How to Make Oleo-Saccharum

Leave lemon peels to sit with sugar and watch as this beautiful, bright and sunny syrup forms. It’s great on everything from drinks to fruit salads and pancakes.

A jar full of bright yellow oleo-saccharum and the candied peels themselves.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

What is oleo-saccharum? First, let's dissect the word itself. Oleo: oil or fat. Saccharum: sugar. So literally, the word itself simply means oily sugar, or perhaps more appetizingly, sugared oil.

Oleo-saccharum is an ingredient in cocktails and punches that was relatively commonly used in 19th-century bartending as a way to provide an elegantly citrusy flavor and aroma to alcoholic beverages. (For more about the history and use, I recommend David Wondrich's book Punch.)

How do you make this elixir? It's simple, really.

First, zest a few lemons, leaving behind most of the white pith. I find that a vegetable peeler is the best tool for this job.

Using a peeler to remove the yellow peel from a lemon.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add sugar. White is easiest to use because it will dissolve quickly when you're ready to mix the oleo-saccharum into a punch or other beverage. Wondrich calls for two ounces sugar for each lemon's worth of peel. So if you peel four lemons, use eight ounces sugar. Honestly, though, I usually just eyeball this.

I like to use my hands at this point to gently toss the sugar into the peels. Then, using a mortar and pestle, muddler, or a heavy wooden spoon, pound the lemon peels and sugar until the peels begin to express their oils. Walk away from it for at least half an hour. An hour would be better. Overnight is best.

After enough time, you'll have a bunch of lemon peels in the bowl, but a nice amount of lemon oil also, pooled up in the bottom of the bowl.

Pouring sugar onto the lemon peels.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

You can drain the syrup and save it separately from the quick-candied peels, or leave them together.

What you do with it at this point is up to you. You can certainly use it in punch, and your loved ones will rightly deem you a hero and inspiration. Equally lovely, though, is to use it as a basis for lemonade. When my wife was pregnant, I'd serve her glasses full of this flavorful lemonade rich with lemon oils all summer long. It gave her something to enjoy while I crassly tossed back martinis, daiquiris, and other boozy treats.

Other alcohol-free uses include adding it as a sweetener for iced tea, as an ingredient in vinaigrette, or as an ice-cream topping. Oleo-saccharum is so versatile, in fact, that it deserves to occupy a much wider place in a home cook's arsenal of techniques and condiment shelf.

In a medium bowl or mortar and pestle, muddle lemon rinds with sugar until lemon oils begin to be expelled.

Muddling lemon peels with sugar in a mortar and pestle.
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Let stand, stirring occasionally, until a fragrant syrup forms, at least 1 hour and up to 1 day. Transfer oleo-saccharum to a container (either first straining peels out or leaving them in) and refrigerate until ready to use.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Oleo-saccharaum can be refrigerated in an airtight container up to 3 weeks.