If you want to add the orange flavor to a dish, the traditional way to do it is with orange peel or orange zest. Orange peel includes the zest, but the zest does not include the peel. If you are trying to decide which to use in a particular dish, consider the following orange zest vs. orange peel comparison in another SPICEography Showdown.
Do orange zest and orange peel differ in flavor?
The short answer is yes, they do differ. The difference comes from the fact that orange zest consists of no other part of the peel but the brightly colored exterior portion. The zest is the outer part of the peel that contains the essential oils responsible for the orange fragrance and flavor. You can remove the zest with the use of a specialized tool called a zester, which removes the outer layer of the skin only without digging into the pith below it. You can accomplish the same thing using a sharp knife to slice the zest from the fruit, or by using a cheese grater to scrape the zest off. Because the zest is the part of the exterior that contains the essential oils, it provides only the bright citrus flavor of orange.
Orange peel also includes the zest, which means that it can provide the same orange flavor that you get from the zest; however, it also includes the white pith. The pith can be bitter. Orange zest provides the flavor without any risk of bitterness from the pith.
Is one better for you than the other?
While orange zest by itself does have a number of nutrients, the pith that makes up part of the peel is one of the most nutrient-rich parts of the orange. It contains significant amounts of a flavonoid called hesperidin, which is thought to be beneficial for preventing cancer and circulatory problems. The pith is also a good source of vitamin C and of fiber.
Can you use one instead of the other in recipes?
Orange peel and zest can be good substitutes for each other in some preparations since both can provide the pure flavor of orange. In many others, the presence or absence of the pith may pose a problem. Zest is a good peel substitute to be used in dishes that require orange peel purely for its flavor, but may not be a good substitute in dishes that need its bulk. Similarly, you can use peel in place of zest in dishes where the essential oils will be released and the peel discarded before the dish is served. Orange peel is not a good zest substitute in dishes where the peel itself will be eaten.
When should you use orange zest and when should you use orange peel?
Use orange zest in dishes that require a smooth consistency or where the bitterness of the whole peel would be a problem. This includes sauces, salads, and similar dishes. Orange zest is great in most applications that require the orange flavor with a few exceptions like candied peel and marmalade. You can use orange peel in sauces, stews, and other dishes that are mostly liquid. In these dishes, the peel will release its essential oils, which will provide the flavor. The peel itself can then be discarded before the dish is served.