The Citrusy Ingredient We’re Adding to Our Cocktails

March  9, 2018

You know simple syrup. Or at least, you two have crossed paths. This 1:1 ratio of sugar to water—hot, so the sugar dissolves almost instantly—is as much a staple in cocktail bars as booze. Just a few examples:

Still, as much as bartenders adore it, there’s one thing that bugs me about simple syrup: It’s simply, well, sweet. Which is to say, all it offers is sweetness—no pucker, tang, or punch. When cocktail recipes have only a few ingredients (like when I make them at home), I want each one to do a lot of work. Take carrot juice: liquid bulk to stretch the alcohol; tamed, vegetal sweetness; gorgeous color.

Of course, you can customize simple syrup, make it lemony or limey or both. But what if there were a more to-the-point way to infuse flavor? And what if we wanted that flavor even more concentrated and vibrant? Meet simple syrup’s lesser known, big-personality cousin: oleo-saccharum.

Cocktail time! Photo by Julia Gartland

It sounds like a spell from Harry Potter, which we shall call bonus points, yes? Instead of combining the sugar with water, here you combine it with fresh citrus peels. Use a muddler or wooden spoon to mash the two into oblivion, then move on with your life. Maybe every so often you pass the mixture by and give it a smush here, smash there. Maybe not. A few hours later, the sugar will have lured out all the citrus oils, yielding a thick, practically neon syrup, like olive oil glowing in the dark. You can use oranges or grapefruits, lemons or limes, really any citrus that happens to be nearby. I like a mix.

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Put this in any citrusy-sweet cocktails, from whisky sours to palomas, adding bit by bit to taste since it’s so intense. In my kitchen, I’m putting it toward a lot more than that: lemony olive oil dressings that want a little oomph, even drizzled on Greek yogurt or ice cream.

Have you ever tried oleo-saccharum before? Tell us in the comments below!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Kris Fielding
    Kris Fielding
  • FrugalCat
  • Valhalla
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
Emma was the food editor at Food52. She created the award-winning column, Big Little Recipes, and turned it into a cookbook in 2021. These days, she's a senior editor at Bon Appétit, leading digital cooking coverage. Say hello on Instagram at @emmalaperruque.


Kris F. July 7, 2020
on my second batch of limoncello using oleo saccharum. After making it, i then infuse the vodka with the spent on peels for a bit.
FrugalCat February 18, 2019
The first time I heard about this stuff, I thought it was a margarine (my grandmother always called margarine oleo) and Sweet N Low ( saccharine) mixture.
Valhalla March 9, 2018
I save all of my organic citrus peels in the freezer. Is there a problem with making oleo-saccharum with frozen peels? I was worried about the water content upon thawing.
Emma L. March 9, 2018
Hi Valhalla, I haven't tried that myself, but the ice/water buildup from the freezer might pose a problem. Maybe give it a go with a smaller batch?
Valhalla March 9, 2018
I'll report back when I get around to it, thanks!