Can You Freeze Lemon Zest?

Here’s all you need to know about freezing lemon zest. Learn how well lemon zest freezes, how to go about it, and ways you can use it.

Got more lemon zest than expected? Or maybe you’re considering zesting a big batch of lemons, and you’re looking for a way to preserve the peel? Can you freeze lemon zest?

The Short Answer

Lemon zest freezes well and works great in most settings. Pre-freeze it on a lined cookie sheet, then transfer it into a freezer bag to freeze for the long term. In most cases, you can use it without defrosting it.

That’s this article’s takeaway, but there are some details worth knowing. Want to know more?

Here’s what we talk about below:

  • when you should consider freezing lemon zest
  • freezing lemon peel step by step
  • using frozen lemon zest

Let’s jump right in.

Tablespoon of frozen lemon zest
Tablespoon of frozen lemon zest

Does Lemon Zest Freeze Well? When Should You Freeze It?

Freezing lemon zest is the best way to save fresh lemon zest for the long term. That’s because it keeps quality for only a couple of days in the fridge, even though it doesn’t go bad that quickly.

But if what you have on hand is dehydrated lemon peel (store-bought or one you dried at home), freezing it isn’t a good idea. It lasts quite some time at room temperature, and freezing won’t help its quality.

In short, it only makes sense to freeze fresh lemon peel.

Related: How long does lemon zest last and how to store it?

Lemon zest freezes perfectly fine, and it works well in almost all recipes that call for it.

There are a few exceptions, though:

  • freezing lemon peel strands is tricky because strands break easily once frozen
  • using frozen lemon zest to garnish might be difficult because the pieces freeze together (even if you pre-freeze them) so spreading them evenly over an area requires defrosting, drying, and (probably) chopping to get good results

In other words, if you need lemon peel strands or use that zest to garnish, it’s easier to work with fresh lemons and decorate the dish as you zest the lemon.

But if you’re usually adding lemon zest to baked goods or sauces (e.g., mixing in a tablespoon or two) for its citrusy flavor, replacing fresh lemon zest with a frozen one works beautifully.

With that in mind, let’s talk about freezing.

Just zested lemons
Just zested lemons

How to Freeze Lemon Zest

Here’s how you freeze lemon zest:

  1. Zest your lemons. There are at least a couple of tools and methods you can use to do that, so go with what works best for you or what tools you have available. If you’re looking for an overview of possibilities, here’s a great article.
  2. Pre-freeze the zest. Grab a cookie sheet and line it with a silicone mat or baking paper (or anything else that’ll make removing frozen zest from the tray easy). Otherwise, you’ll need to scrape the zest off the tray. While that’s okay for small fine pieces, it’ll surely break strands if that’s how you prepped the peel. Next, spread the zest over the surface without piles or lumps, and throw the tray in the freezer for a few hours.
    Pre-freezing lemon zest
    Pre-freezing lemon zest
  3. Transfer to a freezer bag. Take the cookie sheet out of the freezer and break apart any clumps using a spatula. Once done, pour everything into a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and label the bag with the name and date if you like.
  4. Freeze. Chuck the bag in the freezer for the long term.

That frozen lemon zest should retain quality for at least 3 to 6 months in the freezer.

Pre-frozen lemon zest in a freezer bag
Pre-frozen lemon zest in a freezer bag

Is Pre-freezing Necessary?

Not really. While pre-freezing helps avoid clumps, you’ll probably be able to scoop a teaspoon or two from the bag even if you don’t pre-freeze it. You just need to smash the bag against the counter so that larger lumps will break apart, and you’re good to go.

And even if you pre-freeze the zest as I suggest, some of the pieces will still freeze together and form small clumps. That means that you’ll probably need to beat it against a hard surface anyway.

In short, if you can’t be bothered with pre-freezing, ignore it, and you’re going to be fine.

Breaking up lumped lemon zest
Breaking up lumped lemon zest

How to Defrost Lemon Zest

There’s no need for thawing lemon zest for typical use, such as adding a teaspoon to sauces, cakes, and other baked goods.

You scoop as much as you need, add it to whatever you’re cooking, and give it a good stir. The temperature of other ingredients will quickly defrost the zest and everything will taste great.

But if you want to use it as a garnish or spread it evenly over an area, defrosting should help.

To defrost lemon zest, spread it on a large plate or cutting board and leave for 10 to 15 minutes at room temperature. That should be enough for it to thaw.

Next, you might want to use a paper towel to dry the zest a bit so that it’s not as sticky, and then finely chop it so that you can distribute it evenly.

Last, if you defrost your lemon zest, use all of it immediately.

Cupcake with lemon curd
Lemon cupcake with lemon curd (a great way to use lemon zest)

Using Frozen Lemon Zest

As I already mentioned, frozen lemon zest works great in most settings, maybe except for garnishing. That means you can use it to flavor all sorts of dishes, including:

  • Baked goods. There are dozens of recipes for lemon muffins, cupcakes, cakes, and the like. Almost all of them use both lemon juice and lemon zest.
  • Lemon bars. Obviously.
  • Pasta sauces. Here’s a recipe for linguine with lemon sauce.
  • Add to cooked vegetables. Instead of simply adding salt, use other seasonings and some lemon zest for a different take on a well-known veggie. Here’s a simple peas recipe.
  • Lemon sauce. Here’s a lemon butter sauce recipe that’s easy to whip in minutes and works with many proteins and veggies.

Of course, there are hundreds of other recipes out there that use lemon zest, and you’re only a Google search away from finding one.