Zero-Waste Chef

10 Ideas to Rescue 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.

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…).

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

You can also dry citrus zest for making seasoning salt. Before eating or using your citrus, zest it and set the zest out on a dish to dry overnight. Mix the dried zest with an equal amount of coarse sea salt and use your concoction for seasoning vegetables, pasta, rice, risotto, soup and more.

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 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.

6 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. 

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.

10 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 (I love Alton…).