How to Use Up Citrus Peels

How to use up citrus peels for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

It's that time of year: citrus finds its way onto the table for every meal, my fingernails acquire a bright scent and orange tint from digging into satsumas, lemon juice stings small cuts on my hands. Citrus peels pile up in a bowl on the counter waiting to be used themselves as the slices get eaten. Winter is a good time for experimenting with using the peels after I've used the juicy centers. It's satisfying work to play with using as much of something as possible, especially in the kitchen, and citrus lends itself well to experimenting with cast-offs.

Here, a few uses I've tried, and some I haven't, for using up those peels before adding them to the compost:

-Tuck zest in the freezer. There are only so many ways to use lemon zest the day you make it, but if you have an abundance of lemons (or limes, or oranges), the zest will keep when frozen. Spread it in a thin layer on a baking sheet or small plate to freeze, then transfer to a jar or container to keep for a few months.

-Steep your own limoncello, et al. Limoncello is, at its heart, just vodka in which citrus peels have been left to sit, then removed and replaced with simple syrup. It's an easy thing to make and nice to be able to control the potency of both lemon and sugar. This recipe is a good place to start.

How to use up citrus peels for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

-Add dried orange and lemon to tea blends. A friend of mine made the above tea for me for a holiday present, based on this loose-leaf chai recipe. She cut orange peels into thin strips and dried them in her oven to add a blend of spices and rooibos. You could also dry strips of a different type of citrus, or dry citrus zest to add to any type of tea you fancy. I think a small pinch of lemon zest in a mint or floral tea would be lovely.

-Make citrus salt. I've never made a fancy salt, but I'm very into the idea. Adding citrus zest or long strips of peel to a jar of salt and letting it sit will infuse the salt with tangy brightness. Choose a fruit, find a recipe, and put it to the test.

How to use up citrus peels for a zero waste kitchen | Litterless

-Clean with citrus-scented vinegar. Find my original post on the subject, including instructions for making it, here. As a bonus, an in-progress jar like the one above looks sunny and festive in winter months (it looks like California in a jar to me!).

-Candy the peels. Whether as candied peels, chocolate-dipped orangettes, or marmalade, sugar cuts the bitter waxiness of the peel and makes eating it a pleasure.


-Peels from organic citrus pieces are like gold to me, and they're the ones I store up to use again. But whether you're using conventional or organic, be sure to give the fruit a very good scrub if you're planning to use the peels again, to remove dirt and get as much food-grade wax off as possible. This is easiest to do while the fruit is still whole.

-Most of these recipes work with any type of citrus you can think of: lemons, limes, grapefruits, cara cara oranges, blood oranges. As you experiment, take note of what you like and what you don't like. For example, I don't love the thought of adding grapefruit peels to tea, but there's nothing like a mouth-puckering grapefruit marmalade in the dead of winter. 

-Additionally, some types of citrus have thinner peels (think clementines versus navel oranges), and so will naturally yield different results when put to the test. Try and try again, I say, or find a recipe to follow when in doubt.

Other ideas? Which is your favorite type of citrus to put to which purpose? I'd love to hear.

Previously in Food Waste: A use for veggie scraps, and my favorite places to find inspiration.