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  • Writer's pictureJohn B. Reyna

We need maximum oleo-saccharum!!!

Citrus peels are incredibly flavorful. In the cocktail realm, bartenders rub the side of glasses with a citrus peel and squeeze a citrus peel to extract the oils and enhance the beverage. Both practices are good home-bartending skills to add to your repertoire. But this post is about another technique that results in a citrus flavored syrup named oleo-saccharum.

While the name oleo-saccharum might seem like a daunting technique that is best left for the most talented bartenders, it's fairly easy to make. But what does oleo-saccharum mean?

It roughly translates to oil-sugar. Oleo meaning oil, and saccharum meaning sugar. See mom and dad, two years of Latin in high school paid off!!!

If you’d rather watch Shen and I present the following information instead of reading, then please check out the videos below and subscribe to our YouTube channel, Teakwood Tavern. Both videos include the same background material regarding oleo-saccharum, but one video focuses on how to make and use lemon oleo-saccharum, and the other focuses on grapefruit oleo-saccharum. We recommend watching both!!!

Lemon oleo-saccharum video. Drink: Philadelphia Fish-House Punch.

Grapefruit oleo-saccharum video. Drink: Paloma, Teakwood Tavern style!

Classic ingredient for a legendary beveragePunch

Historically, oleo-saccharum was a necessary ingredient of Punch. Author and drinks historian, Dave Wondrich has traced oleo-saccharum back to at least 1707. In The Bon Vivant's Companion, first published in 1862, Jerry Thomas wrote, "to make punch of any sort in perfection, the ambrosial essence of the lemon must be extracted, by rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind.”

In Wondrich's definitive book Punch, he states that, "the lemon oil adds a fragrance and a depth that marks the difference between a good Punch and a great one . . . ." Wondrich writes about the four pillars of Punch, with oleo-saccharum being Pillar 1. When you add juice (or vinegar) to oleo-saccharum, you get a shrub, which happens to be Pillar 2 for Punch making. If you've been following us, you know we love a good shrub.

While this post is not about Punch, it would be remiss of me if I did not share a Punch recipe. Not quite yet, however. First, comes the process of making oleo-saccharum.

Goal: minimum white pith

The original way to make oleo-saccharum

Going back to Jerry Thomas' The Bon Vivant's Companion, his method for preparing the oleo-saccharum is "by rubbing lumps of sugar on the rind, which breaks the delicate little vessels that contain the essence, and at the same time absorbs it." According to Wondrich, modern sugar is not abrasive enough to break down the citrus skins. He "tried it with every kind of modern sugarloaf, cube and crystal [he] could procure and only ended up with a mass of crumbled, faintly scented sugar and a lemon undimmed in its yellowness." Since he's gone through the painstaking research, I'll take his word for it and move to a more modern technique.

The standardbut pain in the assway to make oleo-saccharum

I'm not going to waste a lot of time on this because it's not our preferred method. But there are a lot of recipes online recommending this method so it's important to be familiar with it.

Basically, you peel the citrus—avoiding the bitter white pith as much as possible—and muddle with sugar. Let that sit on the counter (covered) for an hour or so. The sugar will draw out the citrus oil, and and you'll have oleo-saccharum.

Wondrich himself claims that "[t]his process is admittedly time-consuming and to some degree a laborious one." But what is one to do if we can't follow the traditional method and this standard method still sucks?

Enter Jeffrey Morganthaler!

Vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum

Ready to use grapefruit oleo-saccharum

Before diving into this method, I want to share my upmost adoration for Jeffrey Morganthaler. From 2009-2021, Mr. Morganthaler was the Bar Manager at Clyde Common in Portland, Oregon, which was consistently one of the best cocktails bars in the US. Shen and I had the privilege of enjoying libations at Clyde Common before its unfortunate demise in March of 2021. Morganthaler's bar program was special.

Beyond making incredible beverages, he is also a published author, educator, and advocate. He generously shares his knowledge with the next generation of bartenders. Hell, I even use his beverage cost formulas when teaching beverage management at UNT Dallas. And he provided those FOR FREE on his website! Further, he advocates for a better beverage industry.

Jeff, you probably won't ever read this, but if we cross paths, there are some free beverages coming your way.

Ok . . . why did I just go on a rant about Jeffrey Morganthaler?

Easy. The following vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum recipe is based on his recipe. And I'm not going to take credit for something that was someone else's idea.

According to Morganthaler, he wanted a method for preparing oleo-saccharum "that didn’t require any stirring or tending, a method that could be prepared ahead of time without fear of spoilage or evaporation, so that a delicious punch could be prepared quickly by anyone with a recipe." He indeed found that method.

Below, we've tweaked Morganthaler's lemon oleo-saccharum recipe to provide precise weights, but you don't have to be this exact. Oleo-saccharum is very forgiving. For example, Wondrich recommends two ounces of sugar per lemon. While that's not our preferred amounts, as reflected below, it's a great guidepost if you don't have a food scale.

Lemon oleo-saccharum (makes approx. 1.5 oz)

55 grams of superfine sugar (just under approx. 1/4 cup)

65 grams of lemon peels (approximately 6 small lemons)

  1. Place the sugar and lemon peels in a vacuum seal bag and seal according to manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can use a zipper style bag (e.g., Ziplock) and use the water displacement method.

  2. Once sealed, set the bag on the kitchen counter and walk away for 4 to 8 hours.

  3. After that, place in the refrigerator and use within a week.

  4. To use, strain the oleo-saccharum off the peels. Give the peels a good squeeze to release any remaining oils.

Grapefruit oleo-saccharum (makes approx. 1.5 oz)

68 grams of superfine sugar (just under approx. 1/3 cup)

80 grams of grapefruit peels (approximately 2 large grapefruits)

  1. Place the sugar and grapefruit peels in a vacuum seal bag and seal according to manufacturer's instructions. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, you can use a Ziplock style bag and use the water displacement method.

  2. Once sealed, set the bag on the kitchen counter and walk away for 4 to 8 hours.

  3. After that, place in the refrigerator and use within a week.

  4. To use, strain the oleo-saccharum off the peels. Give the peels a good squeeze to release any remaining oils.

You likely noticed that these two recipes result in a tiny amount of oleo-saccharum. While true, our decision to make a small batches of oleo-saccharum was based on what we needed for the drinks below. Oleo-saccharum is super concentrated so a little goes a long way. And both oleo-saccharum recipes can be scaled up if you desire more.

Now that we have the oleo-saccharum process down, let's make some cocktails!

We begin with one of our favorite Punches from Wondrich's book, the Philadelphia Fish-House Punch. We've revised the recipe to include the vacuum sealed oleo-saccharum and to make quite a bit less. The original recipe makes 25 cups, which is perfect when entertaining a large group.

Philadelphia Fish-House Punch (makes 28.5 ounces)

1.5 oz lemon oleo-saccharum (see recipe above)

2.5 oz aged rum

1.5 oz white rum

2 oz Cognac

0.5 oz peach liquor

1.5 oz Laird’s applejack (or other apple brandy)

16 oz water

3 oz fresh lemon juice (use the previously peeled lemons from the oleo-saccharum)

Combine all ingredients into a punch bowl with a giant block of ice.

Ladle into small punch cups. If you don't have a punch bowl,

you can mix everything into a large mason jar or other glass container.

Store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

If you joined Teakwood Tavern for our guest appearances with the National Liberty Museum's Cocktails with a Cause series, then you might remember the Philadelphia Fish-House Punch. It's definitely a favorite of ours. Very smooth and incredibly flavorful. And not too boozy with all that water. Perfect as a welcome beverage when entertaining guests.

Next up, a classic tequila cocktail with a Teakwood Tavern twist—the introduction of grapefruit oleo-saccharum.


2 oz blanco or reposado tequila

1.5 oz fresh grapefruit juice

0.75 oz fresh lime juice

0.5 oz grapefruit oleo saccharum (see recipe above)

2 oz Topo Chico

Salt (or Tajin) half the rim of a Collins glass, then add the Topo Chico and set aside.

Combine all the remaining ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Fill with ice. Shake 12 times.

Strain into the Collins glass. Add ice to fill. Garnish with a dehydrated lime wheel.

Generally, you won't find oleo-saccharum in a Paloma. Rather, a citrus soda, like Squirt, or simple syrup provides the sweetness. We find the grapefruit oleo-saccharum to be a game changer for this drink. It provides the right amount of sweetness plus the freshness of the grapefruit peel. Delicioso!

Last Call

While oleo-saccharum is mandatory in Punches and useful in cocktails like the Paloma, there's another reason to master this technique: zero-proof beverages. Oleo-saccharum brings a citrus bomb wherever you were already planning to use sugar, which comes in handy when making non-alcoholic beverages. Seriously, try it the next time you make lemonade!

Ready to use lemon oleo-saccharum

Also, oleo-saccharum is a perfect way to use up citrus that is on its last leg. Instead of throwing away old citrus, make oleo-saccharum.

And a few last tips:

  • We prefer to make it a day ahead so we can extract as much oil as possible.

  • Select citrus with thick skins. You will likely have less of a chance to peel the white pith because of the thickness. If you only find small, think skinned citrus, then you might be stuck using a paring knife to remove as much of the white pith as possible after peeling the citrus. It's not a fun task.

If you make oleo-saccharum, and we hope you do, please let us know how it came out!

Sending the ambrosial essence of love,


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