Fuck Lemon Zest


Sometimes, while wandering around the internet looking for recipes, I will read the comments. A consistent, and deeply troubling, theme over the last decade is well represented by the following comments:

  • -Do you think lemon zest would brighten this up?
  • -Added lemon zest to these and they are even more yummers!
  • -These needed a little something so I added the zest of 7 lemons, LOVE the recipe!

What the fuck is wrong with everyone?

I love lemons, and lemon zest certainly has its place (specifically in recipes that have the words “lemon” or “citrus” in their title). But it sure as shit doesn’t belong in half of the places it ends up. Especially when it comes to pastries. Why do we*, as Americans, feel the need to “brighten up” all of our baked goods? Why are we so uncreative that adding lemon zest is apparently the only thing we can think to do to make a recipe our own? Adding lemon zest is usually the wrong choice.  I would estimate that 99.9% of the time it doesn’t improve the recipe,  it just makes it taste like lemon zest.

The next time you reach for your microplane, I want you to ask these questions of yourself:

  • Why am I doing this?
  • What is this really about?
  • Why not orange zest? Or grapefruit or lime? Or rose? Or vanilla? Or ______?
  • If I want a recipe for something lemon-flavored, why I am baking this chocolate pound cake?
  • What is missing from my life?

Lemon zest problems play out with their most dire consequences in the case of the blueberry muffin. A blueberry muffin is a glorious thing, rich vanilla cake with those complex and piney blueberries suspended throughout. It doesn’t get much better. But it gets a hell of a lot worse when you start zesting a lemon into that bowl. The blueberries barely get a word in edgewise. Lemon zest is a bully and has no place in a blueberry muffin.

If you don’t believe this is a real issue that has real world consequences, consider the following personal story that I have bravely decided to share:

A few years ago, I was shopping at our local farmers market on a beautiful spring day. The sun was out, the bluegrass band was playing, I was feeling powerful having just bought some ramps. I stopped by the table of a vendor new to the market, a local baker selling trays of gorgeous looking pastries. After chatting with the owner (who seemed like a perfectly normal person), I bought a cinnamon roll to enjoy as I finished shopping. Life was good. Until I took my first bite of that cinnamon roll and discovered, to my horror, that it was full of lemon zest—the frosting, the filling, probably even the dough! What kinds of monster fills a cinnamon roll with lemon zest? Cinnamon rolls are supposed to taste rich and low and brown and buttery—they don’t need to be sunnied up. This “baker” had decided to play god. He thought he could improve on the cinnamon roll. I threw that evil pastry in the garbage and had to avoid that part of the market for the remainder of the summer.

Listen, unlike that baker, I am sure you don’t mean any harm but you are killing me with all of this needless lemon zest. Please, please think twice before “improving” your next recipe.

*Obviously I mean you.



[In case you are looking for a solid recipe for blueberry muffins that does not need (much) improvement: I like this recipe, though I only use 3/4 cup of granulated sugar.]


101 comments to “Fuck Lemon Zest”

  1. I strongly disagree. On both counts. A.) If used in the correct amount, lemon zest is PERFECT in blueberry muffins and B.) a couple of months ago I had a cinnamon bun completely redolent with cinnamon, vanilla, and lemon zest and it was one of the BEST THINGS I HAVE EVER EATEN. To each his own, right?

    (Although I’m completely with you on the chocolate-and-lemon-zest-is-abhorrent thing.)

  2. Am- WRONG! ;)

  3. I loathe blueberry muffins with lemon zest SO SO SO SO MUCH!!!!!!!! thank you for speaking truth to power.

  4. Pierre Herme has a cake with a chocolate mousse that uses a ton of ginger and lemon zest (combined with coconut dacquoise and bananas) that is absolutely perfect.

    It does sound horrible when it comes to “normal” chocolate cakes though.

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you for your consistently fresh voice in the sometimes monotone food writing world. This piece cracked me up. Take a stand!

  6. This made me laugh out loud! I cringed trying to imagine cinnamon and lemon in the same bite. I agree, there’s no accounting for taste. And even when lemon should be used (for example somewhere that it actually belongs), there’s no subtlety. When overused, there’s a bitterness that just ruins it. I’ve stopped ordering anything lemon anywhere because it’s often so offensive tasting.

  7. I think I can tolerate more lemon zest than most. We had a farm and were taught to eat up every part of lemon. Mom used to make candies out of the zesty layers. She knew how to cook 60 different of vegetables. My taste buds are different than most folks I meet as a result.

    Perhaps to each his own ?

  8. I was SO happy to see you post this, cause I’ve felt the same way for years. Certain foods are “bullies” and take-over a recipe. If the recipe is supposed to celebrate some other ingredient, that ingredient gets washed-out.

    My pet peeve is oranges and cranberries. I LOVE cranberries and I live in New England where we grow lots of them. I don’t love cran-orange. To me, the orange is just a bully and it takes away from the sweet clean tartness of true cranberry flavor. Yet almost every recipe involving cranberries involves oranges, orange juice or orange zest.

    Another pet peeve is apples and pork. In this case, it’s not that the apples are bullies. In fact, they go quite well with pork. It’s that there’s a severe lack of originality when it comes to pork. “Making pork? I’ll just reach for the apples.” My wife is allergic to apples and I find it very difficult to find new recipes and inspiration because pork is almost always paired with apples.

    End rant. :-)

  9. LMAO this had me cracking up!! I like lemon where it belongs, like anything lemon poppyseed. Keep that crap outta my buttery and brown and delicious pastries!

  10. this totally brightened my day. amazing post.

  11. LOLOL. I’ve met lemon zest in one unexpected place and liked it: Heidi Swanson’s Stuffed Shells. I think it matches the acidity of the tomato sauce.

    I have similar feelings about mint – it’s a bully too.

  12. YES! to this post and to you not taking it anymore! :P Power to the non-zest people!

    I’ve recently made an earth shatteringly great recipe from Nigella Lawson which is her lemon polenta cake which involved tons of zest and juice which is the whole point…BUT yours is the exact reason why i avoid most blue(berry) baked goods because they brim them which lemon zest and all the sweet berry flavor gets lost. And a definite no to chocolate and lemon together, especially since i’ve never liked the chocolate orange combo either.

    Thank you for being our voice! :D

  13. You were brave to share this. So many of us feel confident to come forward as haters of lemon zest because of the work done here, today. I thank you.

  14. Once again you brought tears to my eyes. You’re right on about these bullies. But, your timing is also perfect. I’m in the process of dehydrating some lemon and lime peels to make powders. Don’t worry. They won’t be used in blueberry muffins. I sometimes use the lemon powder along with black pepper when roasting asparagus and I’m making the lime powder to sprinkle on some kale chips I’ll be dehydrating.

    And, I totally agree with Justin regarding orange and cranberries. The citrus simply doesn’t belong there.

  15. I put lemon zest on my ricotta toast, along w/ honey and sea salt. I love any citrus zest. I am lover of the zest. Sorry to go against the zest haters. ;)

  16. I really like Curmudgeon Lotte + Doof the most, and I was ranting in my head the other day about lemon zest, but not because of this. It’s because, IMHO, zest doesn’t add pop, it adds fragrance, or an herbaceous lemon vibe. It has zero acidity. Juice has that.

    Also on my Rants I Haven’t Written Yet, I would like to tell the microplane zester that it’s time is up. I hate the papery puff it makes of ingredients. Have you ever tried to measure 1 cup of microplaned parmesan? A total nightmare and the biggest pile adds little flavor because it weighs about 3 grams. Thanks for letting me air that out.

  17. Tim, I adore you. Please come to Houston so we can meet in person and eat all of the things, minus lemon zest of course. Bring Brian. Prepare to dance to a lot of Beyonce with Shiv.

  18. *Bryan. Damn my bad memory, but come visit anyway.

  19. catchicago says:

    April 29th, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    I’m crying laughing Tim. Thanks for speaking out! I’ll join your army any day.

  20. Jeffrey C says:

    April 29th, 2016 at 2:52 pm

    This is a SNL Weekend Update rant waiting to be filmed. Bravo.

    And love this : “Lemon zest is a bully … “

  21. PREACH.

  22. Crying with laughter reading this. Absolutely brilliant. You’ve made my day. Thank you.

  23. I love this post. Your passion for food is really wonderful. I admit, I love lemon and its zest in any way-shape-or form. BUT, anything trendy and overdone. Is just that….trendy and overdone. At the moment, lemon-zest gets the award for trendy and overdone. Hopefully, the trend will pass…..I remember a time that blueberries. Yes, blueberries seemed to be in everything. I love them. But in a bagel???? No, no never. ‘had a majorly heated argument with a friend that didn’t get my concern-upset-annoyance. Hmmmm. Haven’t seen that guy in a long time.

    Enjoy your weekend, Tim.

    And keep eating. And blogging.



  25. You’re hilarious, Tim, and I love you in a non creepy way.
    Lemon zest in a cinnamon roll sounds ridiculous – I’d be angry. And with chocolate? Bloody hell, not in MY chocolate.

  26. Incidentally, IMMEDIATELY after reading this entry I read an entry on another food blog – that mentioned improving a recipe BY ADDING LEMON ZEST. This is going to be one of those things I start seeing everywhere now.

  27. Chuckling. I’m a novice cook, so it is easy for me to get pulled into the “add lemon zest” movement. Feels like I am doing something fancier. Now, my self-esteem is destroyed, but I realize that’s a good thing because clearly it was falsely inflated. I do love citrus, so, my cranberries might always have a little bit of orange and my blueberries might have a tiny taste of lemon (or lime). However, I will now be reconsidering and questioning before I add any. I thank you for that! : )

  28. This post has made my day. Thank you, Tim. Keep it coming.

  29. Martha in Princeton says:

    April 30th, 2016 at 2:19 pm

    Tim, will you marry me? Wait, I’m already married. Nvm. I TOTALLY AGREE!!!

  30. Very, very funny! But I love lemon zest! I think you feel about lemon zest the same way I feel about capers…..evil

  31. So much love! Awesome post!

  32. If you have a lemon tree in your yard, and if it is absolutely loaded with fruit, you do everything you can to enjoy it, honor it, actually worship it, and eat it every day.

  33. So good, Tim. So good.

  34. hilarious. just hilarious.

  35. We’re not going to get away from it. Bon Appetit’s May 2016 issue, p. 157, states “Finely grated lemon zest is essential for adding brightness to your desserts and vinaigrettes, but long, super-thin slivers of lemon add massive flavor and texture to dishes…”

  36. Want lemon? Shaker lemon pie will sate.

    HOWEVER…* big pause* A judicious amount of lemon does do incredible things to a lot of recipe. I’m thinking of cauliflower roasted with lemon, parmesan, chile and salt but it depends upon the skill level and palate of the person wielding said lemon.

    As for muffins, *meh*. They are tiresomely boring in themselves when you think of the thousands of baked goods a place could be making and selling. They are the cake equivalent of spaffing on.

  37. “I was feeling powerful having just bought some ramps”- howling with laughter over here. 😂
    I also like your lemon zest checklist. What is missing from my life, indeed. Lol.

  38. I think its absolutely appropriate and virtually required that I respond to this — as the name of my blog is Garlic + Zest. Yes, I love zest — in all forms — lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, pomelo, mandarin, you name it. I don’t put it in EVERYTHING, just the recipes that benefit from it. And I do happen to like a little zest in my blueberry muffins — thankyouverymuch. To me, they are a divine combination.
    That said, I can (and do) show restraint where warranted. And speaking of out-of-control food trends Chia? As in ch-ch-ch-chia (pet). And smoothie bowls? It’s a smoothie — DRINK IT!

  39. I love Ina, and even made one of her cakes today, but I’m pretty sure she is patient zero in the lemon zest epidemic.

  40. Shahar- You’re right! She is totally patient zero.

    All- Thanks for all of the comments. Even from those of you on the wrong side of history…

  41. Right on, brother. I rarely want baked goods with a lemon flavor, but when I do I’ll get something with lemon in the title. A blueberry muffin with lemon zest is a pet peeve of mine, too, and the cinnamon and lemon combo sounds dastardly.

  42. Tristan says:

    May 2nd, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    Yesssssssss. So true! All of this.

  43. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to admit this but here goes…Post college and in my very early cooking years – I went to the grocery store and I asked where they kept the lemon zest. It went as well as you imagine. Whew. Feels good to get that out there.

  44. Yes, you are 100% right. You should run for president.

  45. Mary Anne says:

    May 2nd, 2016 at 7:08 pm

    omg omg omg. Best post ever, and best comments ever!

    To the person who said “this totally BRIGHTENED my day.” Well playyyyyyyed!

    To the person who solemnly quoted Bon Appetit, including page numbers and the word “states”, you rule.

    And because I’m making spaghetti carbonara tonight, I need to point out that there are a DISTURBING number of carbonara recipes (written by non-Italians, obvi) that include lemon zest. DISGUSTING.

  46. hahahaha yes.

  47. Can we also add cilantro to this? Enough already. Not every damn dish needs it, and to those of us with the genetic marker that makes it taste soapy? It ruins the food.

    I do love lemon zest in certain things, but a cinnamon roll? That, my friend, is pure sacrilege. Well said.

  48. Best rant of the week by far.

  49. Christine says:

    May 3rd, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    Love this post. This is exactly how I feel about honey!! I adore and appreciate honey, but does it have to be in EVERYTHING? Do my entrees, sides, salads and desserts ALL need to be sweet? Can we not let a savory be savory?

  50. Mary Anne- Thanks for highlighting those comments, they were two of my favs, too.

    Ana Sofia- I am glad this space is safe enough for you to admit such a thing. Brave. ;)

  51. I just burst out laughing on the bus. I love your social commentary as much as I love your recipes!

  52. Lynn D. says:

    May 4th, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I like to add lemon flavoring with lemon grass, lemon verbena, or lemon balm. They add an herbal or floral note to broths and custards that is less bright than using lemon peel. I also like to use a twist of lemon or other citrus to things. Peel the lemon and then twist the peel to add the lemon oil to a martini or expresso. I peel an orange over oreo cookies in a tin and then twist the orange peels over the cookies some more. Tuck in a few of the peels and then close the tin. The next day you have soft cakey oreos infused with the essence of orange. My favorite poppyseed cake does not have lemon zest, but brown, sugar, butter and vanilla.

  53. Lynn! Did you even read my blog post?! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. ; )

  54. Thank you for bringing this issue to light. I have also wondered why all olive oil cakes need to be citrus flavored. Why can’t they be olive oil flavored?

  55. I enjoyed this post immensely.

  56. This is my favorite piece of internet for today. Be gone, lemon zest!

  57. Viktoria says:

    May 5th, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I am a regular reader of your blog entries but this entry made me really sad (and angry!):

    “threw that evil pastry in the garbage”.

    Food does not belong into the garbage bin.

  58. Hi Viktoria- Sorry to have made you both sad and angry, I really hope your day improves!

  59. I laughed so hard I cried reading this. Great way to start the day! Wonderful post!

  60. This was my laugh for the day. Shared with quite a few people. Why are we so intent on making food taste like other food? I was at a shop today that offered samples of freshly made Marionberry smoothies. They looked lovely – rich purple, fresh, thick. My friend and I each took a sip and looked at the person behind the counter in confusion. “Turmeric!” she announced proudly. Yep, that lovely seasonal berry we anticipated was completely silenced. It was like sipping a pickle. Ugh.

  61. Lemon zest is banned in our household. Unless I’m making something specifically lemony. I really enjoy your writing and love all of the “braveness” your exhibiting ;)

  62. Janelle says:

    May 6th, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    I love when people are passionate about quirky peeves. Thanks for the rant!

  63. This post made my evening. I have always been appalled by lemon zest in everything. One could do an entire post bemoaning the addition of lemon zest to cheesecake. There is nothing worse than getting bits of lemon stuck to your tongue, marring an otherwise creamy dream. Thank you again.

  64. Samantha says:

    May 8th, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    Amen. I’ll take my gooey, butter-dripping cinnamon rolls and almost bitter brownies without any “brightness” or “zing”, thanks!

  65. This post reminded me of a story my almost daughter in law (older son’s long term girlfriend) told over dinner the other night, about how, at their Thanksgiving that they call Friendsgiving, one of their friend’s then-girlfriend decided to “improve” the mashed potatoes with lemon zest. This was 5 or 6 years ago, the then-girlfriend is long gone, but they still joke about it; adding lemon zest stands for kind of messing something up.

  66. Exactly. In my dorm days, there was 0 options for non-citrus pastries from the only nearby shop, P–ra. Because who the F puts ORANGE zest in a cinnamon role. Thus, I had no pastries. It was a very sad year. I transferred. Thank goodness.

  67. A post entitled FUCK LEMON ZEST? Can we PLEASE be best friends now?

  68. Tim, have you seen the reviews on the website of your suggested blueberry muffin recipe?? Yes, they added LEMON ZEST to make it better…….. 😱😩😩😱

  69. This post is hilarious. I don’t actually have a problem with lemon zest, but you do have a point. It is a bully and definitely doesn’t belong in a lot of places where people add it.

  70. I just asked my sister the other day: “Did you make this delicious cheesecake without any lemon zest?” She replied in the affirmative and I knew that’s why is tasted so good.

  71. Valerie G. says:

    May 11th, 2016 at 10:45 am

    I believe you can thank Giada for the lemon zest craze. That woman grates lemon zest over EVERYTHING she makes. Enough!

  72. ALL: Thank you for bringing up CHEESECAKE! How could I have not included that in my rant? Cheesecake is one of the main battle grounds. UGHHHHH. Why is everyone the worst?!

  73. Please. Please. Tell this to giada. I don’t know what happened to her but about 2 years into her television career lemon goes into EVERYTHING. It’s all she knows. It actually got to the point I’d be watching her cooking show with my dad and he would bursting out laughing every time she pulled out a lemon. it became a joke. I think she’d be done with the dish and then- oh no! she’d turn around with her maniacal grin and start zesting. Her “homemade” mayonnaise recipe is just regular mayonnaise with lemon zest added. Ugh.

  74. Lemon zest in a cinnamon roll??? I can’t believe that happened to you! Why would anyone ever think that could possibly be acceptable? Blah! Yuck! It’s like I can taste it now, and I hate that it ever existed in this world. Disgusting. I’m so sorry.

  75. And I have to add — I thought I never liked cheesecake when I was young, but then I discovered that I just didn’t like lemon zest in cheesecake, which is all I had been exposed to. Completely agree — it has no place there.

  76. Different strokes for different folks- I happen to like blueberry and lemon muffins, but would like them clearly stated as such in case I was in the mood for plain blueberry.

  77. Jeffrey C says:

    May 13th, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    Where do we order a Fuck Lemon Zest t-shirt? I can’t find your link.

  78. Tim, besides lemon zest, I realized I feel the same way about chocolate and chocolate chips too. And I think it’s fair to say that I love chocolate (I know you’re not a real fan), but it simply doesn’t need to be added to everything. Yesterday I saw a blog with Double Chocolate Bagels. That’s just wrong. Sometimes Less is More.

  79. Tim, please put a warning at the top of this post. I read it while in a very snooty Houston coffee shop, and snorted coffee out of my nose. Thank you. Like my yoga pants and baseball cap at 2:00 in the afternoon weren’t enough to make me a pariah, I then had to pretend like I had pleurisy instead of just an insane love for your post.

    And this is from someone who actually LOVES lemon. In everything. No hard feelings.

  80. I think Oregon needs to send Chicago some blueberries, as soon as they ripen (it will be mid June). I’ve stood in the garden eating them – and only them – for dinner, many times, but they are never “piney”. Complex; delicious; tart, if they do not yield easily as you pick them yes. “Piney” like a long distance lover wishing for the caress of their beloved, perhaps; but never “piney” like a gin and tonic.

  81. Ahhh, this post reminded me of all the things that I love to add lemon zest to… crap that wasn’t the point at all.

  82. Tim,

    I loved this post, because I am actually ALLERGIC to lemon (orange and lime) and the trend of putting lemon zest in frickin’ everything could literally kill me. I carry an epi-pen like people do for peanut allergies. Foods I would think are safe just aren’t anymore. The blueberry muffin is my prime example of one that is NEVER safe for me anymore unless I make it at home. Starbucks changed their bakery items a while back and now just about everything in their pastry case has orange or lemon in it, cinnamon rolls included. ARGH! Put down the microplane indeed.

  83. Yikes, strong talk! You forgot one exception for lemon zest…always use lemon zest for blueberry muffins when you forgot to buy the blueberries (may also substitute other citrus in this case, or anything else in the pantry.

  84. Viktoria says:

    May 19th, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    Tim, did you know that 30-40% of our food lands in the trash? Why not give food you don’t find tasty to somebody else or feed it to animals?

    I once discovered three perfect apples in a trash bin and a pot of lush basil. I really wondered what was wrong with them. Too juicy? Too aromatic?

  85. Awesome post. Curious how else you improve that muffin recipe (I’m thinking more butter, some brown sugar, and maybe half yogurt/sour cream/creme fraiche instead of all milk).

  86. This is my favorite thing you have ever written.

  87. gabrielle says:

    May 29th, 2016 at 10:06 am

    As a lowly 6th-generation California lemon rancher, I feel I can clarify some of this with some veracity. I agree with what you are saying, but suggest the answer to your quandry lies in the word or the manner of “zesting”. Think of “zest” as meaning “orgasm”. Orgasms are wonderful, but you generally would not want to have them all the time, and wish for them to be as powerful as possible. Both zest and orgasm intimate that a very singlular occurrence is THE most POWERFUL experience. Take the humble gin and tonic. To properly zest a G&T, you should take a single, 1/8 inch strip of lemon rind and pith measuring approx. 1.5 inches long and hold it to the bottom of the glass with ice as you pour – no stirring or other. Or, you can just wave a 2 inch strip over the top of the glass as you are “zesting” (peeling) your lemon. This is the orgasmically correct amount of zest. Anything more, is simply overkill.

  88. Benjamin says:

    May 31st, 2016 at 9:14 am

    I literally can’t even with all the lemon zest!

  89. kelli ann says:

    June 7th, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    I can only think of this post every time a recipe suggests blithely that I ‘brighten up’ any. damn. thing. I don’t even want a lemon near my mixing bowl.

  90. Haha. I love this post! But I confess I enjoy lemon blueberry muffins and lemon poppyseed too. Otherwise I think the zest should be confined to savory seafood dishes.

  91. Yes! Thank you so much! Lemons belong in bright things like Lemonade NEVER with Cinnamon. That person has no place near an oven…

  92. Loved this. YES! Another thing that drives me nuts is ones assumption that a recipe needs improvement without testing the original first!

  93. Ha, ha, ha, this is so true. Loved this post.

  94. Always entertaining after so many years. I love your eloquence, so when I scrolled down and suddenly read FUCK LEMON ZEST, it really made me laugh out aloud.

  95. This is how I feel about cinnamon! Always hanging out where it doesn’t belong. In excess. Gritty yuck.

  96. Perfect. That’s all I have to say.

  97. Have you seen the ad for Triscuits with PB & J and lemon zest? … I’m not making this stuff up.

  98. OMG, I loved reading this post. So hilarious and I don’t even have an opinion on lemon zest. I was laughing out loud in the office.

  99. I came across a recipe for a veggie burger that contains lemon zest about 5 minutes ago which was about 5 minutes after I read this article. Hilarious as is this article. I love it and I so agree with you. DEATH TO THE LEMON!! Maybe that’s a little much….

  100. Oh Sweet mother of god, I HOWLED reading this. Though I have a fondness for zest when lemon is the theme, i totally get the “Does everyone have to use [fill in the latest must-have ingredient here] in every freaking recipe?” Lemon zest in a cinnamon roll…tragic.

What do you think?