Oleo Saccharum and Sherbet

Great flavour with minimal effort

"Another way to use the oleo saccharum, and this is how I prefer to use it, is as an ingredient in a sherbet." 

The best kind of cocktail ingredient is one that involves very little effort, but tastes like it took an expert hours to make. Oleo saccharum and sherbet fall squarely into that category.  

What the heck is oleo saccharum? Good question. The fancy name adds to the mystique and makes it sound more complicated than what it really is.

In the simplest terms, oleo saccharum means sugar oil (or oil sugar). It's Latin...I think. 

Then why don't we call it sugar oil? I guess it's because oleo saccharum sounds more exotic and, in the modern mixology world, exotic sells. Plus, oleo saccharum has a long history of use in cocktails - maybe all the way back to the days when Latin was a little more commonly used than it is today.

But knowing the meaning of the words doesn't answer the question. What is oleo saccharum? What is sugar oil?

The oil in oleo saccharum comes from citrus zest. The sugar is, well, sugar. Any kind of sugar will do but, in my experience, white granulated sugar works the best. Brown or Demerara sugar also works well, but the neutrality of the white sugar doesn't interfere with the flavours of the citrus.

The best part is that, despite the long and complicated name, oleo saccharum couldn't be easier to make. All you need is sugar and citrus zest. Sugar is pretty easy to come by and, if you make Tiki drinks, there is never any shortage of citrus zest. 

Place a handful of citrus zest in a Mason jar and cover with sugar. Measurements are not real important here - just eyeball it. The sugar will extract the oil from the citrus and, eventually, will create a deliciously sweet syrup. You want to make sure that the zest is fully covered with sugar, but not so much sugar that the oil in the citrus can't do its work. There is only so much oleo in the zest to break down the saccharum.


Also, the more sugar you use, the longer it will take for the syrup to break down. I usually give the sugar about eight hours to do its work. And, obviously, more sugar means a sweeter syrup and less sugar means a stronger citrus flavour.

In very general terms, I use half a cup of sugar for the zest of (a) eight limes; (b) four lemons; (c) four oranges; or (d) two grapefruits. Make your own measurements based on the size of the fruit you are using and the flavour you're looking for.

Now that you have your oleo saccharum, what to do with it? The first option is to use it to make a drink or cocktail. It's perfect if you want to add a little something extra to a Daiquiri, Mai Tai, or virtually any exotic cocktail. Keep in mind that the flavours will be very strong and you will only need to use a little bit.

Another way to use the oleo saccharum, and this is how I prefer to use it, is as an ingredient in a sherbet.

Believe it or not, the meaning of sherbet is far more complicated than oleo saccharum. Sherbert. Sorbet. Sharbat. While different, our kind of sherbet shares some similarities with the more well-known frozen dessert. In fact, a sherbet tastes remarkably like a melted citrus sorbet...or is that sherbert?

Like oleo saccharum, sherbert is dead easy to make. All you need to do is add an equal amount of fresh squeezed juice to the oleo saccharum and treat it like a simple syrup. Bring the mixture to a light boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and let cool. The result is the best flavoured syrup you have ever tasted. Use it to amaze your friends with incredible cocktails.