Lime zest is a great way to add a touch of zingy citrus flavour to your cooking. Zest is simply another word for the flavourful and aromatic peel of the fruit, which is usually removed using a tool called a zester. If you don’t have a zester, however, there are plenty of other ways to zest a lime using everyday kitchen utensils.
Whatever you use to zest a lime, the first step is always to remove the wax. A lot of retailers will add a layer of wax to fruit to make it look shiny, and while this should be safe to eat, it doesn’t taste great. The easiest way to avoid waxy zest is to buy unwaxed limes, but if you can’t find any, or you’re not sure if they’re waxed or not, it’s best to give them a quick wash first.
Boil a pan of water or kettle, place the limes in a colander, and pour over the boiling water, making sure to cover each fruit as well as possible. Give the colander a few shakes to turn them over. When the limes are cool enough to touch, give them a good scrub with a vegetable brush, and dry thoroughly.
There are two different pieces of equipment often referred to as a zester. These are the traditional zester, and the microplane zester. In this section we will show you how to use each.
A traditional zester consists of a handle attached to a flat metal surface with a single sharp hole, designed to remove zest in long curls, ideal for garnishing. If you’re using this method to get zest for cooking, you’ll need to cut the strip into smaller pieces with a sharp knife.
To use a traditional zester, hold the flat surface against the lime and move it towards you, pressing down lightly. If you’re using the zest for cooking, you need to avoid the bitter white pith underneath, so avoid pressing down too hard. If you’re just using it for garnish, a bit of pith makes the zest curl nicely, so you can press down a bit harder. Rotate the fruit as you go, until you have removed all of the zest.
A microplane zester has a long thin metal surface with lots of small, sharp holes, like a thin strip of cheese grater. It is very similar to a Parmesan or nutmeg grater, and if you have either of these, you can use them in the same way. Using a microplane creates small, even zest shavings and is the simplest way to zest a lemon for cooking purposes.
To use a microplane, hold the zester upright, with the bottom resting on a cutting board. Take your lime in the other hand and move it down across the holes in a sweeping motion, pressing lightly to avoid the bitter pith. Rotate the lime and keep sweeping it across the holes until all the zest is removed.
You can also use a simple box grater - the sort used to grate cheese or carrot - to zest a lime. Simply place the grater on top of a cutting board, making sure the side with the smallest holes is facing you, hold the lime against the holes and pull downwards, pressing down lightly. As before, rotate the lime as you’re grating, until all the zest is removed.
Another way to zest a lemon without specialist equipment is using a vegetable peeler. Take the lime in one hand, holding the peeler against the top of the fruit, and pull downwards, rotating the lime slightly as you go to help maintain an even pressure. Repeat until all the zest is removed, and you have several large pieces of peel, then take a sharp knife and dice the pieces as small as you can.
If all else fails, you can even zest your limes using a kitchen knife. First, cut the top off your lime to create a flat end, and place it flat-end down on a cutting board to keep it steady. Hold the lime in place with one hand, then take a sharp knife and slice off a length of peel. Turn the lime and repeat until all the zest is removed, and you have several large pieces of peel.
This method is a little harder to control than the others, and you may find that some of the pith has come away with the peel. If so, turn the peels over and scrape the pith off with your knife, before dicing the peel as small as you can.
Recipes and how to use lime zest
With a touch more bitterness than lemon zest, lime zest is often used in savoury dishes like salad dressings, sauces, and marinades. It is particularly popular in Mexican, Thai, Indian and Vietnamese dishes, and it also looks great as a garnish for desserts and cocktails such as margaritas, granitas or key lime pie.
If you want to know how many limes your favourite recipe needs, one medium-sized lime should yield approximately 1 tablespoon of zest. And if the recipe calls for lime juice too, always remember to zest your limes first. A squeezed lime is almost impossible to zest.
For more ways to use limes and lime zest in your cooking, take a look at our mouthwatering collection of lime fine dining recipes. This carefully-chosen list is inspired by cuisines from around the world, from the perfectly-balanced flavours of Thai Tom Yum soup, to a refreshing Mexican mango and lime mousse.
And if you want to try something a little different, discover the surprising flavour of the black dried lime, the Persian spice used by Yotam Ottolenghi, and about to take the culinary world by storm.