Whether it is oranges, limes, lemons, grapefruits, or others - citrus fruits are vital ingredients to countless cocktails. Their tart juices balance ingredients, their fragrant oils in their peels accentuate flavors, and dehydrated citrus fruit wheels make for an excellent garnish. But there are more ways to bring citrus fruits into cocktails. And one of the most elegant ones is Oleo Saccharum.
What is Oleo Saccharum?
The essential oils in citrus peels hold tons of flavor. Oleo Saccharum is a syrup that brings those citrus oils into cocktails by using sugar to extract them. In general, you can make it with any citrus fruit. But usually, lemon peels are used to make it.
The term Oleo Saccharum is Latin and translates to oil-sugar. And those two elements are all you need to create this intense and flavorful citrus syrup- except, of course, for the citrus component.
History - The base of a goof punch
If you're an avid home cook, you know that to make a delicious soup, you need a perfect stock as a base. And, traditionally, Oleo Saccharum used to be the "stock" for a punch cocktail. Acclaimed bartender Jerry Thomas mentioned using it in his book "The Bartender's Guide" from 1862:
"To make a punch of any sort in perfection, the ambrosial essence of the lemon must be extracted."Jerry Thomas
But Jerry Thomas didn't invent this procedure. Punch cocktails date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. And the first written mention of using Oleo Saccharum in punches is from 1670. The most significant difference to today's version is in the way of making it.
Back then, people used to rub a piece of sugar on the rind of lemons. Thus, the sugar broke the vessels in the peel that contain the essential oils, extracting them. The problem is that today's sugar is too soft to do that. No matter the product or brand you use, the sugar will crumble immediately and will only be lightly scented.
How to make Oleo Saccharum
The most important ingredients to make Oleo Saccharum are citrus peels and sugar. As we're using the rinds of the fruits, you should best choose organic and untreated products.
Lemons are the typical fruit to use in Oleo-Saccharum, but you can also add some orange or blood-orange peels to create a deeper, more complex citrus flavor in the resulting syrup.
Start by carefully washing and peeling your fruits. Make sure you only use the peel and not the white pith because it can add bitter notes to your syrup. Then put the fruit peels into a jar or bowl.
Now, you need to coat all the peels in sugar because the sugar will soak out the oils and bring those fragrant notes into the syrup. Try to maximize the contact of sugar and peel to get the most flavor out of your citrus ingredients.
The sugar and peel mix needs to sit overnight to extract as much essential oil as possible. And the next day, you will see some precious citrus oil floating around. That is pure Oleo Saccharum and packed with flavor. Strain it into a sterilized bottle and store it in the fridge.
To get the most out of the leftover sugar and oil mix, you can add two to three tablespoons of boiling water to it. Stir the whole mixture and strain the resulting liquid into a bottle.
How to use it
One option is to use your freshly made Oleo Saccharum instead of regular simple syrup. That will add an extra kick of citrus to your cocktails. But refrain from simply adding it to an existing recipe as Oleo Saccharum is a kind of syrup. Therefore, adding it to an already balanced drink can quickly make it too sweet.
And Oleo Saccharum also is fabulous in a punch cocktail, obviously, and great in an Old Fashioned, too. You only have to substitute the classic sugar and water (or simple syrup) with freshly made Oleo Saccharum.
Another great way of using it is in a French 75 cocktail. The lemon-forward Champagne cocktail will be even tarter and more citric when using this acidic syrup.
Naturally, you can also use it in non-alcoholic drinks like a fresh lemonade mixed with lemon juice and soda water.
- 1 ½ cups Lemon and blood orange peels
- ⅔ cups Caster sugar
- 2 tbsp Boiling water
- 1 tbsp Vodka (optional)
- Peel your lemons and blood oranges. Make sure to remove as much of the white pith as possible.
- Add all peels into a bowl and cover them with caster sugar. Gently mix peels and sugar to maximize contact between them.
- Let the mix sit overnight to extract as many oils as possible.
- The next day, strain the liquid from the bowl into a sterilized bottle.
- Add boiling water to the leftover peels and sugar mix. Rinse and strain again in the storage bottle.
- The fresh Oleo Saccharum will last up to two weeks in the fridge. If you want it to last longer, add a bit of Vodka to it, as the alcohol is preserving.