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The Citrusy Ingredient We’re Adding to Our Cocktails

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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:

Tom Collins

Tom Collins by Erik Lombardo

Whiskey Sour

Whiskey Sour by Erik Lombardo

Strawberry Margarita on the Rocks

Strawberry Margarita on the Rocks by Marshmallows&Margaritas


Gimlet by Erika Kotite

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!
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.

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.

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Makes scant 1/2 cup
  • 1 cup citrus peels, stripped with a vegetable peeler (I used a mix of orange and lemon)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
Go to Recipe

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

Tags: Cocktails, Citrus, Mixology