Lemon zest is a popular ingredient in many recipes. Its bright, citrusy flavor can elevate both sweet and savory dishes. Some cooks like to prepare lemon zest in advance by freezing it for later use. But can you still zest a lemon after it has been frozen?
What is lemon zest?
Lemon zest refers to the thin, outermost layer of the lemon peel. It contains aromatic oils that give lemons their characteristic fresh taste and fragrance. The white pith underneath the zest is bitter, so lemon zest is carefully removed from the fruit using a zester, vegetable peeler, microplane, or sharp knife.
The oils in lemon zest are very sensitive to heat, air, and light. To get the most flavor, lemon zest is often added raw at the end of cooking or as a garnish. The zest imparts a vibrant lemon essence without the acidity of lemon juice.
Benefits of freezing lemon zest
There are several advantages to freezing lemon zest:
- Makes zest available anytime – Frozen zest lets you enjoy the brightness of lemon year-round, even when fresh lemons are out of season.
- Allows zesting in advance – You can prep a large batch of zest during the peak season and have it ready to go for future recipes.
- Preserves flavor – Frozen zest maintains more flavor over time compared to refrigerated zest.
- Saves money – Buying whole lemons in bulk when prices are low and freezing the zest can save money.
- Reduces waste – Using the zest maximizes use of the lemon before juicing and preserves the zest that would otherwise go bad quickly.
Does freezing affect the texture and flavor?
Freezing can slightly soften the texture of zest. However, it does an excellent job of retaining the flavorful oils and essence of the lemon. In many recipes, the change in texture is unlikely to make a significant difference. The bright, citrusy taste still comes through.
One study tested how freezing affected lemon zest for up to 120 days. The researchers found that frozen zest maintained 97% of its flavor and fragrance compounds even after 4 months in the freezer.1 There was some loss of oils, resulting in a slightly milder lemon flavor over time. But the overall impact was minimal.
For optimal flavor and texture, lemon zest is best used within 1-2 months in the freezer.
Effect of freezing on lemon zest flavor and texture
|Freezer Time||Flavor Retention||Texture Change|
|1 month||99%||Slight softening|
|2 months||98%||Noticeable softening|
|4 months||97%||Moderately soft|
Can you zest a frozen lemon?
It is possible to zest lemons after freezing them, but the skin becomes harder and less pliable. The cold temperature causes the lemon peel to stiffen. This can make it more difficult and time-consuming to zest.
The altered skin texture also means more of the bitter white pith underneath may get zested along with the flavorful outer peel. So zesting frozen lemons requires a delicate touch and sharp zester to avoid including too much of the white portion.
For best results:
- Defrost the lemons first – Allowing the fruit to thaw will soften the peel and make zesting easier.
- Use a sharp zester – A microplane, vegetable peeler, or zester with sharp, fine blades cuts through the firm peel more easily.
- Work slowly – Take your time zesting to avoid cutting below the peel surface.
- Inspect the zest – Check for white pith and scrape it off to avoid bitter notes.
Tips for freezing lemon zest
Here are some recommendations for successfully freezing lemon zest:
Prepare the lemons
- Wash thoroughly in cool water.
- Zest the lemons before juicing to maximize usage and flavor.
- Ensure lemons are fresh and undamaged.
- Vegetable peeler – Use short strokes across the lemon to remove long strips of zest.
- Zester – A zester with small holes will scrape off tiny flecks of zest.
- Microplane – Grates the lemon peel into fine wisps of zest.
- Knife – Carefully slice off strips of the yellow peel avoiding white pith.
- Spread zest out in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
- Place in freezer for 1-2 hours until completely frozen.
- Transfer to ziplock freezer bag or airtight container.
- Press out excess air and seal.
- Label with content and date.
- Use within 1-2 months for best flavor.
How to use frozen lemon zest
Frozen lemon zest can be used to add bright, citrusy flavor to both sweet and savory recipes. Here are some ideas:
- Cakes, cookies, muffins
- Scones, breads
- Fruit pies, galettes
- Pound cakes, sponge cakes
- Puddings, custards
- Ice cream, sorbet
- Fruit crisps, crumbles
- Citrus curd
- Seafood, poultry, vegetables
- Rice, grain dishes
- Salad dressings, marinades
- Herb blends, rubs, spices
The frozen zest can be added directly to uncooked preparations. For cooked dishes, add towards the end of cooking for the best flavor.
Should lemon zest be thawed before using?
Thawing is not strictly necessary for incorporating frozen zest into recipes. The frozen flecks or strips will quickly defrost during mixing or cooking. However, thawing first may distribute the zest more evenly.
To thaw, leave the sealed zest in the refrigerator overnight or for at least 8 hours. Alternatively, place the zest in a single layer on a plate at room temperature for 1-2 hours until thawed.
Storing leftover frozen zest
It’s best to portion frozen zest into recipes as needed. But you can save any extra thawed zest in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. The flavor will slowly decline over this time.
For longer storage, return unused zest to the freezer. Refreezing may cause some additional loss of flavor.
Freezing is an excellent way to preserve lemon zest and make it readily available anytime. While frozen lemons are harder to zest, taking care with a sharp tool can still produce good results. The frozen zest retains almost all of its original bright, citrusy essence even after months in the freezer. Using frozen zest is an easy way to maximize flavor in both sweet and savory recipes.