Candied orange peels are a unique citrus treat with a subtle bitter undertone and a crystalline sugary coating.
The natural bitterness of orange peels is dramatically reduced with repeated blanching. The bitter taste is further reduced with the candying process, infusing the feels with a sugary syrup followed by a quick toss in granulated sugar.
This easy candied orange peel recipe focuses on reducing bitterness while preserving their natural citrus zest flavor. Additional flavors, like cinnamon, rosemary, or citric acid (for a sour-patch like flavor) are best added with the sugar coating (not with the simple syrup).
After the recipe, I explain a few specific details more in-depth, including a comparison if different orange varieties, reviewing the candying process, and tips for success.
- 3 oranges any variety, organic preferred
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon corn syrup optional to prevent crystallization problems
For sugar coating
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoon cinnamon, citric acid, or finely chopped rosemary optional flavorings
Prepare the oranges
- Wash and scrub the oranges to remove any wax (which can affect the flavor)3 oranges
- Peel the oranges and slice into strips
Boil to remove bitterness
- Add orange peels to a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then drain.
- Repeat this process 3-5 times. This is removing the bitterness, and the water needs to be changed out as bitter compounds are released into it.
- Take a bite of a peel. If it tastes really bitter, repeat blanching until the bitterness is tolerable. (The sugar coating later masks some bitterness, but not all of it)
Lightly simmer in a sugar syrup
- Add water and sugar to the now-empty pan, in a 1:2 ratio (one part water to two parts sugar). You need enough syrup in the pan to cover the orange peels. You can err on the higher side, and then you'll have orange syrup leftover which is great for soaking into a pound cake, adding to tea or cocktails, etc.Optional: if you want to add 1 tablespoon of corn syrup to prevent crystallization problems, add it now.2 cups granulated sugar, 1 cup water, 1 tablespoon corn syrup
- Add the orange peels to the pan and bring it to barely a simmer. You should see lazy bubbles around the edges of the pan. Don't let it boil or it will change the consistency and become a hard candy-coating.
- Simmer until the peels are soft and turn a little see-through. This could take 20-45 minutes depending on the thickness of the peels.
Dry & coat in more sugar
- Remove the peels from the sugar syrup and let dry on a cooling rack with parchment or wax paper under it to catch the dripping syrup. Let them dry until they are sticky but not dripping. This might take 15 minutes or several hours. You want them sticky to the touch so sugar sticks to them, but not so wet that sugar will dissolve when they get coated.Note: save the simple syrup for use in cocktails, tea, etc. It will last for weeks in the fridge.
- Toss the orange peels in a bowl of granulated sugar. If you are flavoring the sugar, add it now. Test one peel and see if the sugar dissolves (this will happen if it isn't dry enough). If it sticks without dissolving, you are ready to proceed. Toss all of the peels in the bowl, and set aside on a clean sheet of parchment paper.½ cup granulated sugar, 2 tablespoon cinnamon, citric acid, or finely chopped rosemary
- Store in an airtight container on the counter for at least a month. They should be good for several months - as they get older they might dry out and turn hard, so be sure to seal them well to keep them soft.
Comparing orange varieties
Can any orange peel be candied? Yes, he peels from any variety of orange can be candied, including blood oranges and the easy-to-peel cuties & halos. In fact, the peel from any citrus fruit can be candied.
This means you can make candied orange peels any time of year, since some orange varieties like Valencia are in season in summer, and others like mandarins and clementines are in season in winter.
I tested six types of orange peels:
- Navel oranges
- Cara cara
- Clementine (cutie and halo brands)
- Sumo Citrus
Some orange varieties have thin peels, thick white pith, or different levels of essential oils in the peels (which may affect the flavor). That said, I have found their flavor fairly interchangeable, so use whatever you have on hand or is most affordable at the grocery store.
One difference worth considering is the thickness of the pith across different orange varieties. The pith softens considerably when blanched and then soaks up a lot of sugar syrup during the candying process. This turns the pith into a gummy-like consistency. Without the pith, the candied orange peels have a slightly chewier texture.
Whether the pith is included or removed doesn't affect the flavor or bitterness (see next section). It simply comes down to your preference for consistency. If you're unsure, candy half the peels with the pith, and the other half without.
- Thick pith: Navel and Valencia
- Medium pith: Cara Cara
- Thin or almost no pith: tangerine, clementine, and Sumo oranges
How to remove orange pith
You can buy oranges with a thin pith or use any orange and remove the pith. There are several ways to separate orange pith from the peel.
- Use a vegetable peeler on the orange rind to get thin peels without pith
- Cut the orange peel into segments with the pith attached. Use a grapefruit spoon to scrape the pith off each peel segment.
- Alternatively, remove the pith after the blanching process. Once they cool, the pith is easily scraped off with a spoon.
The orange peel is extremely bitter. Bite into one raw and you'll have no doubts about how bitter they start out. Next, try taking a bite of just the pith. It's not very bitter at all!
It's a common and pervasive myth that orange pith is bitter. I believed it right up until testing this recipe (so don't feel bad!). Any effort to remove the pith won't reduce bitterness. I discuss this in more detail in, "How to reduce bitterness in candied orange peels."
The big question then, is how to reduce the bitterness in orange peels? Orange peels get their bitterness from several compounds. And those compounds dissolve in hot water, which is why blanching works so well. In fact, blanching reduces bitterness by 50%.
Repeat the blanching step until the orange peels taste just slightly bitter. The bitterness won't disappear completely, but it should be tolerable.
The candying process infuses the orange peels with sugar, which also helps reduce the bitter flavors. Adding sugar to bitter foods is a tale as old as time - think of how adding a spoonful of sugar to a grapefruit or cup of coffee dramatically reduces the bitter taste.
Sugar masks our ability to taste bitter flavors, which is why it works in this scenario. It won't completely mask it, but instead balances out the bitter flavors for a well-rounded, complex little treat.
What if my orange peels are still bitter?
If you've blanched your orange peels and they still taste too bitter, blanch them again and again until they taste better.
You can stop when the peel tastes just slightly bitter - a level similar to coffee or a grapefruit. The syrup and final sugar coating balances out that bitterness at the end (just like with coffee and grapefruit).
On the other hand, if you've already finished candying the orange peels and they still taste bitter, try waiting several weeks to eat them. Over time, they will lose some of their bitterness.
This advice comes from comments on candied orange recipes and reddit threads, claiming that they get sweeter (and less bitter) the longer they are stored. When I looked into this, I actually found a study that backs up the claims. The study looked at debittering oranges and demonstrated that storage time had a 10-30% reduction in naringin (one of the main bitter compounds in orange peels). So there you go!
The candying process
Now that you understand how blanching works and have reduced the bitterness in your orange peels, let's learn how to candy them.
Making candied orange peels is relatively easy if you follow a few rules:
- Don't let the simple syrup boil, keep it at a low simmer
- Don't walk away for more than 5 minutes or the pot might start to boil
- For a foolproof syrup, add a tablespoon of corn syrup to prevent the sugar from crystallizing
- Don't let the syrup get over 235°F (112°C) or it will turn into a hardened candy, rather than a chewy or gummy candy (but your want it to eventually get to 230-235°F (112°C) by the end of simmering).
- Don't ever touch the simple syrup, it will stick to your skin and burn
Sugar to water ratio
Most candied orange peel recipes use either a 1:1 or a 2:1 ratio of sugar to water. I wondered if it made a difference, so I tested the two options. I'll refer to the 1:1 ratio as the "thin syrup" and the 2:1 ratio as the "thick syrup" since it has twice as much sugar as water (by volume).
- Thin syrup: 1 cup of sugar and 1 cup of water (1:1)
- Thick syrup: 2 cups of sugar and 1 cup of water (2:1)
When I tested the two syrups side-by-side, the thin syrup took about 45 minutes to thicken and match the thick syrup's starting consistency. The batch of candied oranges simmering in the thin syrup took about an hour to finish.
On the other hand, the candied orange peels in the thick syrup were ready in about 40 minutes because the syrup started with a higher density of sugar. These orange peels also were just slightly sweeter.
Because of the faster cooking time and sweeter flavor, I prefer the thick syrup that has twice as much sugar as water, by volume.
Adding corn syrup
Sugar loves to crystallize, as anyone attempting candy making has probably run into. There's a lot of science behind it that I won't get into. But I will share the nearly foolproof trick to prevent crystallization: add corn syrup.
The molecular structure of corn syrup mixes with the simple syrup and helps prevent crystallization. It works, as my many attempts at making caramel apples proved!
The exact amount isn't overly important. I usually add about 1 tablespoon to my simple syrup, whether I used one cup of water or two.
Make just enough simple syrup
Candying orange peels can go through a stash of sugar pretty quickly, so I prefer to use only as much syrup as I need. The orange peels need to be covered with the syrup plus a tiny bit extra to make them float (and prevent them from burning on the bottom of the pan). Since the peels float, making excess syrup isn't helpful as they just keep floating to the top - although it doesn't hurt either.
To make enough syrup, add the blanched orange peels to your pot and cover with water just until they float. Remove the orange peels and set them aside. Note the amount of water (either measure as you pour the water in, or pour the water back out into a measure cup to measure it after the fact).
After noting the volume of water, add twice as much sugar. For example, if you used 1.5 cups of water, add 3 cups of granulated sugar. Then heat it until the sugar is fully dissolved (the water will turn clear again once the sugar dissolves).
At this point, you can add a tablespoon of corn syrup (the ratio isn't really important) to help prevent crystallization.
Simmer, don't boil!
Why does the temperate matter so much? Sugar and water are combined and heated to make candy. If you heat it fast enough, hot enough, and long enough, it will turn into a hard candy (like a lollipop).
We don't want that hard candy coating on the orange peels! That's why it's important to keep the temperature below 235°F (112°C). It will take a long time to reach that temperature and likely won't go over it if you keep the pot at a low simmer and don't cook them for hours.
What does a low simmer look like? Tiny fizz-like bubbles should lazily float up, like in a glass of champagne that's been sitting out for a few minutes. If it's really fizzy, like champagne as it is being poured, that's too hot!
Continuously check on the pot to make sure it remains at a low simmer and doesn't get too hot. I often adjust my cooktop up and down to keep it in the perfect range.
Tips for sugar-coating
Don't skip this section, no matter how simple it seems! Tossing candied orange peels in sugar seems like the easiest step, but it can, and has tripped people up.
The first problem is tossing a large bunch of still-wet orange peels in a container of sugar, and shaking it. Large clumps of sugar form and cling to the peels. It also makes it hard to coat the next batch. If you read any candied orange peel recipe, the comments are filled people who've made this mistake and spent extra time brushing off the clumps and getting new sugar for the next batch.
The other problem is letting your orange peels sit too long and dry out. If their candied coating is no longer sticky, the granulated sugar won't stick to it. It's better to err on the earlier side than later. As long as the peels are dripping syrup, they should be ready to be tossed in the granulated sugar.
If you tossed them too early, the granulated sugar will dissolve into the syrup. This is easily fixable. Let them sit a little longer, but make sure they are still sticky. Then toss them in sugar again.
How to store
Candied orange peels do not need to be refrigerated. They will last on the counter for several months in an airtight container. As King Arthur Baking reports, "because of the high sugar content, candied citrus peels last for a long time."
Don't be surprised to find conflicting advice, however. Some recipes insist they need to be stored in the fridge, while others say they will only last 4-6 weeks at room temperature. I believe that advice is to preserve the quality of the product as candied orange peels can dry out over time (rather than to prevent spoilage).
In fact, the University of California addresses this in their candied orange peel recipe (pdf), "stored airtight, they will stay fresh for several months. If they become too dry put a lemon in the container for a day or two and the peel will soften."
Candied orange peels are delicious on their own, but I also wondered how different flavors would turn out. Some were outstanding, while others were utter failures (it happens to us all!)
Let's start with the best tasting variations of the candied oranges.
Sour patch levels of tartness: use citric acid
Citric acid is often used in preserving and canning food. It is extremely tart, causing a sour, mouth-puckering effect similar to sour patch kids. The acidity also masked bitterness quite well, perhaps because your mouth is too busy reacting to the intense sour flavor.
These were the favorite candied orange peels, perhaps because of their unexpected tartness, or perhaps because they were even less bitter.
I used a ratio of 1 part citric acid (1 Tbsp) to 4 parts granulated sugar (4 Tbsp). This imparts a strong tart flavor. I suggest tossing just one of the candied orange peels in this sugar coating and taste it to see if it is to your liking. Then add more citric acid for a tarter flavor, or more sugar to mellow it out.
You can find citric acid at large grocery stores and even hardware stores during popular canning seasons (summer and fall). A small jar is usually around $4-6. You can also find Ball's citric acid on Amazon, but at often twice the price. Here's a link so you can see what it looks like (it's also an affiliate link, so I get a small commission).
The cinnamon-sugar combination turned out perfectly. The candied orange peels retained their bright, acidic flavor and the cinnamon was fresh-tasting and spicy.
I used a ratio of 1 part cinnamon (1 Tbsp) to 4 parts granulated sugar (4 Tbsp). The cinnamon flavor is strong, but not overpowering. I used Vietnamese cinnamon which is known for a spicier flavor. Some types of cinnamon are more mild, and they also lose potency as they are stored.
Because of this, I suggest you toss one of the candied orange peels in this mixture to see if you like the strength.
Cinnamon & cloves in simple syrup
I thought that adding spices to the simple syrup would infuse the candied orange peels with a wonderful flavor. This was not the case. The flavor was muddy and tasted slightly off... like old cinnamon found in the back of your grandma's pantry might taste.
The orange peels definitely had a cinnamon flavor, but it was 'just ok' and didn't stand up to the bright, fresh flavor of the ones that were simply tossed in a cinnamon-sugar coating.
I suspect the spices' flavors change when simmered in the sugar syrup, causing the odd flavors.
Chai simple syrup
I love a good chai, chai latte, or chai-flavored baked good. I love the combination of spices - cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and allspice.
To make the simple syrup, I added whole or crushed spices (not ground). I simmered the orange peels in this simple syrup until they were done.
They were kind of terrible! Something happened to the spices during cooking, or they interacted with the orange flavors in a way that made them taste awful. Some of my taste testing family & friends made terrible faces when eating them. Sorry everyone!
I still think the flavor combination could work, so next time I might try adding the ground version of those spices to the final sugar-toss step.
Brown sugar simple syrup
I love the warm flavor of brown sugar and fully expected a simple syrup made completely of brown sugar to be tasty. I hate to admit it, but I was wrong again!
First of all, it turned into an unattractive brown color (should have seen that coming!). The photo above shows the end result - it's not burnt, it's just infused with (literal) brown sugar.
No one wants to eat something that looks like this. The flavor wasn't bad, exactly, but it was very overpowering and didn't complement the candied orange flavor at all.
Perhaps if the simple syrup has only a small portion of brown sugar it would turn out tasty. Another option is to add a small amount of brown sugar to the final sugar-toss step. I'll test this out and let you know.
Dipped in chocolate
I didn't test this but I assure you they are tasty as I've had them in the past. After the candied orange peels dry, you can dip them in chocolate. Get a recipe from Went Here 8 This for detailed instructions.
How to use candied orange peels
Candied orange peels make a great snack on their own as well as a gift for Christmas and other winter holidays.
They also make great additions to every day recipes. Try using candied orange peels in everything from salads to muffins:
- Salad: add to any winter salad or use in place of dried cranberries
- Baked goods: stir into muffin, quickbread, or scone batter. Roll into the center of cinnamon rolls, add to a glaze, or on top of a cheesecake.
- Savory dinners: use candied orange peels to balance out a rich, salty dish like a chunky beef or a pork or chicken remoulade. Add to a Chinese orange chicken or beef dish (homemade or takeout).
- Cocktails: add as a garnish to a Manhatten, mimosa, or any other number of cocktails. The leftover simple syrup makes a great addition to cocktails, tea, or iced tea.