Getting the Best Zest

By Cook's Illustrated Published March 2011
Should you use a vegetable peeler, channel grater, or rasp-style grater when zesting citrus fruits?

Which tool is best for harvesting zest from lemons and other citrus fruits: a plain old vegetable peeler, a “channel” zester that pushes thin strings of zest through a row of tiny holes as you drag it across the fruit, or a rasp-style grater (originally a woodworking tool) that turns out sawdust-like bits of zest? Zest produced by the first two tools generally requires mincing before it can be added to recipes, and some cooks worry that this leaves too much of the essential oils on the cutting board, with less for the dish. We used all three methods to zest lemons, mincing the larger zest from the peeler and channel zester with a knife, and adding them all to lemon pound cake and our recipe for Spaghetti with Lemon and Olive Oil (January/February 2011). The result? Tasters found all the samples equally lemony. If no one way of zesting is best for flavor, we’ll stick with the convenience of a rasp grater.