How to Make Oleo Saccharum (Citrus Oil Syrup)

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Oleo saccharum is a fancy way to say ‘citrus oil sugar syrup’. This intensely flavored citrus syrup is not a new concept, having been used in many classic punch and vintage drink recipes.

white mixing bowl filled with lemon peels and sugar.

By using the natural citrus oils from the peels or lemons, oranges, limes, or grapefruits (or a combination thereof), you can produce a bold, rich syrup that has a strong citrus flavor and a unique mouthfeel. Oleo saccharum greatly improves many drinks that use citrus flavors, like rum punches or even basic lemonade. It also makes a fun alternative to simple syrup or gum syrup in a classic Old Fashioned.

The best part of making oleo saccharum is that it is forgiving. You really don’t need exact measurements of your citrus peels or your sugar. It can be helpful if you’re making a very specific drink like this Vintage Style Lemonade, but it’s not at all a requirement.

Two simple ingredients

Oleo saccharum is a very simple mix of citrus (often lemon) peels and white sugar. Toss the two ingredients in a bowl, gently muddle, cover, and let sit for an hour or longer. The sugar draws the oils from the lemon peels, creating a rich, glossy citrus syrup in the bottom of the bowl.

You can use any kind of citrus peels – lemon, lime, grapefruit, mandarin orange, etc. I like to use organic fruits when I make oleo saccharum since we’re using the peels, but you can certainly make it with conventional produce as well. Just be sure to gently wash the fruits and remove any wax.

The oleo method works on more than just lemon peels

The ‘oleo method,’ as I like to call it, can be used to make a surprisingly wide variety of syrups. The simple act of tossing pieces of a juicy fruit with sugar and allowing them to sit produces some of the absolute best-tasting, fresh fruit syrups.

sliced bananas in a bowl with sugar.
Oleo saccharum-style syrup made with bananas.

I’ve used this process to make fresh, uncooked syrups from berries, peaches, bananas, watermelon, and even cucumbers! As long as the produce is on the juicy side, it works beautifully. I’ve found that the oleo method doesn’t work very well on drier fruits like apples and pears, so those fruits are better candidates for cooked fruit syrups.

Ways to use oleo saccharum

Oleo saccharum can be used in all kinds of different drinks and cocktails. Try using orange peel oleo in place of simple syrup (or a sugar cube) in an Old Fashioned. Make lime oleo saccharum and use it in place of simple syrup in a Mojito or Daiquiri, or grapefruit peel oleo in a Paloma. Any drink that can benefit from bright citrus flavor will be improved by oleo saccharum.

Make a simple sour-style cocktail by combining 2 ounces of liquor with 1 ounce of lemon or lime juice and 3/4 to 1 ounce of oleo saccharum. This is great way to add even more citrus flavor to a Whiskey Sour or a Gimlet.

I don’t typically use pre-mixed drink ingredients like sour mix, but Liquor.com has an oleo saccharum sour mix that might make me change my mind. If you’re going to use a shortcut mixer, make it the best quality possible!

More reasons to make it

Beyond the fact that oleo saccharum is delicious and helps you make next-level drinks, it’s also a great way to add a little sustainability to your home bar. Make use of those citrus peels that would normally just end up in the trash. Any time you plan on juicing a lot of citrus, save the peels for making oleo saccharum. Mix lemon and lime peels, or blood orange and grapefruit – the flavor will be even better.

Don’t want to waste even a drop? Make your oleo in a zip-top bag instead of a mixing bowl. Once the bag is sealed, you can ensure that all of the sugar has been dissolved by rubbing it over the peels. When you’re ready to use your syrup, it’s really easy to pour from the bag into your storage jar.

How long does oleo saccharum last?

How long any syrup lasts will vary depending on how it was made and how it’s stored, but generally speaking, it should last at least one week. You can extend the life of your oleo by adding an ounce of vodka or grain alcohol to it, or by storing it in the freezer.

using a vegetable peeler to remove lemon peels over a mixing bowl.

What you’ll need to make this recipe:

  • Medium mixing bowl
  • Vegetable peeler
  • Muddler or wooden spoon
  • Lemons or citrus fruits
  • Sugar

In the recipe below, I’ve used 10 lemons and 3/4 cup sugar. This was based on my last batch, in which I used an equal measure of sugar to the weight of my lemon peels (about 5 ounces). I like to use equal measures so that I get somewhat predictable results, but the reality is that your oleo will be a little different each time due to the differences in the quantity of oils in the peels.

Sometimes you’ll yield a lot more syrup than other times. Also, some fruits naturally have more or less oils. Lime peels tend to be much less oily than valencia oranges, for example. So you can use my measurements below as a starting point, but feel free to just eyeball it. Roughly equal parts peels and sugar will still result in a delicious syrup every time!

You may also enjoy these other cocktail syrup recipes:

lemon peels and sugar in a mixing bowl.
two glasses of lemonade with lemon slices and a pitcher.
Lemonade made with oleo saccharum.
lemon peels and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Oleo Saccharum (Citrus Oil Sugar Syrup)

Amy Traynor
This classic syrup is made by extracting the oils from citrus peels with sugar. Use oleo saccharum to add intense citrus flavor to drinks like punches, lemonade, cocktails, and mocktails.
Prep Time 5 mins
Extraction Time 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 5 mins
Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Servings 1 cup (varies)

Ingredients
  

  • 10-12 organic lemons
  • ¾ cup sugar

Instructions
 

  • Peel the lemons with a vegetable peeler or a sharp paring knife, reserving the peels. Save the fruits for juicing (and make oleo lemonade!)
  • Toss the peels with the sugar in a medium sized mixing bowl.
  • Cover and let the mix sit for a couple of hours (at least one hour). Stir the mixture occasionally to help the sugar dissolve.
  • Once nearly all of the sugar has dissolved and there's a pool of liquid in the bottom of the bowl, remove the peels and reserve the liquid.

Notes

Exact measurements don’t matter for creating oleo saccharum. Simply combine roughly equal parts (by weight is best, if possible) lemon peels and sugar. Add more sugar if not all the peels are fully coated.
Keyword citrus, lemonade, oleo saccharum, sugar


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