This easy lemon syrup is a great way to use the lemon peels that often get trashed, and it tastes fantastic with pretty much anything.
The pandemic has turned a lot of us into budding mixologists. A stiff beverage, particularly a well-crafted cocktail, is especially welcome nowadays. And while mixing drinks at home is certainly cheaper than a night on the town, compiling a fully stocked bar can prove to be costly.
Which is why we’d like to introduce you to one of bartending’s best kept secrets: oleo saccharum. The beyond simple citrus syrup is an inexpensive, two-ingredient, no-cook, sustainable showstopper that makes a multitude of spirit-forward beverages truly sing—and is delicious in non-alcoholic drinks too.
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What Is Oleo Saccharum?
While it may sound fancy, oleo saccharum is anything but. Its name is actually Latin for “oil sugar” and that’s precisely what it is. Here’s some chemistry for your mixology: Muddling sugar with citrus rind results in hygroscopy, where sugar reacts with the natural oils in the peels and extracts them, creating a rich, intense liquid.
Natalie Migliarini, cocktail influencer and co-author of “Beautiful Booze,” a 101 guide for home bartenders who want to bring the wow factor, is well versed in the magic of oleo saccharum. She likens using the syrup to the common practice of twisting peels over cocktails, only instead of simply extracting oil for aromatic purposes, you’re also adding depth of citrus flavor.
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Lemon tends to be the fruit of choice for oleo saccharum, but lime, orange, and grapefruit are great too. If you prefer a syrup with a broader spectrum of citrus, feel free to mix and match.
Several pieces of fruit will be needed, so consider making a batch of oleo saccharum the next time you plan on doing some juicing for lemonade, ceviche, or popsicles. (Just remember to peel those rinds prior to squeezing.)
When it comes to sugar, the basic white granulated variety (or superfine, if you have it) in your pantry are all you need.
For equipment, you’ll need a sturdy peeler (don’t want any of that bitter white pith to cling to your rind), a solid muddler, and a sealed container to store your syrup.
Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler, $5 from Sur La Table
For precision peeling.
How to Make It
As far as how much fruit to set aside for a big batch of oleo saccharum, Migliarini recommends using the peels from 8-10 lemons or limes. (Scale down for grapefruit and orange.)
Place the peels in the bowl and then sprinkle on the sweet stuff. Migliarini uses about 1 ¾ to 2 ounces of sugar per citrus, though she notes you should feel free to adjust the proportions in order to accommodate your preference for sweetness. Now it’s time to start mashing.
“I think the most important thing is initially making sure you muddle the citrus peels and the sugar pretty good at the beginning,” she advises. “Otherwise, you’re not going to get those oils going.”
HQY 8-Inch Stainless Steel Cocktail Muddler, $7.99 from Amazon
For the best kind of mash-up.
Then, you play the waiting game. “I’ll let it stand five or six hours and maybe up to a day to really extract those flavors,” says Migliarini. “Throughout the process, I do want to make sure that I’m mixing and mashing periodically.”
After you allow that hygroscopy to do its thing, you’ll be rewarded with some sweet citrus syrup. Though the yield will be rather small (about a half cup) a little goes a long way. If you’re just making a cocktail or two, a tiny spoonful will make a significant impact.
Migliarini estimates oleo saccharum lasts about a week in a refrigerated sealed container if you want to take advantage of its full freshness and potency.
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How to Use It
Blow the dust off of any old cocktail manual and you’re bound to find oleo saccharum as a key ingredient in punches and other large batch boozy concoctions.
But know that it can also be spectacular when judiciously drizzled into small format drinks. “If you wanted to add a citrus vibe to a cocktail without adding juice, this is a way you could do it,” says Migliarini.
Old Fashioneds, with their traditional orange peel garnish, are very receptive to a few drops of the stuff. Use it to elevate a daiquiri as a substitution for simple syrup to pair with rum and lime. Speaking of lime, don’t forget about gimlets. Adding a bit of oleo offers a unique twist on the classic gin-based cocktail.
If alcohol-free beverages are more your speed, oleo saccharum will take OJ and lemonade to the next level and is a great addition to seltzer and tonic water. And be sure to have it handy for mocktails, particularly if a recipe calls for citrus and/or simple syrup.
So grab that sugar and fruit, and get peeling!
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Natalie Migliarini’s My Kind of Dispensary
See below for Natalie Migliarini’s recipe for My Kind of Dispensary punch with an oleo addition, adapted from “Beautiful Booze”.
Natalie Migliarini's My Kind of Dispensary
- 2 cups white rum
- 2 cups pineapple juice
- ½ cup lime juice
- ½ ounce lemon juice
- ¼ cup coconut syrup
- ¼ cup oleo saccharum
- ¼ cup Peychaud’s bitters
- 1 bottle sparkling wine
- Combine all ingredients in a drink dispenser.
- Fill dispenser with ice.
- Stir for approximately 30 seconds to chill and combine ingredients.
- Garnish with lime wheels.
- Serve as desired.
Header image courtesy of Sarah Gardner