the juice portion of the lemon).
posted by wiretap at 3:54 PM on October 16, 2009

1) Not that I've heard of.

2) It's not that the dried peel is less flavorful, it's that it has basically no flavor whatsoever, and that the little flavor it has is nothing like lemon zest.

3) I've used lemon extract instead of zest before. It doesn't taste the same, though, as having the zest. Especially in things like lemon curd. It's okay in a cookie or something, but not so good in other confections.

What you really need is a Microplane grater. A Microplane grater is to a regular grater what a chef's knife is to a table knife.

It takes me about ten seconds to fully zest a single lemon. And it's fun.

Also, get some nitrile exam gloves from the pharmacy. Get the powder free kind, as the powder tastes bad. That way the oils won't have a chance to harm your skin.
posted by Netzapper at 3:56 PM on October 16, 2009 [3 favorites]

Try a microplane grater.
posted by downing street memo at 3:58 PM on October 16, 2009

2) It's not that the dried peel is less flavorful, it's that it has basically no flavor whatsoever, and that the little flavor it has is nothing like lemon zest.

3) I've used lemon extract instead of zest before. It doesn't taste the same, though, as having the zest. Especially in things like lemon curd. It's okay in a cookie or something, but not so good in other confections.

Drat. I had a feeling that would be the case.
posted by wiretap at 3:59 PM on October 16, 2009

A good-sized lemon and a decent zester should yield more than a tablespoon of zest. 4T should require 3 lemons, tops. A zester helps you get just the right amount of white pith with the yellow skin which has plenty of oil & flavour and means you get more zest per lemon.

"Dried lemon peel" is exactly what you made with a grater, just dried. If you really want to punch it up, put in a drop of lemon flavour concentrate.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on October 16, 2009

Lemon oil?

I've never used it, but it's the same stuff you're getting out of the rind in bottled form. Might be worth a try.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:00 PM on October 16, 2009

Zest, not rind. You know what I mean.
posted by nebulawindphone at 4:01 PM on October 16, 2009

Chiming in to nth a microplane, and to ask: no use for lemon juice? None? Ever? Even three lemons' worth of juice isn't that much. You can freeze it. You can put a little in a class of club soda. You can add it to marinades and salad dressings. In fact, one of the greatest salad dressings ever is made by drizzling excellent extra virgin olive oil over your washed greens, then sprinkle with lemon juice, then sprinkle with coarse sea salt. You can also use it on pretty much any steamed or sauteed vegetable.
posted by rtha at 4:19 PM on October 16, 2009 [4 favorites]

Lemon oil is not a good substitute. It has the unfortunate quality of tasting like lemon furniture polish.
posted by jocelmeow at 4:24 PM on October 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can try true lemon, though it might have too much tartness and not enough lemon essence.
posted by necessitas at 4:29 PM on October 16, 2009

Nnnnthing microplane and using freeze the juice in ice cube trays for adding to any sauce or stew or rice dish or salad dressing or vegetables or, well, anything. Start with fat, finish with acid, y'know?
posted by desuetude at 5:04 PM on October 16, 2009

How can you not have anything to do with the lemon juice? Just make some lemonade! It will take you a few seconds per lemon, squish squish squish, add water and sweetener, and then you have a yummy drink.
posted by Casuistry at 5:18 PM on October 16, 2009

I use a Cuisipro Accutec kitchen rasp. It has a plastic cover which protects the rasp when not in use and - usefully - clips to the back of the rasp to catch the zestings. The cover also has a measure on it so you know when you've reached 2tsps, etc. It's also perfect for grating garlic rather than chopping it.
posted by essexjan at 5:20 PM on October 16, 2009

Sorry, this isn't specific to lemon zest, but trying to solve the "what do I do with the lemons" after you get the zest you want.

(Lemons yield more juice if you let them sit for a bit, maybe a few days on a nice kitchen bench. )

Lemon Cordial/Concentrate:
Zest them with your chosen method- gloves are good. Juice them. 4 largish lemons is probably about one cup. Strain the juice, set it aside. Now make a simple sugar syrup, by dissolving 3/4 cup sugar in 1 cup water. You might need a little heat to help the sugar along. Don't let it boil, we're just heating and stirring it until you can't see the sugar any more. Mix in the juice and then put the cordial in the bottle of your choice, then stick the bottle in the fridge. It's about 1 inch cordial to the rest of the glass water (soda water works well) for a refreshing drink. Keeps well.

The lemony pulp? I like it, so I eat it, with a bit of cream is good.

There are heaps of lemon recipes out there, I'm sure you can find a use for the lemons you've zested!
posted by titanium_geek at 5:59 PM on October 16, 2009 [2 favorites]

Thanks for setting me straight, jocelmeow.
posted by nebulawindphone at 6:25 PM on October 16, 2009

Hmm, I've used lemon oil from Boyajian and thought it was nice. I don't use lemon furniture polish though, so maybe I don't have that association already formed in my brain.

I was going to suggest using some grated lemon zest (n'thing Microplane graters!) plus a little lemon oil. The zest gives you a little burst of lemon flavor when you bite into a piece, which can be a nice sensation. The oil's flavor is evenly distributed, of course. So use a little zest for the flavor bursts, then use the oil for the rest. The oil is intensely flavored, so go easy until you figure out how much you like. Boyajian has recipes and substitution/conversion suggestions on their labels and website.

titanium_geek is eponysterical, eating lemon pulp! Us carbon-based life forms would dissolve. Not to mention lemon pulp with cream - I'll have to dust off my rarely-used WTF for that one. I salute you, sir or madam!
posted by Quietgal at 7:23 PM on October 16, 2009

Nthing Microplane. Also, like Quietgal, I like lemon oil as a supplement to zest; I do think it doesn't work well as a substitute. I add 1/8-1/4 tsp of lemon or lime oil to muffin/cupcake/cake recipes that call for zest, and it helps the flavor without being overpowering or reminiscent of furniture polish.

It is so nice to know I'm not the only lemon-eating freak out there.
posted by Lexica at 9:03 PM on October 16, 2009

Thanks all for your suggestions!

I went to the grocery store to pick up some lemon flavoring to supplement the few tablespoons of zest I was able to grate out in the first place. The bottle states that 1t of lemon extract = 1t of fresh lemon zest.

The ingredients in the lemon flavor extract is actually alcohol (to dilute) and lemon oil. So pure lemon oil could work (but in much smaller amounts than the extract).

Also, it's not that I never *need* lemon juice; it's just that I keep a giant bottle of lemon juice stocked in my fridge year-round so more lemon juice isn't really necessary. All of the *gasp you don't NEED lemon juice?* suggestions gave me a good laugh!
posted by wiretap at 9:39 PM on October 16, 2009

Good to hear, wiretap! You obviously had us scared for a minute, there!
posted by rtha at 11:46 PM on October 16, 2009

as an alternative, i've seen the PedEgg suggested as a zester. As a bonus, the zest gets trapped within the egg for easy dispensing.
posted by bluloo at 6:05 AM on October 17, 2009

Just came here to nth the microplane grater. It's a wonderful kitchen tool to have, even if you don't use lemon zest that often -- it makes short work of ginger, garlic and hard cheeses.
And I do hope that large bottle of lemon juice in the fridge is fresh juice, the bottled stuff you can get in the supermarket really can't compare.
posted by peacheater at 9:21 AM on October 17, 2009

Have you tried Penzey's Lemon Peel? It's all zest, and you can rehydrate it in a snap. I've used it instead of freshly zested lemons for a while now.
posted by houseofdanie at 7:50 PM on October 17, 2009

oh. I like to shave the zest off a lemon with knife strokes (cut it in half and put face down; cut down toward the board) and then mince it. You could peel it with a vegetable peeler, too. I think it gets more zest per lemon, since it's not ground up to paste that sticks in crevices of the grater -- and you can mince it to exactly the consistency you want.
posted by peachfuzz at 3:11 PM on October 18, 2009

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