What To Do With Citrus Peel

As I mentioned last week, I’ve been building up quite a supply of grapefruit peels of late. Though I will buy lemons and limes throughout the year, for use in jams & preserves, savory dishes and cocktails, I wait for citrus season to roll around each winter to buy citrus for eating and preserving: grapefruits, oranges, exotic varieties. Typically, if I am using a lemon or a lime in a recipe, I’ll use both the zest and flesh or juice; if not, I am in the habit of stripping the zest from the fruit and freezing it for another use. But during citrus season, I build up a lot of citrus peels. And while I love recipes that use the entire fruit (check out this nice roundup, along with a recipe for homemade lemon marshmallows, from Autumn Makes & Does), I eat plenty of fruit out of hand, and there are recipes that just don’t need the bitterness of the white pith. But I can’t bring myself to actually throw the peels away: hence the big bowl of citrus peels, growing ever larger in my fridge.

Once I started thinking about what I could do with all of those citrus peels, and spent a little time researching the topic on the Web, I started feeling guilty that I’ve ever thrown out a peel. There is so much you can do with them! Literally dozens of uses, ranging from food and booze to household cleanser and bug repellant. Peruse the links below for lots of great ideas from around the Web: I may never throw out a citrus peel again!

Of note: I say it all the time, but it bears repeating: if you will be using citrus peel for any edible applications, and especially if you will be extracting the flavor with alcohol, it is best to source organic, sustainably grown, or foraged/wild fruit if you possibly can. In general, the peel of most conventionally-farmed fruits contains the largest concentration of pesticides, fungicides or other chemicals used in treating the fruit. Since citrus peels are not typically eaten in the US, data on pesticide load tends to concentrates on the flesh of the fruit, and is likely an unreliable indicator of pesticide load present in the peel.

What about you: have a great use for citrus peels? If so, I’d love to hear it: please share with us in comments.

SAVORY & SWEET

Obviously, citrus zest can be used in many recipes, sweet & savory, be it baked goods, stir-fry or stew. But for those recipes where you need the flesh or juice, but not the zest, there are options. I generally strip the zest from lemons or limes, using my handy-dandy Microplane zester, and freeze in small Tupperware or in ice cube trays. Orange zest, however, I find does not keep its flavor on freezing: it will last for a few days in the fridge, but after that loses a lot of its oomph. But I love the ideas for zest and peel below: salt and sugar, butter and oil. Oh, my!

BOOZE

Most liquor infusions call for zest, or only the outside of the citrus peel, leaving behind the bitter white pith. I sometimes find I like the flavor & bite of a bit of bitter pith, plus, I am lazy, so I often just toss the whole peel into whatever I am infusing: vodka, vinegar, white wine. Go with your preference, or try an experiment: infuse two small batches of booze with lemon peel, pith on and pith off. See which you prefer. Also, the recipes you find online almost always call for vodka for infusions, Everclear or grain alcohol for making a liqueur. However, any alcohol can be infused (you should stick with 80-proof and above for liqueurs): how about lime-infused spiced rum? Mixed-citrus silver tequila? Orange-spiked brandy? Once you get the basic, simple concept, you’re limited only by imagination.

JAMS & PRESERVES

I made citrus pectin recently, using the peels from 2 or 3 grapefruits. Based on Julia’s recipe, but slightly modified: I simply tossed my peels, unchopped, in a medium saucepan, covered them with filtered water, and brought to a boil. I let it simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes, then removed from the heat and let it sit, covered, overnight. The next day I strained out the peel and froze the pectin in 1-cup portions. It’s fairly bitter in taste, and would not do for all types of preserves, but for anything that needs a bit of a flavor edge, not to mention a pectin boost, this is perfect.

HOUSEHOLD & BEAUTY

Growing up in a drafty, 100+ year-old farmhouse in New England, the wood stove was the heart of the house come wintertime. My Mom always kept a cast iron kettle on top of the stove, full of water, orange peels, and a few whole cloves. The water added much-needed humidity to the winter air, while the orange peel and clove kept the air smelling fresh, clean, a bit spicy. Simple and effective, like many of the tips below.

  • Dry citrus peels, then crumble for use in a sachet or potpourri
  • Orange peels as kindling/fire starter from Apartment Therapy
  • Homemade orange oil extract for cleaning from Two at the Farm
  • Add homemade orange oil/extract to perfume homemade hand cream
  • Add citrus zest to homemade body scrub: see avocado & citrus sea salt scrub (use finely grated citrus zest in place of essential oils), or Meyer lemon sea salt scrub from Hitchhiking to Heaven
  • Spread orange peels throughout the garden or household plants to keep cats away; I’ve seen the same tip as a mixture of ground orange peel and coffee
  • Freeze citrus peels throughout the season, then grind and use to dress vegetable beds to keep squash bugs (and other critters!) away (via Maggie’s Farm)
  • Ground orange peel, lemon peel and lemon juice are all effective ant deterrents
  • Toss orange peels down the garbage disposal, or keep a few at the bottom of your trash barrel, to freshen
  • Microwave lemon peels, in a small bowl of water, in high for 1 minute, to deodorize the microwave
  • Add citrus peels to a dishwasher run to deodorize the dishwasher (I’m going to try wedging some into the silverware tray under a small Weck jar)
  • Grapefruit scouring scrub from Crunchy Betty
  • Design your own biodegradable kitchenware (!), via David Lebovitz

49 comments

  1. Here’s two I just remembered: I freeze all my peels, and sometimes they are not sliced but a half of the fruit. I use those, straight from the freezer and use either for a brine for meats, or stuffed in the cavity of a chicken (or turkey) that I intend to roast.

    Great work, Kaela!

  2. Great post! I candy citrus peel. Last year I did orange, lemon and tangerine peels. Didn’t like the tangerine peel as much as the others, so this year I’m doing orange, lemon and a few grapefruit. I store them in a jar of sugar at the back of the fridge and put them in baked goods throughout the year: raspberry-orange muffins, French toast, bread pudding. I’ve also been known to eat them straight out of the jar when I want a quick sweet. I posted how to candy them back in the fall at http:thekalechronicles.com/…/my-first-orange-plus-candied-citrus-peel/

  3. Ellie

    I throw mine in a glass canning jar and cover with vinegar. Wait 6 weeks & dump into a spray bottle for a citrusy household cleaner.

  4. If I am not using the zest and am just using the juice, I zest them before juicing and dry the zest. I just id a Meyer lemon-cranberry jelly and zested the ones I used for juice. I have a lovely stash of dried grapefruit zest and now Meyer lemon zest for using in jams come summer. I want to try my hand at limoncello now.

  5. What an awesome idea. This is right up my street. I love finding things to do with ingredients which would otherwise go to waste. I shall have to give this a go when I get enough free time!

  6. Awesome post! I love all these ideas, and I definitely needed some new ideas. I usually just take a veggie peeler to peel off the very outer skin, lay it on the counter to dry for a day or two and then grind it up and use it in place of fresh zest.

  7. I made candied orange peels using whole cinnamon and cloves to spice up the raw sugar syrup… delicious and fab dipped in chocolate ;o) Here’s the link: http://just-making-noise.blogspot.com/2011/12/candied-orange-spice-peels.html

    I am saving this post because we have TONS of oranges, grapefruits and lemons coming off our trees. Gotta do something with them!! Thanks for sharing all these links and hope I see you around my blog. I am going to keep an eye on your blog ;o)

  8. Roxanne Hill

    My grandmother use to make candy with them . Like use orange peel and it makes like jelly type orange candy. I have made them several times and love them.

  9. Good to know I am not alone in keeping random jars of dried peel in the cupboard. We grill alot of meat in the summer and every marinade normally gets a couple strips of peel.

    I’m hoping to get some sour cherries this year to use with limes. I’ve been working on finding a good source for organic fruit without breaking the bank.

  10. Great ideas! I find myself inundated with citrus peels as of late since I joined a fruit of the month club from a small texas orchard. I’ve been drying most of them to add to tea, but I definitely need to find some other options as I really don’t foresee ever using the peel from 100 grapefruits in tea.

    Love the idea of infused olive oil – MMMMM. Thanks for the recipes!

    • Oooh, I’d forgotten about tea; you know I actually made a lemon-lavender-mint tea mix for a friend last year and forgot all about it. I’ll have to add that to the list.

      Also, on the FB page someone mentioned that they freeze orange peels, then grind them up to dress the vegetable beds in the garden to prevent squash bugs. I’m thinking it could be a good slug repelllant to (citric acid – ouch!).

  11. I helped out with another, larger supper club on NYE and we did a ton with lemons and limes. The whole time I was squeezing citrus, my head was telling me “Save these. Save these!” I ended up being too busy to do so but this made me greatly regret it… Really fab round up.

  12. Citrus salt from 101 Cookbooks is on my “to do” list sometime in the near future, although there are many more ideas in this roundup that hadn’t crossed my mind.

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  14. Fantastic fantastic fantastic post! I have been on a citrus binge the past month. I am kicking my self for tossing any peels! I have candied lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit peels before. i love to use them as a garnish or to just snack on! But other than that I toss them especially if I don’t need the zest.

  15. Jo-Anne

    This time of year I am the recipient of 36# of Honeybell Oranges. This year I’ve been using the microplane to obtain the zest before I peel it. I use my toaster oven dehumidifier option and dry them. I store them in a zip lock baggie to use during the year. Other years I’ve made jam with the peels and the fruit of the oranges.

    As far as grapefruit, I’ve just been adding it to the compost pile. I’ll rethink that too. Thanks for your post.

  16. Add me to the group that loves candied orange peel – dip an end into melted chocolate and it’s even better!

    I can always find a use for orange peels – making scented (somewhat) vinegar for fabric softener substitute, dried and mixed with whole cloves and spices for potpourri, cleaning, etc, etc. I love that stuff!

    Oh, and thanks for adding my link to your blog. Looks like I’ll be looking around here for quite a while this morning.

  17. Love this post. I make my own pectin when doing my marmalade all the time .I learned how when I took a class in Oakland from June Taylor. thank you for all the link’s . I noticed Julia linked to the same information I did. Small linky world we preservers are in. Being in California I am always doing marmalade but I have yet to venture out to my creative side. Next red grapefruits. Maybe this year! xoxo

  18. Saca

    Try salting citrus peel to use in salads or just to eat.
    I use a 46 oz pickle jar.
    .
    Add 5 table spoons of salt to full jar of water
    Cut peel in 2″ or less lengths (Use thick skinned orange or lemon peel. No grapefruit)
    Add peel
    Use a weight or a wad of foil to make sure all the peel is submerged.
    Let sit for at least 2 weeks from the time the last peels were added.
    When ready take peel as needed and wash thoroughly
    Add to salad (tastes best with vinegar dressings)
    or just add dressing to peels and enjoy.

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  23. EL

    Hi Kaela:

    A belated comment– I just have to do things backwards. I’ll take an orange in to work, gradually zest parts of it off using a knife, and add it to coffee. The orange should be kept in a fridge. As I remove zest, the rest of the peel dries and the orange hardens. Not to worry though, cut it in half (you have to be careful with this as it can be difficult to get through the dried rind) and you will find that the meat is still great. I can then use it for the typical things that I use citrus for (from simply eating to juicing and using in recipes.

    I love orange zest in coffee. It seems to sweeten it (so I don’t need sugar or can use less) and also it is a great way of preserving the peel. In fact it gets more potent as it dries a bit.

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  25. Ginger

    You said cats dislike orange peel but I read an article of poisonous things for cats and this was one so was not sure about putting it out in the garden or house plants. Then another article said to rub orange peel on the cat to prevent fleas. Not sure if that would be a good now or not. What if anything do you know about this. I love your site btw. It is very, very interesting!!!

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  27. kristel

    fried rinds and garlic: stated doing this to flavor oil to sauté fresh vegetables…: So Good
    oil: (I use many kinds…those that stand a higher heat work best for me)
    medium heat, add oil, chopped garlic and grated citrus rinds
    cook until brown and crunchy…has a great texture
    remove rind and garlic (save this topping), cook vegetables until done, but still crisp
    remove from heat
    sprinkle with crunchy topping and enjoy. (I usually do this per serving/plate)

    this topping is good on salads, meats, vegetables

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