Your lemonade and limeade could be made so much better simply by keeping a perfectly good item out of the trash can.
The don’t-waste-food-movement has gained steam and I, for one, am grateful for it. Decomposing perishables contribute methane, a potent greenhouse gas, to the atmosphere, so I’m glad to see programs like the ones in New York City and San Francisco that encourage the composting of food scraps to keep them out of landfills.
I’ve been reading up how best to reduce waste, whether it’s making veggie stock using broccoli and cauliflower stems or just throwing them in the oven, sliced thin, with their pretty floret counterparts. (For home cooks looking to waste less and save money, I suggest Tamar Adler’s wonderful book An Everlasting Meal: Cooking With Economy and Grace.) I’ve gotten a little better at upcycling grub, even reserving cold-brew coffee grounds to boost the soil in a buddy’s garden. And now I’ve discovered a delicious way to re-use lemon and lime rinds—beyond simply zesting them.
It’s so easy to toss lemon and lime rinds straight into the trash after squeezing them over fish or using their juice for margaritas.? I’ve been, quite often, guilty of this. But it turns out the key to superior limeade and lemonade is right there in the peels; their essential oils when mixed with sugar, create next-level summer beverages when mixed with the juice of the fruits. Sweet, floral, lightly tart, and packing the essence of the fruit, this oil is what drinks historian David Wondrich calls oleo saccharum—Latin for “oil sugar”—a crucial player in a traditional punch.
Getting the oil out of citrus rinds might sound tricky, but it can be as simple as quartering the fruit after squeezing it and mingling it with sugar, then diluting the result with citrus juice and water. I’m a big fan of Stella Parks’s limeade recipe on Serious Eats, for which she just combines the squeezed fruit quarters with sugar for a few hours, gently macerating them and infusing the sugar with all that sweet-tart flavor. The result is a drink that’s killer on its own and even better when mixed one-to-one with seltzer. (Add cherry juice for a bubbly lime rickey!)
When you’re done with the rinds, you can give ‘em a quick rinse and compost them as you usually would. And be proud: You used the whole fruit, and are well on the way to being an economic, no-waste home cook.
Alex Van Buren is a food and travel writer living in Brooklyn, New York whose work has appeared in Gourmet.com, Bon Appétit, Travel + Leisure, New York Magazine, Martha Stewart Living, and Epicurious. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter @alexvanburen.