First off, let’s clear one thing up: Oleo saccharum is not as strange or intimidating as it sounds. It’s not one of those secret, magical ingredients that bartenders use to elicit oooohhs and ahhhhs. Literally defined, the name means “oil (or fat) sucrose,” referring simply to what it is: oil extracted from citrus peels by using sugar.
With that great mystery cleared up, the question remains: Why? Aside from being a fantastic way to use up citrus peel that might otherwise go to waste and extract every last drop of goodness from your favorite winter citrus, it also makes a damn fine cocktail ingredient. The technique isn’t new: Bartenders have been using oleo saccharum since the early 19th Century to add aroma and flavor to drinks.
The process is simple. Peel a few citrus fruits—ideally ones that you’ll be juicing later on, anyway (blood oranges, grapefruit and lemons work well). Place the peels in a bowl. Sprinkle a few ounces of granulated sugar on top, muddle it into the peels and...wait. After a few hours, the sugar will extract the oils from the peels, leaving you with a slightly messy, entirely delicious syrup.
While most commonly used in punches like the Philadelphia Fish House Punch, in which bartender Jeffrey Morgenthaler uses an intriguing “vacuum-sealed” technique, the beauty of oleo saccharum is its versatility. It can be used as a sweetener in single-serving cocktails and in non-alcoholic drinks like iced tea, and it makes a lovely syrup for pancakes and ice cream.
For individual cocktails, the oleo can be used alone, as in the Bloody Sherry, which uses a blood orange and lemon oleo saccharum combined with gin, lemon juice and a little sherry to cut the sweetness. Or it can be cut with boiling water, as in New York bartender Jeff Bell’s One-Two Punch.
The oleo can also be combined with additional lemon or lime juice to create a handy sour mix, which works well with most spirits. The Sour, Take 2 uses both fresh lemon juice and oleo extracted from grapefruits and lemons. It’s plenty tart, but should be used sparingly, as the dense combination of oil and sugar can come across a bit cloying. Try using a small amount to start, then build on it from there.
Ready to try making oleo saccharum at home? Try these recipes for a traditional oleo saccharum made with blood oranges and lemon, and a homemade sour mix below.
Blood Orange Oleo Saccharum
- Peel from two blood oranges
- Peel of one lemon
- 3 oz sugar
Using a vegetable peeler or similar tool, peel the entire surfaces of the blood oranges and lemons into a bowl. Add the sugar and muddle, ensuring that the sugar is worked into the peels well. Let stand for 4 to 6 hours. Push the peels away to the sides of the bowl, allowing the oils to gather in the center. Remove the peels and transfer the oleo saccharum into a sealed container. Chill before using.
Oleo Saccharum Sour Mix
- Peel from one lemon
- Peel from one grapefruit
- 4 oz sugar
- .5 cups lemon juice
Using a vegetable peeler or similar tool, peel the entire surfaces of the grapefruit and lemon into a bowl. Add the sugar and muddle, ensuring that the sugar is worked into the peels well. Let stand for 4 to 6 hours. Push the peels away to the sides of the bowl, allowing the oils to gather in the center. Remove the peels and transfer the oleo saccharum into a jar. Add the lemon juice, seal and shake until fully combined. Chill before using.