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Lately I started making the “State fair lemonade” from food wishes and learned about oleo saccharum. The first two times I made the oleo saccharum I peeled 6 lemons and used 250 grams of sugar (which was about 1 1/4 cups). I let them sit for about 12 hours or so (I think even more) and I got quite a bit of yellow liquid. These two times I didn't press the lemon zest, just left it under the sugar.

Now the other two times I did the same, 6 lemons and 250 grams of sugar but in these cases the result was only the sugar getting kinda wet and that was it. Ultimately, for making the lemonade it didn't make much of a difference as I ended up boiling some water and adding the mixture. But if I want to make this for other uses, I want to understand what causes you to get more or less oleo saccharum. Is it in the lemon type? Is it in waiting a couple of days before using the lemons? Does the shape of the container (meaning sugar covering the peels completely vs touching most of the colored side) have any effect of this?

I tried searching answers to this but everything that I was finding didn't mention issues like the one I had.

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    @gnicko " try this simple method .. that uses another basic kitchen appliance, the vacuum sealer." - seems I have a different definition of 'basic' from the article author :)
    – AakashM
    Mar 4, 2022 at 10:29

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I tend to use oleo saccharum for cocktails, but the process is the same. Given there's only two ingredients at play, I find that the variables you're looking at can be quite limited. Here's what I find helps:

Lemons

  • Use unwaxed citrus, or scrub the wax from them under water.
  • The fresher the better. As they age, the oils are exposed to the air for longer, which causes the oils to dry out; though this process is different to water-based solutions.

Sugar

  • A finer sugar means maximizing contact area with the peel. For availability in my kitchen I tend to use caster sugar, but the finer you go, the more consistent a result you'll get.

Technique

  • A finer peel means more surface area contact with the sugar. This is a trade off between effort and results for me, I tend to just stick with what comes out of a vegetable peeler.
  • The longer you leave it, the closer you'll get to maximizing your yield from the lemons. If you're not seeing results at 12 hours, leave it for another 12 and see where that gets you (though I will note that it won't get much more passed this)

As the seasons change and access to fresher ingredients become more limited, you could consider trying to move the needle on some of the other ingredients; but I find that the ceiling is set by the quality and freshness of the lemons you're able to find.

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