Orange peels are probably something you think of as garbage or food scraps. Did you know they can be very useful? Rather than toss them in the garbage, think first about them as an ingredient in free food. Orange peels can also be used to make DIY skin care products and homemade cleaning products. Or you can use them to freshen the air in your home, to create orange candles, and even a natural feeder for the birds. Check out all the cool ways you can re-purpose orange peels instead of throwing them away.
Zest or Peel Your Orange First
Before you cut an orange for eating or juicing, take a few minutes to remove the zest or the entire peel. This works best with fresh, juicy citrus fruits so do this within a day or two of purchasing the oranges. Wash the oranges and dry well, rubbing lightly to remove any wax that may have been applied to the skin.
Organic fruit is best for this. Oranges presently fall at #27 out of 51 fruits and vegetables for pesticide residues, so they aren’t terrible but they also aren’t great. If you can’t get organic oranges, use your preferred method for cleaning the fruit to remove as much of the pesticide as you can before you proceed.
You can zest pretty much any orange, though you may find this easier to do with fruits that have a thicker skin that is firmly attached to the flesh. I like to work with Navel oranges if I need orange zest. But if you’re wanting to cook with the complete peel, say for making chef Alton Brown’s candied orange peel, you may actually prefer an orange that has a thinner, looser skin. Then I’d probably choose clementines or Honeybell oranges.
Freezing Orange Zest
Freeze orange peels and zest (#1) for later use. Some people say they flash freeze spoonfuls of orange or lemon zest and then just pop them into a freezer bag for ease of storage, but I’ve never had much success doing it that way. You can either store your orange zest loose in a bag, the same way you would the peels, or you can freeze it in ice cube trays. Add a little of the orange juice to hold the bits of zest together. Once the “orange cubes” (#2) are frozen, pop them out of the tray and store in a freezer bag or rigid container. You can use these in all your recipes, and also add them to drinks instead of regular ice.
Foods You Can Cook with Orange Peels
There are a lot of different ways you can incorporate orange peels or orange zest into your cooking. The very first time I can remember seeing orange zest used in food was in my mother’s Christmas sugar cookie recipe (#3). Not long after I learned how to make those cookies, my teacher taught our class how to make candied orange peels (#4). We ate them like any other candy, and I loved them so much that I asked Mom to help me make more at home! You may also be familiar with a different kind of candied peel that is often used in making fruitcakes (#5) and Christmas pudding.
Add orange zest to your favourite carrot cake or fruit cobbler recipe (#6). Orange marries well with apples and many berries too. If you want a little extra kick in your coffee or hot cocoa, try sweetening them with an orange-flavoured sugar (#7) made from orange zest and regular table sugar.
Savoury Dishes & Drinks Made with Orange Peels
In case you were thinking only sweet recipes can benefit from a hint of orange, here are a few savoury ideas for you too. One of my favourite TV chefs, Jeff Smith, used orange peel in his beef and barley soup recipe (#8). There are a number of other meat recipes that incorporate orange, including crispy orange beef (#9) and orange peel chicken (#10). You can add orange zest to a vinaigrette (#11), or orange peel to any marinade (#12).
If you’re having a little cocktail with your meal, you can garnish your drink with a pretty bit of curled orange zest (#13). Or maybe you’d like to mix up a little Sangria or some mulled wine (#14) instead? Don’t forget the orange peels! You can even fancy up a plain glass of iced tea with a little orange peel or one of those orange cubes. Orange and grapefruit complement the lemon in iced tea nicely. In fact, some iced tea blends include all three citrus fruits!
Orange Peels for Skin Care
Limonene, a volatile compound present in orange peels, is an antioxidant that is known for its anti-aging properties. It is anti-inflammatory, and is associated with improved blood circulation and collagen production. So it’s no wonder a lot of commercial skin care products use ingredients derived from citrus fruits. You can make your own DIY orange exfoliating scrub (#15) for exfoliating and refreshing your skin. There are also recipes for homemade egg white and orange peel firming masks (#16) that may help to tone your skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.
Orange Peel for Cleaning
Many of us associate citrus scents with cleanliness. Lemon, grapefruit, and orange have all been used in commercial cleaning agents such as floor wash, dish soap and laundry detergent, and multipurpose cleaning sprays. Citrus fruits actually have some disinfectant properties, so they help to kill germs while at the same time cutting grease or making your counters shine.
You can make your own DIY orange cleaning spray (#17) by simply soaking orange peels in a jar of white vinegar. Put the jar in a safe place away from heat and direct light, and shake it about once a day for two weeks. When it’s ready, decant the vinegar into a spray bottle and use it to clean surfaces around the house. Warning: Some surfaces such as marble do not stand up to acidic cleansers or citrus products. If you aren’t sure that your DIY orange cleanser is safe on a given surface, try it on a small patch where it won’t be too visible. Wait a while before cleaning the entire surface, as some issues may take a while to show.
You can also freshen the air with orange peel. Put a little orange zest into some baking soda (#18) and sprinkle a bit on your carpets before you vacuum. When you do the vacuuming, the carpet will smell fresher and so will the room. Use the same baking soda and orange zest mix to absorb food odours (#19) in your fridge. It will keep the fridge smelling fresh for up to a month. Don’t throw out once the month is up, though: you can pour it down the kitchen drain (#20) or run it through the garbage disposal to help clean and freshen them too.
Orange Peels to Scent Your Home
One of my absolute favourite uses for citrus is to put orange peels in a simmer pot (#21). In winter, I often keep a small saucepan on the stove with a little orange peel and some cinnamon sticks or whole cloves. I might even add a splash of vanilla to it as well. I add a little water and bring it to a boil, and then reduce to a low simmer.
This is a very frugal alternative to buying scented candles or using fancy scent infusers. You can use many different citrus peels and spices (think of those you would use in gingerbread or a spice cake) as well as apple peels, and even small bits of evergreen foliage from your yard. A simmer pot is an old-fashioned way to add a little extra humidity to the air when your house is closed up for winter and the air becomes stale and dry from heating. And it always smells like something wonderful is cooking in the kitchen!
Orange and other citrus fruits are associated with energizing and lifting the spirits, as well as with a calm state of alertness and contentedness. Citrus essential oils are used in perfumery as the top note, and orange peels in your simmer pot will also be the first scent to waft through the room.
An Orange Peel Life Hack
Another alternative to scented candles is the orange skin oil lamp (#22). This is a cool life hack to know for emergencies when you may run out of candles, as the lamp can provide light for up to 6 hours. An orange oil lamp could also make an interesting centrepiece for a family dinner, or placed around the room for a holiday cocktail party.
Orange You Going to Feed the Birds?
Yes, you can even upcycle an empty orange half into an orange bird feeder (#23)! This is a great way to use the peels if you like to make a lot of freshly squeezed orange juice. Reserve the empty half-orange skins and fill them with a mix of peanut butter, nuts, and birdseed. Place outdoors, preferably where you can enjoy watching the birds eat through your window, and wait for your feathered guests to come for dinner!
So that’s it! Now you have 23 ways to use those orange peels instead of throwing them away. Of course, there are dozens more recipes that include orange zest and lots more cool ways you can use orange peels in homemade skin care products and cleaning supplies, and even DIY pest control in the garden. What’s your favourite way to use up those orange peels instead of letting them go to waste? Drop me a comment below and tell me about it!
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Original content © 2017 Kyla Matton Osborne, aka #RubyWriter
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