Self-Isolation Oleo Saccharum

I bought a bottle of fancy grapefruit soda mix, and I’ve been trying to recreate it ever since. It’s never perfect, but I have the time to try.

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As a bartender I love Oleo Saccharum. The idea of getting all the essential oils from the peels, and hopefully some of that bitterness sounds incredibly appealing (pun not intended). The concept of oleo is maceration: soaking fruits or vegetables in a liquid to soften them.

Maceration is also an important technique in distillation, especially gin, but also with amaro, absinthe, and other botanical spirits or liqueurs. This method looks at soaking botanicals (organic materials like plants, flowers, spices) right in high-proof alcohol, to extract the essential oils and flavours. Cocktail bitters are also often made this way.

But with an oleo the liquid is replaced with sugar. Have you ever had strawberries tossed in sugar? The sugar pulls out the moisture from the berries, and over time the berries have softened, and the sugar converts into a flavourful syrup. Oleo saccharum is the citrus version of this.

Grapefruit Oleo – Attempt #1

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The remains of peeled citrus.

After researching a couple of recipes I settled on using the Liquor.com version. Loosely translated, I adapted this in the following ratios:

Peels of:

2 Grapefruits

2 Lemons

1 Cara Cara orange

0.75 cups of sugar

0.75 cups of grapefruit juice

Method:

  1. Make sure to thoroughly wash the citrus before peeling. Peel all of the fruit, place into a metal or glass bowl or jar.
  2. Measure out the sugar, pour into the bowl with the peels, and start working the sugar into the peels. I used a wooden muddler. This really helped bring out the oils of the peels.
  3. The ‘liquefaction’ process takes time. Let it sit at least four hours, preferably six.
  4. Drain out the sugar syrup from the peels, set them aside. Juice the peeled grapefruits and strain out the pulp. I used a fine strainer. Bar tools are the best.
  5. Combine the juice and syrup in a bowl, stir until the mixture becomes uniform.
  6. Transfer to a glass bottle, and store in the fridge.

Pros:

The flavour was fresh and bright. The final product didn’t take a lot of work, more of a ‘hurry up and wait’ situation. The process doesn’t take a lot of complicated appliances or steps. Perfect for grapefruit soda. Soda stream yes please.

Cons:

There are so many things I want to improve on. First, it didn’t have that sharp bitterness that I love in grapefruit. I love bitter things, and that is why I love grapefruit so much. It’s hard to quantify in exact measurements. I want this process to be easily replicated. There’s also a possibility of adding an herbal note to make the flavour more complex. I’m thinking either basil or rosemary. One more thing I need to mention, which ties in with my first issue, is what to do with the peels. I want to make more of an effort to practice zero waste. I’m hoping with the next batch to blend up a few of the leftover grapefruit peels and throw them into the syrup. This will add the bitterness that I’m looking for. I’ll try this again with more grapefruit peels blended in.

Blood Orange Oleo – Attempt #2

For this attempt I used the same recipe, but made a few adjustments. First off, I couldn’t get grapefruit in my grocery delivery. Instead I got a few blood oranges. Blood oranges are the best, because of the colour of the juice.

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My new recipe is as follows:

3 Blood oranges

2 Limes

1 Lemon

0.75 cups of sugar

0.75 cups of blood orange, lemon and lime juice

Method:

  1. Wash and peel all the fruit. Set the peeled fruit aside, I’ll juice those later.
  2. Combine the fruit and peels in a metal bowl. Muddle them together to help draw out the oils.
  3. Wait at least six hours for the sugar to transform.
  4. Juice the reserved peeled citrus, strain out the pulp, and measure out the required amount.
  5. This time I let everything (the peels, the juice, and the sugar) sit together in the fridge overnight. I wanted to get the bitterness from the peels.
  6. Taste the oleo, is it bitter enough? Do the peels need to sit in longer? Make a judgement based on your preference.
  7. Separate the peels from the syrup (grab it with a fork or something), and lay them out on a baking sheet. Parchment paper would be incredibly helpful here.
  8. Preheat the oven to 200C degrees.
  9. Let the peels dry out in the oven, mine took between 2-3 hours. I just kept checking on it every thirty minutes until I was happy with it.
  10. These finished peels, which I like to describe as Campari Candy, or Amaro Candy,  should be crunchy when they’re done. Let them cool.
  11. Store them in a glass jar.

Pros:

I was incredibly happier with this version. My practice with the previous Oleo helped me feel more comfortable with the process. There are other versions of oleo saccharum out there, but I liked the idea of using the juice as well. In this iteration the juice from the blood oranges gave the finished product a brilliant pink colour.

Dehydrating the peels in the oven was an experiment that I’m glad panned out. It’s a nice bitter-citrus, sour flavour. I think if you wanted them to be more candy-like you could coat them in granulated sugar. If you wanted them soft, less like a hard candy consistency, take them out of the oven sooner.

Cons:

I still haven’t used every part of the fruit. If I had a proper food dehydrator, I would cut up the remaining pithy parts of the fruit and completely dry it out. In my head I have a silly idea of using these parts of the fruit, throwing it into a food processor, and pulverising it into a powder. This could make an interesting bitter ingredient for all sorts of applications: rimmers, syrups, and infusions for cocktails. I’ll have to revisit this idea in the future.

Leaving the peels in the oleo overnight was partly due to laziness, but was actually quite effective. This process could be sped up by blending up the peels and oleo together. I didn’t want that to be a required method, especially if someone wanted to strain the oleo for consistency.

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