Maximizing Citrus, Part 1: Oleo Saccharums & Cordials
Updated: Aug 31, 2021
I initially started this blog as a resource for a demographic of people who literally cannot work due to a global pandemic. Over the last few months, bars and restaurants have had to adapt to a carry-out model (where laws allow it). Batched, bottled, and diluted cocktails or kits for building your own at home have become the only source of revenue for many establishments. It's a model that won't go away any time soon. The COVID-19 pandemic also seems to have turned every semi-quarantined person into a baker and bartender.
But as supply chains are interrupted, one crucial component to both the enthusiast and the professional home bartenders has become more expensive: citrus.
So with nothing but time on my hands, I got to thinking about shelf-stable citrus alternatives. I'm quite familiar with Trash Tiki's acid-adjusted citrus stocks as well as Dave Arnold's and White Lyan's fake lime juice recipes but still felt there was room for improvement.
By combining the methods of Trash Tiki's citrus stock and White Lyan's multi-acid approximation, and tinkering liberally, I've developed phenomenal artificial lemon and lime juice recipes. This two-part post will ultimately walk you through the process. While a piece of citrus typically yields 1 oz of juice, this recipe will increase your juice yield per fruit to 8 oz.
Waste less: drink more
Before we dig into methodology and recipes, there are a few essential concepts that will help you get the most out of your citrus.
As most of us do not live in regions where citrus is natively grown, we must instead rely on a chain of exploitive farming and labor practices along with trans/intercontinental shipping. Bars like Becketts Kopf in Berlin and Native in Singapore adhere to strict principles of locality, eschewing the use of non-local, native produce (and sprits) entirely. While this works seamlessly at Native with its sub-tropical location, it means Becketts Kopf doesn't use limes in their cocktails.
(As an aside, Native doesn't typically use citrus, not because of locality, but because of composting hurdles.)
Craft cocktails are a luxury commodity, and luxury often yields waste. Oleo saccharums and citrus cordials help minimize waste and maximize the potential of each piece of fruit.
Citrus husks, which would usually be sliced in half, juiced, and tossed in the garbage, should always be peeled first to salvage that precious essential oil via oleo saccharum. Unused, oxidized juice from a previous shift that you would typically trash can now be combined with an oleo saccharum to create a cordial. Once the cordial is ready, the strained peels can be candied and made into a delicious snack, or they can be reunited with their peeled, juiced husks and boiled into a citrus stock.
What I'm getting at is this: consider the true cost of your citrus and make the most of it. There's more to citrus than just its juice – you'll soon find the little bit of oil in citrus peels to be more precious than the juice itself. Let's chat about oleo saccharum.
Oleo saccharum is a mixture of sugar and oil (usually citrus oil). A classic ingredient in punches and cocktails, we make it by steeping or muddling citrus peels in sugar, which extracts the essential oils in the peels. Citrus oil, rather than the juice, is where all of the fruit's flavor is concentrated.
My time at Dusek's Board and Beer in Chicago involved the occasional prep shift, which serviced the main bar, the piano bar Tack Room, and the underground den Punch House. Punch House's entire program focused on batched, kegged punches on draft: the majority of our bar prep was spent creating of gallons of oleo saccharums and cordials. Punch House used the oleo saccharums to provide shelf-stable acidity to their draft punches without using fresh juice (which oxidizes and changes flavor over time).
I've seen the term cordial used interchangeably with liqueur, syrup, spirit, and sherbet over with years. While there doesn't seem to be a global, standardized definition, the one I've landed on seems to be the most widely accepted.
A cordial is a syrup (sugar and water) where the liquid component is juice rather than water. The most classic example is lime cordial: a combination of lime juice and sugar. You may add alcohol to cordials, but you would primarily do this to stabilize the syrup and extend its shelf life, not to fortify its ABV into the double digits. At that point, you've stepped into liqueur territory.
Just about any fruit or vegetable with juice can be made into a cordial, but the focus of this post will remain citrus-based.
Building a cordial
At Pouring Ribbons, I learned to use oleo saccharums as the base for cordials. By starting with an oleo saccharum, you extract both maximum flavor and acid, which makes for a balanced, acid-adjusted cordial, giving an edge to the straightforward sugar and lime juice combination.
Pouring Ribbon's lime cordial was the best I'd ever tasted. The grapefruit & lime cordial made for the most incredible Gimlets and Hemingway Daiquiris, and the orange cordial was “acid-adjusted” – not with powdered citric acid, but with lemon oil and juice. This acid-adjusted cordial made for drinkable versions of more challenging classics like the Bronx and the Blood and Sand.
Before we can make our cordial, we need to start by prepping an oleo saccharum. There are tons of recipes and methods out there – most of them are great and serve several purposes. I prefer the technique popularized by Jeffrey Morgenthaler, wherein peeled citrus swaths are combined with sugar in a sealed bag and left to sit for hours until extracted.
Before we get started
Considering the purpose of this is to extract EVERYTHING from the citrus peels, wash your fruit thoroughly before you start peeling.
I recommend reusable silicon or PEVA gallon-sized bags for the preparation. They're sturdy, easy to clean, and most importantly, you can monitor the progress of your oleo saccharum and massage the peels to speed up the extraction. Anything sealable should work, including mason jars and deli containers.
I suggest peeling the fruit rather than grating the peel. Larger peels take longer to extract fully, but if you have the time, I recommend going this route.
Some prefer using a grater to avoid incorporating bitter pith into the mix (and because you can actually make a potent oleo saccharum in about 30 minutes with this method). However, I find that grating citrus releases far more oils into the air, which could instead be going into the oleo saccharum, ultimately producing a smaller yield. Additionally, tiny bits of grated peel will become more difficult to strain out, and solids in syrups shorten their shelf-life. Plus, using a peeler usually means you'll get a little bit of pith, which I think makes for a more balanced end product with some bite.
I've found it doesn't matter whether you use fresh-squeezed juice or older, oxidized juice; the cordial process will stop the juice from spoiling, but it won't prevent it from oxidizing. I actually prefer to use day-old oxidized juice because I know the flavor of the cordial won't change from that point on.
Once you have the process down, you can refer to the standard cordial recipes I've posted below. Then, begin to explore some of the compound cordials I provided as examples. A Gimlet with a proper lime cordial is a real treat. I've also found that using citrus oleo saccharums as the sugar component in fruit cordials can provide nice, subtle acidity. For example, in The Birdcage and Concrete Junglebird, both stirred Junglebird riffs, I rely on a pineapple and lime cordial, which provides a small amount of concentrated lime flavor with just enough acidity to balance the pineapple and sugar.
Citrus Cordial Template
With this template, you can create just about any combination of oleo saccharum and cordial.
Wash your citrus. Carefully peel each fruit, stripping it of its entire peel.
Juice the citrus, weigh it, and refrigerate it in a sealed container.
Place the peels in a resealable freezer bag with an amount of sugar equal to the juice to create an oleo saccharum.
Seal the bag, pushing as much air from it as you can. Then, allow it to sit at room temperature for 6-12 hours, massaging the sugar into the peels every couple of hours.
Add the juice to the oleo saccharum and mix until all the sugar is fully dissolved.
Strain the peels and refrigerate the cordial. Will last at least a month.
Standard cordial recipes
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 6-8 limes for 12 hours. Add 250g lime juice. When all sugar is dissolved, strain peels. [Yields 16oz cordial]
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 4-6 lemons for 12 hours. Add 250g lemon juice. When all sugar is dissolved, strain peels. [Yields 16oz cordial]
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 1-2 grapefruits for 12 hours. Add 250g grapefruit juice. When all sugar is dissolved, strain peels. [Yields 16oz cordial]
Orange/Lemon Cordial (naturally acid-adjusted)
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 1 orange and 3-4 lemons for 12 hours. Add 225g orange juice and 25g lemon juice. When all sugar is dissolved, strain peels. [Yields 16oz cordial]
Combine 250g white sugar with the peels of 6-8 limes for 12 hours. Add 25g lime juice and 225g pineapple juice. When all sugar is dissolved, strain peels. [Yields 16oz cordial]
The above recipes are just a few examples of the cordials you can make at home. Have fun experimenting with different types of citrus, varying ratios of peels and juices, and all sorts of combinations – Amanda Elder is a bit of a legend around Pouring Ribbons for her Meyer lemon and scallion oleo saccharum finished with fino sherry.
The second part of this post builds on oleo saccharums to create artificial citrus – go enjoy a few Gimlets and then check it out! And when you're done, check out the third part of this series for yuzu, meyer lemon, and more!