12 Simple Ideas to Use All the Citrus Peels

The average American eats 12.5 pounds of citrus each year. I searched for the average peel to fruit ratio but found nothing credible. I did have this juicy and delicious mineola on hand, however.

mineola before and after

Holy cow! The peel accounted for fifty-three grams—23 percent—of this orange. Let’s assume the average peel weighs even less. Even a 15 to 85 peel to fruit ratio translates to hundreds of millions of pounds of peels in the trash every year. When those peels break down in landfill, they release methane gas, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. (Compost those same peels and they actually sequester carbon.)

But now for the good news! These peels have many uses. One caution though, if you want to cook with them, I would choose organic. I find the idea of eating pesticide-sprayed peels extremely, well, unappealing (hardy har har…).

drying candied peels
Candied mandarin orange peels

1 Candy the peels

Remove as much pith as possible from the peels of 4 to 6 citrus fruits. Simmer in water for about 25 minutes. Drain. Boil 1/2 cup water and add 1/4 sugar to dissolve. Add peels, return to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Let dry on wire rack. Read the full post here on candying peels.

2 Freeze citrus zest

Before juicing a lemon or lime or eating an orange, quickly zest it and tuck that zest away in the freezer. When citrus is not longer in season, you’ll have zest on hand for baking cookies and cakes or sprinkling onto salads, fresh fruit, oatmeal and more.

3 Make citrus salt

Or don’t freeze all that zest and turn some of it into citrus salt. Rub together 1 part salt to 1 part lemon zest with your fingers. This will break up the clumps of zest. Store in a jar. Mix the zest with an equal amount of coarse sea salt and use your concoction for seasoning vegetables, pasta, rice, risotto, soup and more. Go here for more information.

finished vinegar
Homemade vinegar-orange cleaner

4 Clean your home

Citrus peels contain d-Limonene, a natural compound that breaks down oil and grease. In a sealed jar, submerge orange peels in white vinegar for at least two weeks. Strain and use your cleaner around your home, either full-strength or diluted with water. I tried this using my homemade scrap vinegar.

5 Clean your sink

Zest all the oranges and lemons for a simple, effective scouring powder. Save money, use up more food scraps and enjoy a truly natural scent. Go here for the recipe.

6 Repel garden pests

D-Limonene also kills ants and aphids. Place orange or lemon peels around plants affected by aphids or tear pieces of peels and hang them on stems near affected areas.

7 Toss on compost

Like other fruit and vegetable scraps, citrus peels add nitrogen to the compost pile. Cut them into small pieces to degrade faster. 

8 Make orange essential oil

Remove as much pith as possible, dry the peels, cut into small pieces and place in a jar. Pour vodka over peels just until covered and shake a few times a day for at least three days. Strain. Keep uncovered to allow alcohol to evaporate. You’ll be left with oil. Here’s a tutorial with more details.

9 Blend with tea

Mince orange peels into small bits. Spread out on a dish for 1 to 2 days until dry. Combine with looseleaf black tea and, if desired, spices such as fennel, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger or cloves. Here’s my post on making looseleaf chai with orange peels.

10 Add to roasted dishes

To impart a citrus flavor, toss a few large orange or lemon peels in with roasted vegetables or stuff peels into the cavity of a chicken.

11 Make marmalade

This delicious fruit preserve uses the entire fruit and can be made with a either a single type of citrus or with a combination. This Alton Brown marmalade recipe looks delicious.

12 Make limoncello (or lime-cello or even orange-cello)

Peel the skin with a vegetable peeler to avoid the pith, steep in vodka for several days or longer, strain out the peels and dilute the lemony vodka with a simple syrup. Go here for the recipe.

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29 Replies to “12 Simple Ideas to Use All the Citrus Peels”

  1. I made some of these last year thanks to you! Delicious!

    1. Great! Glad you liked them Karen 🙂

  2. this is BRILLIANT. i am definitely a food scrap saver and super inspired by this post – I haven’t tried most of the options in here.
    Thank you!

    1. Thank you for checking out the post 🙂

  3. Oh lord! How dry do you dry them???? Like dehydrater dry or just enough to make less sticky????

    1. They dry pretty quickly on your counter with using a dehydrator (maybe 3 days). It helps if you cut or tear into small pieces.

      1. Thanks for the tip. I don’t have a dehydrator but I do have a pilot light in my oven, which works the same way.

  4. Wow. Great ideas, Chef! I’m gonna try some.

  5. Are organic lemons ever waxed?

    1. Hmmm, that’s a good question Paul. Thanks for pointing this out. I get my lemons directly off a tree and I usually buy oranges at the farmer’s market. They might have wax on them at the grocery store. I found this info for removing the wax: http://www.nigella.com/kitchen-queries/view/Waxed-Lemons-and-other-Citrus-Fruits/2329

      1. Thanks

  6. This is awesome! However, how could you forget making flavored booze? 😉 We eat tons of tangerines, I’m going to try the essential oil!

    1. I forgot all sorts of things! Just look at all the ideas people left in the comments. Thanks for the booze tip. Do you just let the peels steep in there, like you do to make vanilla?

    2. Homemade Lemoncello. And similar can be made with orange, tangerine, etc.

  7. What’s the best way to store citrus zest in the freezer so it doesn’t get freezer burn?

    1. I just store mine in a small glass jar. I haven’t had trouble with freezer burn. I don’t leave it in there for months and months so that probably helps.

  8. addenda : dry them on radiators and they will turn into great firelighters ; feed them to goats.

    1. Thanks for these ideas. I am going to take my stash camping this summer 🙂 I wish I had goats to feed them to. Maybe one day!

  9. I saw a nice alternative-marmalade recipe: briefly ferment the shredded peels in honey…. Also I sometimes throw lemon peels into bone stocks (I like the bitter)….

    1. Oooh, thanks Annie. I love both of those ideas. I’m going to try them 🙂

  10. Lemon juice is great for removing soap scum on shower doors and i use the squeezed lemon halves as sponges. There’s always a tiny bit of juice left in them for cleaning.

    1. Great idea. Thanks for the tip!

    1. Thanks so much Catgirl 🙂

  11. I throw my rinds in when I cook black beans to give it some flavor. You are supposed to squeeze the oranges in and then throw the rind in but I am too cheap! I eat the orange first and the rind gives plenty of flavor to the beans.

    1. Ooooh, that sounds really good Christine. Have you tried it with lime peels? I bet that would be tasty too. I’m going to have to try this. Thanks for the tip.

  12. Hi can you recommend gd mason jars? The lids of mine rusted .

  13. Lyon Barbara says: Reply

    Great ideas. Thanks for sharing.

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