A citrus zester is a kitchen utensil designed to remove the skin, or zest, from a fruit for use in various foods and dishes. This type of instrument is often found in both professional and home kitchens and can be used on a number of different fruits, though citrus fruits are most common. Consisting of a handle and a small bladed end piece, a citrus zester is usually inexpensive and though it is usually only designed for a single purpose, it typically accomplishes that purpose admirably.
The zest of a citrus fruit is the outer coating, the skin of the fruit, but it does not include the white inner layer of the skin, which is called the pith. A citrus zester is designed to be easily pulled along the skin of a fruit, such as an orange or lemon, and remove the zest in small strips. This allows the small strips of zest to be easily added to a number of different dishes, from cakes and ice cream to salads and marinades.
To some people, the outer skin of a piece of fruit is simply what is removed from the fruit and thrown away before eating the meat or drinking the juice within. The skin of citrus fruit, however, contains a number of oils that can have very strong and significant aromas and flavors of the fruit itself. By removing the zest of these fruits, usually with a citrus zester, these oils can be added to a dish to infuse it with tremendous flavor.
A citrus zester is used by holding the handle and lightly pulling the end of the zester along the skin of a citrus fruit. The end usually consists of either individual blades or a single blade with several holes in it, similar to a cheese grater. This similarity allows a citrus zester to actually be used on cheese as well, to create thin, delicate strips of cheese that can melt very quickly and easily either when baked or simply upon the tongue.
Care should be taken when using a citrus zester on a piece of citrus fruit, however, to not press the end of the zester too hard into the fruit. If it is pressed too deeply, or if the same area is zested repeatedly, the pith of the fruit will be removed as well. Most citrus fruits have very bitter pith that should be avoided unless called for in a recipe.