Fresh citrus juice is the most commonly used and stocked ingredient at almost every craft cocktail bar. It’s essential in making countless classics, from the Daiquiri to the Cosmopolitan, adding flavor and a vital sour component that livens and balances.
The unfortunate aspect of citrus is that most classic cocktails only employ the fruit for its juice, neglecting the rest of it and meaning that the solids typically get tossed into the trash, forming a significant amount of waste at most bars.
But that doesn’t need to be the case. Just as restaurants all around the world have embraced the nose-to-tail movement, in which chefs find an edible purpose for every part of an animal, bartenders can apply the same concept to citrus as a means of reducing waste.
“The great thing about any ingredient is that different parts of it can taste totally different,” says Will Meredith, the head bartender at Lyaness in London. “The juice has a certain flavor; the skin is packed full of oils that can be used to make oleo saccharum or simply infused into spirits, wines, etc., and the pulp, or pith, has a lovely bitterness that can be utilized in tinctures or in more creative ways.”
The Elements of Citrus
A citrus fruit comprises four main parts: juice, zest, pulp and husk. The juice and pulp contain the meatier flavors of the fruit (the nonaromatic components of the citrus), while the zest is aromatic because of the essential oils it contains, and the husk is a blend of both nonaromatic and aromatic elements. Each part plays a different role in a cocktail and can take various forms, from a garnish to a syrup.
Using all four parts of the citrus fruit ensures you get the most out of one ingredient, which not only reduces food waste but also gets you more for your money, too. “When you look into the footprint of a case of citrus, the amount of labor and resources it took to get to you is wild,” says Brooke Toscano, the managing partner at Pouring Ribbons in New York City. “Citrus prices fluctuate throughout the year, possibly changing the cost of your cocktail beyond what you'd initially projected. Using citrus as many times as possible becomes a necessity when you break down the cost. The great part about being mindful about your waste is that it usually translates to saving money, which right now everyone needs.”
There will almost always be some part of the citrus that gets tossed in the trash after being used (and ideally composted, if possible), but using more than one part of the fruit yields additional cocktail ingredients from the same quantity of fruit you probably had been using just for its juice, getting you the best bang for your buck.
These extra steps do require more prep time and labor for bars, but the trade-off of saving money and lessening the bar’s environmental impact seems more than fair.
Of course, the most commonly used part of a citrus in cocktails is the juice. It brings acidity, freshness and flavor to cocktails. There are various methods of obtaining the juice, although some are more effective than others.
When it comes to retaining the quality of your juice, keep in mind that lemon and lime juices begin oxidizing and become more acidic as soon as they’re juiced and are really best used within 24 hours, ideally within four to eight hours after juicing, depending on how fresh the fruit is to begin with.
More neutral citrus juices, such as orange, pineapple and grapefruit juices, can be stored a bit longer. The golden rule is to keep them refrigerated for up to five days, checking each day to make sure they’re still flavorful and not spoiled.
For experienced bartenders and enthusiasts, manipulating the acidity of citrus juices or acidifying other fruit juices (for instance, using citric and malic acid powders to increase the acidity of orange juice to that of lemon or lime juice) could be a great option for extending the shelf life of these more neutral juices.
At Pouring Ribbons, Toscano and her team use the flesh from oranges that have been peeled for use as garnishes (first getting rid of the pith) and heat it on a stovetop with some flat sparkling wine. They reduce the mixture and then strain it, yielding a syrup with a flavor profile similar to a Mimosa. Making syrups and cordials is a great use for citrus juice past its prime.
One of the simplest ways to be less wasteful when using citrus in cocktails is by harvesting the zest from the citrus with a Y-peeler or microplane (depending on what you’ll be making with it) prior to juicing. This part of the citrus is used for its fragrant essential oils and is typically applied to cocktails in the form of a garnish (for example, an expressed orange twist in an Old Fashioned) but can also be used in oleo saccharums or citrus powders, for spirit infusions and so on.
The aromatic element of the oils expressed from the peel add nuance and softness to a drink. If you’ve zested citrus but aren’t ready to use the zest immediately, put it in a Ziploc bag and freeze it until you’re ready to use it. Keep in mind that the zest does dry out quickly, so it’s best used when fresh.
“The oil from the zest adds great depth to syrups and infusions,” says Patrick Abalos, the managing partner at Night Shift in Houston. “We recently did an RTD (ready-to-drink) Martini with a lemon peel infusion. It worked great. The pith can be difficult to work with, but it adds some nice bitterness to shrubs or tinctures.” Abalos also created a blood orange foam using an oleo saccharum made from blood orange peels and egg whites in an iSi whipper—a high-tech method for eager bartenders.
Fanny Chu, the former head bartender at recently shuttered Brooklyn cocktail bar Donna, encourages saving citrus zest or peels as you go and making an ingredient with many at once to be efficient.
Pulp is a byproduct of juicing citrus with an electric juicer. (A manual hand-held juicer often doesn’t typically yield as much pulp.) Regardless of whether you’re using citrus at the bar or at home, this part of the citrus nearly always gets wasted, even though it’s incredibly easy to reuse to create other ingredients.
One of the easiest ways to repurpose your pulp is to create either a citrus salt or a cordial. While you can create either of those ingredients with the pulp alone, using some citrus peels as well will add depth of flavor through their aromatic qualities. “As with most pulps, you can throw them in a blender with sugar, lay it out flat and pop it in a dehydrator,” says Meredith. The result is a citrus powder that makes a perfect bittersweet rimmed garnish.
At the forward-thinking Lyaness, Meredith and his team take sustainability a step further. In partnership with Seedlip and Green Labs, Lyaness converts its citrus pulp and husks into coasters for the bar, a unique feat that demonstrates what’s possible with what we often deem as “waste.”
Another option is to use pulp to make a spirit infusion, especially with a neutral grain spirit (vodka, for example). Try making your own citron-flavored vodka with a mix of pulp and zest: It’s simple, and it captures the true flavor of the fruit.
If you failed to peel your citrus before juicing, don’t fret: The juiced citrus husk (the part that’s left over after juicing) can also be reused. Pioneering sustainability-minded bartenders—most notably, bartenders Kelsey Ramage and Iain Griffiths of the sustainability-focused bar pop-up Trash Tiki—have developed recipes where the entire husk (wax-free, washed and preferably organic) is used to create what is known as a citrus stock (a cordial of sorts) and what they call “stuice” (a blend of citrus stock and fresh juice).
If you’re looking to preserve your ingredients even longer, Abalo of Night Shift says that dehydrating the entire husk for later use is a great option. Toscano agrees. “Baking the entire juiced citrus husk until it's blackened and tossing it in a food processor until it's a fine powder creates a citrus ash that is so versatile,” she says. “It can be used in cocktail garnishes and in the kitchen. We've used this ingredient at Pouring Ribbons, mixing it with simple syrup and painting it along the side of a glass for garnish.”
Store the husks as you juice throughout the week, and make the ingredients all at once to ensure your team is using its time effectively. It’s not a perfect science, but every team will find the best workflow for their bar. Just remember, there’s more to your citrus than just the juice.