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What are Some Uses for Orange Peels?

Michael Pollick
By
Updated May 16, 2024
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Orange peels can be used for many things around the house, in the kitchen, and in the medicine cabinet, and they have purposes as varied as dessert garnish, insect repellant, and skin pore cleanser. During the earliest days of orange cultivation, peels were often more prized than the fruit they protected due in large part to the essential oils they contain. These oils were used as a topical skin treatment, as a malady for indigestion, and as an additive in many different foods.

Cooks during the Middle Ages were more likely to use dried peels as seasonings than they were to serve the fruit or the juice. Most scholars speculate that it wasn't until sweet oranges were introduced in Spain and Italy that the rest of the orange received much recognition as a food in its own right. Even today, there are perhaps more uses for orange peels and the oils they contain than there are for the rest of the fruit.

In the Kitchen

One of the most common uses for an orange peel is for its zest, which is popular both fresh and dried. “Zest” is basically a fancy name for the thin outer layer of peel, not including the fleshy pith, that has been finely chopped or grated. It is frequently used as a seasoning in recipes and is particularly popular as a way to add flavor to baked goods. Zest is easy to make at home using a fine grater or specially designed zester, though it can also be purchased as a dried spice in many places.

A number of cooks also candy the peels, usually by chopping them into strips, then boiling them in a sugar syrup solution. Candied peels typically contain both the zest and the pith, and they are thick and somewhat chewy as a result. They are often eaten on their own as a sweet treat or snack, but they can also be used to garnish dishes or as an accent or edible decoration on cakes and cupcakes. In many European countries, this candy is a traditional homemade gift during the winter holidays.

Around the House

The peels also have a number of uses unrelated to food or flavoring. Oranges of almost every variety have a high concentration of fragrant essential oils in their peel. Boiling them in water can diffuse the oils into the air, creating an easy air freshener; dried pieces can be tied together into sachets to freshen drawers and closets, too.

Many people run peels down sink-based garbage disposals to eliminate unpleasant odors and “cleanse” the surrounding air, and placing strips or large pieces in compost piles or near trash heaps can mask the smell of decay. It is also possible to deodorize a refrigerator by putting pieces in a small bowl, often with a bit of salt to act as a preservative.

Rubbing fresh peels on counter tops and tile floors can sometimes help remove stains and brighten surfaces thanks to their high acid content. They can be a very effective abrasive and are completely non-toxic, but they must usually be followed by a soap and water wash to prevent the acid from building up or leaving sticky residue.

As a Repellent

Most insects find the scent of orange off-putting, which may be one of the ways nature protects the fruit from would-be predators. People can capitalize on this when it comes to repelling bugs. Rubbing orange peel on the skin is believed by many to help repel mosquitoes, and dropping bits of it near anthills and places where ants have been seen around the house can help keep them away.

Some experts advise that a mixture of dried orange peels and coffee grounds will discourage neighborhood cats from using lawns and yard space as a litter box. Cats, like dogs and many other animals, are territorial, which means that they use scent cues to orient themselves. The overpowering smell of orange oil combined with coffee may override their signals telling them to mark land as their own, and in many cases will send them away.

As Kindling

Orange oil is highly flammable, which makes the peels effective as a fire starter. They burn more slowly and steadily than common kindling material like newspaper, and they also have the advantage of giving off a pleasant smell. Depending on how much moisture they have, they may need to be dried or at least partially dried before they can be used for this purpose.

Cosmetic Uses

Orange peels can be ground into an abrasive scrub for face and skin that can help remove dead skin cells, and the acids may also help skin look temporarily more vibrant and youthful. Rubbing skin blemishes like pimples with a piece can also help them heal faster.

Some dermatologists also say that orange oil can help reverse the negative effects of sun exposure, though this, too, is usually only a temporary and topical fix. Rubbing the oil over the skin can help it look less tanned and damaged and may be able to relieve the pain of sunburn, but it cannot usually do anything to counteract cellular damage that exposure has caused.

Medicinal Properties

Eating orange peel can have a number of positive health benefits, as well. People suffering from seasonal allergies or head colds often boil strips in water to drink much as they would a tea; combining it with ginger can also help cure nausea and minor stomach upset. Small doses of orange essential oil can be used to calm indigestion and sometimes even ease constipation. Simply chewing on small bits can also regulate the pH levels of the mouth, which can stave off tooth decay and gum disease while freshening the breath.

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Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick , Writer
As a frequent contributor to HomeQuestionsAnswered, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

Discussion Comments

By anon928973 — On Jan 30, 2014

Do I need to dry the skin before putting in a woodburning stove?

By StarJo — On Nov 07, 2012

@Oceana – Those do sound delicious! The combination of orange and chocolate is one of my favorites.

I know what you mean. It's weird that the bitterness of the peel doesn't come through. My mother uses orange zest to make orange chicken, and there isn't even a hint of bitterness in it.

By Oceana — On Nov 07, 2012

It's amazing that something as bitter as orange peel is used to flavor so many sweet dishes. What is more amazing is how great they taste! I don't detect bitterness in them at all.

I use orange zest when making my orange chocolate truffles. I heat up some heavy whipping cream with the orange zest, and I pour it over chocolate chips in a bowl. I add a bit of orange extract and whisk it all together.

I let that solidify in the refrigerator for about 45 minutes. Then, I whip it up with a mixer until it forms stiff peaks and has the consistency of nougat.

Next, I form the truffles into balls and roll them in chopped pecans. I dip them in melted chocolate, and it forms the outer shell. These are so delicious and have a very apparent orange flavor.

By JackWhack — On Nov 06, 2012

I never knew what to do with orange peels, so I just put them in my garbage can in the kitchen. I noticed that they masked the odor of the other garbage and made the room smell good, so I continued to toss them in the trash every time I peeled an orange to eat it. It was just one of the fringe benefits of eating an orange!

By SarahSon — On Nov 05, 2012

I have a small handheld zester that I use for grated orange peel. I use this in different recipes and love to add dried orange peel to my tea. One thing that I have never thought about was putting them down my garbage disposal. I can see how this would put off a nice scent and get rid of the food odors that might otherwise be hard to get rid of. The next time I peel an orange, instead of just throwing the peels in the garbage, I am going to put them down my disposal.

By LisaLou — On Nov 05, 2012

I have a bottle of orange essential oil that I like to add to a diffuser to help scent and purify the air in my home. This essential oil is made from orange peels and has a pleasant uplifting aroma to it.

I have used lemongrass essential oil to keep mosquitoes away but never realized that rubbing orange peel on my skin would do the same thing. This is something I am going to try as it would be so much better than the chemicals found in the products at the store.

My kids also hate the smell of those insect repellents, but would love the smell of oranges on their skin. There is also something about the smell of citronella that repels mosquitoes, so they must not like citrus smells at all.

By John57 — On Nov 04, 2012

I always knew that the peel of an orange was highly scented, but have never done anything special with my orange peels. I have bought orange zest in the spice section of the grocery store, but think using the leftover orange peels would would be a better way to go. The flavor would probably be more intense since I usually have a bottle of this zest that has been sitting around for a long time.

By myharley — On Nov 03, 2012

@anon129606 -- I don't know if it would be wise to put orange peels in a gas burning fireplace. I have used them in a wood burning fireplace though and they do put off a nice fragrance. I just don't usually think about saving my orange peels for this purpose.

This article does a good job of mentioning a lot of ways to use orange peels, but I usually just end up throwing the peel in the trash and don't take advantage of all their benefits.

By tigers88 — On Oct 30, 2012

I used to roll my own cigarettes and I would use tiny bits of orange peel to keep my tobacco moist and fresh.

By anon282491 — On Jul 30, 2012

You can use it in a gas burning fireplace, but I wouldn't recommend putting anything in a gas fireplace.

By anon258437 — On Apr 01, 2012

I use orange zest in my sweet potato pie -- gives it a wonderful taste.

By anon129606 — On Nov 24, 2010

can you put orange peels or cinnamon sticks in a gas burning fireplace?

By anon66340 — On Feb 19, 2010

Please what are the constituents of orange peel that makes it useful in controlling nematodes?

By stoke — On Oct 05, 2009

can anyone tell me if orange peel in any form can be used to deter snails and slugs? thank you.

By anon8862 — On Feb 22, 2008

hi, can we use orange peel simply ofter drying without removing bitter taste of it? if no how we can do it?

thanks

By somerset — On Feb 01, 2008

Sweet yeast dough usually calls for orange or lemon peel, or zest. It enhances the flavor of dough that is going to be used for things like walnut roll. Not only can one use it in the dough but in the walnut mixture too. Orange peel can also be used in a variety of other desserts, such as the old fashioned apple crisp.

Michael Pollick

Michael Pollick

Writer

As a frequent contributor to HomeQuestionsAnswered, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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