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Have you ever read “and top with orange or lemon zest” and wonder what in the world that really meant? Zest is simply scraping the skin off of citrus fruits and then using that skin as a flavor. The peels can also be candied, dried, or even pickled in salt prior to usage.
Zesting can be done with almost any utensil from an actual zester to a paring knife. There are even plastic tools that can scrape the zest off. The reason you cannot just peel the fruit and use that is because the white pith is extremely bitter. Zesting the fruit avoids collecting the pith unintentionally. To make it easier to see the difference, take a lemon and cut it in half. You will see the thin yellow skin, a thick white membrane, and then the juicy fruit in the middle. The white membrane is the pith and you do not want to disturb that. It is possible to get all the zest you need from one piece of fruit, but your recipe should clarify. It is important to note that before you zest any fruit, you wash the fruit with a scrubber and warm water. This will take off any dirt or chemical that may be on the fruit from growth, packaging, and transport. You will then need to make sure your fruit is completely dry before trying to peel off the zest.
There are two main types of zesters, the zester and the grater. The zester is what makes long thin strands of zest, which would then need to be chopped up finely. The grater is more like a Microplane and gives you grated zest. You need to rub the fruit in one direction and continually turn the fruit to avoid hitting the pith.
Zests are often found in pastries, such as the lemon meringue pie, however you can also see it in cakes, cookies, puddings, candy, and even chocolate. Many people relate orange zest to orange marmalades. You can also see zests on top of salads to add a citrus taste.
There are many rice dishes that require the zest of one citrus or another, and it is also in the sweet and sour sauce you put on Chinese dishes. In the south, where chutney is primarily found, zest is a key ingredient in those recipes.
Zest can also be cut long and used as a garnish for cocktails or drinks. You will usually see a zest garnish, known as a twist, on dry martinis. Did you know, though, that zest Is used in creating lemon liquers, like Licor De Oro?
Zest may mean doing something with gusto to many people, but in the culinary world, zest means the outer parts of a citrus fruit.
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