Zinc (Zn) is an essential micronutrient for plants and animals owing to its structural and catalytic roles in many proteins1. Zn deficiency affects around 2 billion people, mainly those who live on plant-based diets relying on crops from Zn-deficient soils2,3. Plants maintain adequate Zn levels through tightly regulated Zn homeostasis mechanisms involving Zn uptake, distribution and storage4, but evidence of how they sense Zn status is lacking. Here, we use in vitro and in planta approaches to show that the Arabidopsis thaliana F-group bZIP transcription factors bZIP19 and bZIP23, which are the central regulators of the Zn deficiency response, function as Zn sensors by binding Zn2+ ions to a Zn-sensor motif. Deletions or modifications of this Zn-sensor motif disrupt Zn binding, leading to a constitutive transcriptional Zn deficiency response, which causes a significant increase in plant and seed Zn accumulation. As the Zn-sensor motif is highly conserved in F-group bZIP proteins across land plants, the identification of this plant Zn sensor will promote new strategies to improve the Zn nutritional quality of plant-derived food and feed, and contribute to tackling the global Zn-deficiency health problem.