Most of us usually have a bowl of fresh fruit around the house, and there are usually two or three oranges sprinkled in them.
But now and again, you can get caught without one just when you discover that orange zest is a vital ingredient in a recipe you’re making.
You might have some other fruits in your bowl that could be used as substitutes.
Tangerines or satsumas spring to mind. But are they okay to use, or is there something else that might do the trick?
In this article, it’s the question I address, but before I do - It’s worth just reminding ourselves of what orange zest is.
What is orange zest?
Some people think that orange zest is the skin of an orange. Well, it sort of is, but that is only part of the story. Orange skin has two layers.
The zest is the thin colored outer layer, and under that, there is another layer called the pith. When you peel the skin off, these two layers come off as one.
The orange pith layer has a bad reputation as being quite bitter and is usually thrown away, but should it be? - not according to the treehugger.com website.
If you separate it, the zest comes in very handy in lots of recipes such as Sweet Potato cake with Salted Cream Cheese Frosting and Chili-and-Citrus-Rubbed Chicken with Potatoes.
Are you in need of an orange zest substitute?
Many of the recipes that have orange zest as an ingredient only use it as a background flavor.
Some dishes, however, require the orange to be much more prominent, in which case there’s not much you can use as an alternative.
You’re just going to have to go out and buy some oranges or some shop-bought orange zest.
But where you’ve got a little more freedom, you can swap it out with something else, so let’s take a look at some of those potential alternatives.
Orange zest substitutes
One of the best alternatives is orange juice when a recipe calls up orange zest, but you haven’t got any to hand.
The most important thing is to use something that has a similar flavor characteristic.
1 Using orange juice as a substitute
What could be better than orange juice? It comes from the same fruit, so it has the right flavor.
Using juice works well with baked goods or as a glaze or filling. It’s also perfectly acceptable to use in vinaigrettes, salad dressings, and dips.
Here are some tips to ensure you get the best flavor combination.
- Ensure the juice you are using is fresh and pure.
- Try not to use juices that contain additives, flavorings, or preservatives.
How to use it:
In most instances, you can swap juice for zest in the same quantities as normally; the amount required is fairly small.
So, for example, if the recipe you are using calls for one teaspoon of zest, use one teaspoon of juice instead.
2 Other citrus fruit zest
If you have other citrus fruit from the orange family, such as clementines, mandarins, or tangerines, the zest from any of these will be a very good substitute because the essential oils are pretty much the same.
How to use it:
You can always turn to some similar types of citrus fruits like grapefruit, lemons, or limes.
However, they will give a subtly different flavor, so you may want to experiment before serving something that doesn’t taste quite right.
On the other hand, you can often come up with a taste variation that you and your family or guests might even enjoy more.
Swapping out other types of citrus fruit will usually work at a one-to-one ratio, but not so with lime.
Lime is a much stronger flavor, so I recommend halving the amount you use if you’re using this as your zest substitute.
3 Orange extract
Extract of orange is pretty potent stuff flavor-wise because it is concentrated and preserved in alcohol.
If you have got some in your pantry, or you spot it in the supermarket and want to give it a try, it works well in marinades and cocktails, as well as baked products and desserts.
It will certainly give you a real hit of orange.
How to use it:
Because orange extract has such a concentrated taste, it is recommended to only use ¼ teaspoon for each teaspoon of zest recommended in the recipe you’re following.
4 Using citrus fruit juice as a substitute
I mentioned earlier that other citrus fruit zest could be used as an alternative to orange zest, so it stands to reason that you can use other citrus fruit juice as well.
Again, the fact that they contain similar essential oils stands them in good stead.
You just need to be mindful of the fact that some citrus juices are sweeter than others.
If you want to use them as a substitute in vinaigrettes in marinades, you can swap them in equal quantities.
However, the same can’t be said if you’re using them in dessert recipes, so tread carefully. Once again, you may need to do a little experimentation.
How to use it:
If the juice you are using is sharper than orange juice, for example, lemon or lime, try adding a little honey or sugar to make it sweeter.
If you’re substituting with grapefruit or tangerine juice, add half again as much as the quantity of orange zest specified in the recipe.
5 Using apple cider vinegar as a substitute
If you’re completely out of citrus fruits and juices, you can always turn to apple cider vinegar.
It will give you that zesty tang you’re looking for, but you will need to modify the amount you use, so you don’t make the finished dish too sharp.
Apple cider vinegar also works well with baked recipes because it aids leavening.
How to use it:
You can swap out one teaspoon of orange zest with half a teaspoon of this vinegar.
If that turns out a little tart to your taste buds, you can add a smidgen of honey to take any tart edge off and get the flavor closer to the sweetness of orange.
The Best Zesting Tools
You might think that a zester is the best tool to use for zesting an orange - but not in my book. I prefer to use a grater, or better still, a Microplane.
Let’s take a quick look at all three.
1 The Microplane
This is my preferred option. If you try one of the other methods, you might struggle to get some decent strips of zest. Microplane is great.
All you have to do is pull the blade of the tool across the surface of the orange, and you’ll get nice, long strips of the zest of just the right thickness.
You might find it a little tricky at first, but it’s a skill very easily learned, and it’s worth it.
2 Using a Grater
Graters are okay, but they work better with cheese rather than zest. But if you want a lot of zest and don’t mind it being more powdery, a grater works fine. You can select which cutting face you use to get different results.
Turn the orange as you go to prevent cutting down into the pith.
3 Paring Knives and Potato Peelers
Both of these tools are okay for cutting longer lengths of peel. The potato peeler will give you wider strips but can be a little tricky to use.
4 Using a Zester
Although this tool is made for zesting, it’s my least favorite. It can be very fiddly to use, and you often end up with zest that has been cut too finely.
Check out this site for a quick rundown of the various tools available.
How to store orange zest
The best way of storing orange zest is either in a Ziploc bag or an airtight container. Once cut, it can be stored in your fridge for up to three to four days or up to four weeks if you freeze it.
Other options include:
- Bring it in your oven, after which it can be kept almost indefinitely
- Making orange sugar with it
Simple steps to making dried orange peel
If you want to make a stock of orange peel, the best oranges to use are the navels. Their skin is a little thicker. It means they are ideal to use for making dried orange peel.
- You need a vegetable peeler that has a nice, sharp blade. Push the blade a little under the outer peel and draw the peeler from top to bottom, taking a slice of orange peel as you go. Try not to dig down too deeply, or the peel will come away with the pith intact. Ideally, you want to leave the pith behind.
- Group a stack of strips together and slice crosswise into pieces sized about one-eighth of an inch.
- Pre-heat your oven to a temperature of 200°F. Distribute the pieces of the peel onto a sheet of parchment paper in a single layer. Pop them into the oven to bake for 25 to 30 minutes until they curl up and harden a little.
- Take out of the oven and allow to cool. Transfer into an airtight container.
The versatility of dried peel
You’ll be surprised at the various things you can do with dried citrus fruit peel. It’s particularly good when added to cakes and desserts.
So before you throw your fruit leftovers away, take a look at the things you can do with dried peel, as per the savingandsimplicity.com website, and you may want to think again.
Can you buy dried orange peel?
If you can’t be bothered with the hassle of making your own dried peel (actually, it’s not that much hassle), you can always buy it.
You can get it online from Amazon, and often you can find it in the spice section of supermarkets.
It’s not really suitable for use as a garnish because it doesn’t look too pretty, but you can use it in various recipes where soaking and cooking are involved.
Recipes that use orange zest
The skins of many citrus fruits, including oranges, are crammed with essential oils, which give a particular flavor to the various fruits.
Orange peel has a great taste tang that lifts the flavor signature of almost any dish to which it is added, regardless of whether it is a sweet or savory recipe.
You’ve only got to take a look at the epicurious.com website, where you will find 67 amazing recipes to try out. Cakes, casseroles, vinaigrette’s - they’re all here.
Various ways to use orange peel leftovers
The flesh of oranges and their juice are great sources of vitamin C, especially during the winter months, but once you’ve peeled an orange, most people just ditch the peel.
What a waste. Here are a few things that you could be doing with it.
Use orange peel for baking
Jerelle Guy has a great recipe for orange peel pound cake. You can bet your bottom dollar that orange peel never goes to waste in her household.
Orange peel pound cake isn’t the only recipe to call up an orange peel. Take a look at these ten recipes on the yummly.com website. And that’s not all.
1 Add some zest to your meals.
As you can see above, orange peel and orange zest are great in cake recipes, but they are also great ingredients for making salad dressings.
2 Keep your brown sugar soft.
Brown sugar has a nasty habit of solidifying. You can stop it from doing so quite easily by adding some orange peels. The essential oils in the peel help draw the moisture from the sugar, which is what makes it solidify in the first place.
3 Make your own candied orange peel.
Candied orange peel is gorgeous and makes a brilliant garnish with almost any dessert you care to serve - especially where chocolate is involved.
Speaking of chocolate, dipping candied orange peel into chocolate syrup is one of the most heavenly experiences on the planet.
4 Olive oil infused with orange peel.
Why not make an orange peel-infused olive oil? It’s so simple to do and is delicious when drizzled over salads or vegetables.
5 Add some orange zest to your cup of tea.
Next time you are making a cup of tea, put some dried orange peel into the cup, add the teabag, pour the hot water, and you will end up with a lovely, orangey, citrusy cuppa.
Use as a cleaner around the house.
1 Use it as a sponge
Did you know that orange peel works as a great natural sponge? If you got a dirty sink or stove, scrub it down with some orange peel. The natural oils it contains are perfect for degreasing and cleaning.
2 Make water spots disappear.
Water spots are a pain in the rear. They can ruin the appearance of any metal appliance. But all you have to do to get rid of them is rub a little orange peel over them. You’ll be amazed at how quickly it cleans and shines.
3 It works on wood too.
You can use the pith side of leftover orange peel to brighten up any wooden furniture that has lost its shine. Sorry, Mr. Sheen, you’re redundant.
4 The non-toxic DIY cleaner
You can make a great non-toxic DIY cleaner by throwing some leftover orange peels into a container or jar and immersing them in white vinegar.
- Cover and store it in your fridge for a few days and let the vinegar go to work on the orange peel. Shake the bottle occasionally. You will end up with a lovely orange-smelling cleaner.
- Transfer it into a spray bottle, and you can then use it to clean floors, windows, and working surfaces.
Use as a household helper.
You will be amazed at the things you can use orange peel for around the home.
1 As an orange deodorizer
Why waste money buying shop-bought deodorizers when you can put your leftover orange peel to good use?
If you’re tired of a smelly garbage bin, try putting a few strands of orange peel in the bottom of the bin, onto which you can then drop the garbage bag. It can really help to nullify those nasty smells.
2 Spruce up smelly shoes
Another great trick is to put the peels into a food processor, grind them up, and then place the powder into small sachets or muslin bags.
You can then pop them into shoes in your shoe cupboard to give them a lovely fresh orangey smell.
You can also throw a few bags into your clothes drawers or any cabinet or closet that tends to develop musty smells. It counteracts them perfectly.
3 Making orange peel candles
If you’ve never tried candle-making at home, you ought to. It’s great fun, and your kids can join in too.
Cut the peel into tiny pieces and add to the oil. Your candles will not only give you a lovely gentle light but a great perfume too.
4 As a fire starter
Dried orange peel makes the perfect kindling and will work with wood burners or when you’re trying to get campfires going.
5 Scentify your garbage disposal cleaner
Garbage disposal cleaners have a habit of beginning to stink after a while. A good way of combating any unwanted smells is to pour some orange peel into the unit and run it until it runs clear.
Any horrible smells will disappear to be replaced by a lovely orangey, citrusy smell.
6 As bird feeder
Seriously, you can add some orange peelings to the bird feeder in your yard. The birds will love it - especially in the winter months when the essential oils can help to keep them healthy and insulated from the cold.
Alternatively, why not make a complete bird-feeder from half an orange?
- Make three holes in the orange half, attach some string, fill the empty half with birdseed and hang from a tree.
7 As a Mosquito Repellent
Mosquitoes can be a real pain, but the good news is that they don’t like citrus smells. All you have to do is rub yourself down with some orange peel, and mosquitoes won’t come near you.
It’s not only more effective than shop-bought mosquito repellent, but it smells so much nicer too.
8 Slugs beware
If you suffer from a plague of slugs in your garden, a few well-placed pieces of orange peel dotted around the surface of your garden will help to keep those pesky slugs at bay.
It’s so much safer than using toxic chemical slug repellent that can be a danger to both children and pets.
9 Draw off ants
If you suffer from ant invasions in the home, or they are a danger in ruining a great picnic you planned, sprinkle a few shreds of orange peel around the area and watch how it attracts them.
Enjoy an ant-free home or eating out experience courtesy of some leftover orange peel.
10 Keeping cats at bay
Not everyone loves cats - especially when they poo in your garden.
Cats do not like citrusy smells, and you can put this to good use by using orange peel to protect your lawn and your houseplants as well.
Invite orange peel into your beauty regime
We’ve already discussed how orange peel can be used as an effective, nice smelling cleaner, but did you realize you can also use it as part of your beauty regime?
1 Enhance your skin
Next time you shower, grab some orange peel, wrap it in some gauze and use it to rub down your skin. You will be putting those natural oils to work, and they can help tone up your skin.
2 Orange scented bath oil.
If you know how to extract essential oil from your orange peel, you can use it to add to your bath, or make use of its anti-inflammatory properties or use it to help tone up your skin.
It’s not particularly difficult to do. You’ve probably got everything you require in your home. Find out how to go about it by reading this article on the healthyeating.sfgate.com website.
3 Use it as bath powder.
To make powder from leftover orange peel, you first need to let it dry out.
Once dry, you can transfer it into a mortar and pestle and work it into a fine powder which is great for sprinkling into your bath for a lovely smelling soak that will also act as a treat for your skin.
Frequently asked questions
Is orange zest the same as orange peel?
No, they’re not. Orange zest is the outer, orange-colored skin of an orange, whereas the peel is both the outer skin with a pith backing.
The zest is what you want for both its aroma and flavor, whereas the pith is somewhat better and is usually discarded.
How to zest an orange zest without a grater?
Yes, you can. You can remove it with a purpose-built zester, a paring knife, or a potato peeler.
Try not to dig too deep into the peel or remove the layer of pith, which can be better.
How about using the zest of grapefruit instead of orange?
You can use other citrus fruit zest as an alternative for orange zest.
Clementines and tangerines work well, whereas if you use a more tart citrus fruit like lemon, lime, or grapefruit, you may need to add a little honey to counter some of the sharpness.
How much zester does one orange produce?
One orange of medium size will give you between 1 and ½ tablespoons of zest weighing between 6 to 9 grams.