Lemon Zest Vs. Lemon Peel: SPICEography Showdown

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Lemon peel and lemon zest are both great ways to add the flavor of lemon to a dish. The lemon flavor and fragrance come from the oils in the skin, which include the compound limonene that is responsible for much of the smell and taste. What is the difference in flavor between lemon peel and lemon zest? How are they used differently? Read on for the answers to these questions and more.

How do lemon zest and lemon peel differ when it comes to flavor?

Lemon peel and lemon zest are both terms for the outer part of the lemon fruit. Lemon peel refers to all of the skin, which means that lemon peel includes lemon zest but lemon zest does not include lemon peel. The term zest refers to the outer colored part of any citrus fruit; however, many recipes use the terms zest and peel interchangeably. Because they both come from the outer part of the lemon, they will both provide a similar flavor. The big difference will come from the fact that the peel still includes the pith, which is the white inner part that is closer to the pulpy interior of the lemon. The pith can be bitter, and including the pith of a fresh lemon in a dish can add an unpleasant note the flavor.

In comparison, lemon zest only adds the pure lemon flavor. Note that lemon pith can sometimes be peeled away with the zest if you are not careful. When zesting a lemon, try to remove only the very outermost layer of skin. It is safer to leave a little of the yellow part on the lemon rather than scrape too deeply and to get some of the white part. It is best to use a tool specially designed for zesting rather than a knife or grater.

If your recipe calls for one, can you substitute the other?

In the case of lemon zest, fresh lemon peel should not be used as a substitute. This is because of the potential for bitterness. Dried lemon peel is less likely to be bitter, so it can be used as an effective lemon zest substitute. Simply chop the lemon peel finely and use in the same way that your recipe calls for you to use the zest.

Lemon zest can be used as a lemon peel substitute in applications where the peel would be used primarily for flavoring. It is not a good substitute for candied lemon peel, where the texture of the peel itself is what is desired and not just the flavor it provides.

When should you use lemon peel rather than lemon zest and vice versa?

Use zest in dishes where you want the flavor of lemon but you want the lemon itself to be unobtrusive. In other words, you want smaller pieces that will be able to disappear into the dish. It is also ideal when you need to give the lemon flavor to something that will either not be cooked or not be cooked for an extended time. Something like a lemon chiffon pie filling or even a salad is a good application for zest rather than the peel.

If you are making a dish that requires a long cooking time, use the peel instead as the larger pieces will be able to release flavor for longer. Marmalades, compotes, and stews are good applications for lemon peel.