Yes, You Can (and Should!) Freeze Citrus Zest

Save the best part of the citrus for later and use it to amp up your dishes.

Published Nov. 2, 2021.

How often do you cut a lemon or lime in half, squeeze out the juice, and then throw the rest away? Or peel an orange to snack on and then get rid of the peel? I would say the best part is wasted!

We’re all about getting the most out of our ingredients, and much like cheese, egg whites, and wine, citrus zest can be frozen so you can have it on hand whenever you need it.

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Citrus rind is rich in oils and arguably has more flavor than the juice without the tartness. So here’s what we recommend: Get in the habit of always zesting your lemons, limes, oranges, or any other citrus fruit before you cut into it, even if you don’t plan on using it right away. Then use these steps to freeze the zest in easily accessible quantities: 

  1. Fruit is much easier to zest when it’s whole, so use a rasp-style grater (our favorite is this one from Microplane) or vegetable peeler to zest or peel while the fruit is intact. The peel can be thinly sliced for delicate shreds.
  2. Divide your zest into ½ or single teaspoon portions on a plate and place in the freezer.
  3. Once frozen, store in a zipper-seal freezer bag, and return to the freezer for later use, up to three months!

And if you just need the zest without the juice? Wrap the zested fruit in plastic or place in an airtight container before refrigerating it to keep it fresh for when you’re ready to juice.

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Citrus zest alone can impart a fresh flavor to sweet and savory foods. These are a few favorite uses for different types of zest:

  • Lemon zest: The application of lemon zest in sweet desserts is well known, especially with classic lemon bars, but give sautéed sugar snap peas a try to see how lemon zest brightens a savory dish, too.
  • Lime zest: Lime zest enlivens these Cumin-Crusted Chicken Thighs when stirred in off heat along with fresh mint.
  • Orange zest: Orange zest is ideal for Hazelnut-Orange Biscotti as its strong, aromatic flavor can stand up to the extended cook time.
  • Grapefruit zest: Grapefruit zest pairs well with tangy buttermilk in this elegant Panna Cotta with Caramel Coated Almonds dessert.
  • Any type of zest: Gremolata is a versatile, powerhouse sauce augmented by citrus zest. Try the lemon tarragon or mint orange flavor combinations atop roasted asparagus.

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