bartender applies a dried citrus garnish to a cocktail
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When a bartender serves a cocktail, few things cause my face to fall like a dried citrus garnish. Despite the visual appeal a crisp citrus wheel adds, I’ve always found dehydrated garnishes disappointing. I’d rather go without a garnish than have to battle one to take another sip of my drink.

“I don’t see the point. They get in the way,” says Tim Faulkner, a cocktail consultant, bartender, and co-owner of Whoopsie’s in Atlanta, Georgia. “Even with fresh garnishes, I squeeze the lemon or lime right into the drink and toss the garnish so it doesn’t interfere with the experience.”

Citrus is commonly used in cocktails because of its ability to balance spirits. Not only can the sharp, sour notes tame the harsh nose of ethanol in some spirits, but fresh citrus can even contribute to the texture of a cocktail—just think of the creamy body that results from a perfectly shaken Daiquiri.

So, why do some bartenders opt for dehydrated over fresh? Let’s examine the case some industry pros are making for dehydrated garnishes beyond mere aesthetics.

Dehydration Preserves the Produce

Apart from the distinct characteristics fresh garnishes provide to cocktails (like aromatic essential oils and crisp flavor), keeping a steady supply of produce on hand is difficult for some bars. Fresh citrus and other fruits used to garnish cocktails can be pricey to stock — even more so when it is out of season. On top of high prices, the produce can spoil quickly. That’s why some bars — and home bartenders — prefer to dehydrate garnishes at their peak.

Dehydrating garnishes reduces waste, saves money, and ensures shelf-stability, which are all good things. But dehydration also preserves and concentrates the flavor of the fruit. While that likely means you won’t want to lick a citrus wheel as you sip, you can still leverage the potent flavor. The key is to place the garnish in the best spot within your cocktail to harness its intense flavor.

Execution Is Everything

Squeezing a lemon or lime into your Gin & Tonic is typically harmless, but many cocktails will become unbalanced with the addition of extra citrus. Dehydrated citrus, on the other hand, allows for more control when crafting cocktails because the juice cannot be squeezed into the drink. Instead, the essence of the fruit and its acidity slowly intensify within the drink. 

Avoid polishing your favorite drink off with a citrus wheel on top, and place it along the wall of the glass instead. Proper placement not only keeps the garnish out of the way but also allows the citrus to rehydrate while slowly melding with the cocktail. It is also important to keep the garnish on the side of the glass rather than the bottom to avoid too much of a concentrated flavor if the cocktail is served with a straw.

yellow cocktail in a rocks glass with a dried orange wheel garnish
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How to Garnish at Home

It’s common to see dehydrated citrus wheels like lemon, lime, and orange used in drinks. Less common options include dehydrated pineapple, raspberries, coconut, and even mangoes. But when it comes to using these garnishes at home, it’s important to think through the cocktail and garnish pairing.

“I wouldn’t use a dehydrated lime over a fresh one in a Daiquiri or a Margarita, but in a smoked or fat-washed whiskey sour, I’d definitely use a dehydrated orange,” says Kharis Ellison, a bartender at Talat Market, a 2024 James Beard-nominated restaurant in Atlanta. “The exception [is] dehydrated pineapple, which is always delicious and retains a great nose unlike the other [garnishes].”

Tio Lucho’s, a Peruvian restaurant in Atlanta, proves this point with a milk-washed Daiquiri topped with a wedge of dehydrated pineapple. Just over a mile away, Stereo, a listening lounge and cocktail bar, toasts dehydrated coconut chips for a Chai Vodka Highball with coconut milk-clarified fino sherry. And dried raspberries work well in Chambord cocktails like a French Martini. 

How to Make Dried Cocktail Garnishes

To stock your bar with eye-catching dried garnishes, head to a local grocery store or check retailers like Williams-Sonoma, Amazon, or Cocktail Garnish Co. But if you already have fresh fruit to preserve, it’s well worth the effort to make DIY garnishes. 

For a more cost-effective method, simply wash, slice, and then dry the fruit at a very low temperature in the oven for several hours. Before placing prepped garnishes in the oven, brush them with lemon or toss in a citric acid wash to prevent the fruit from browning. Keep the temperature around 125 degrees Fahrenheit or as low as your oven will go to prevent the sugars in the fruit from burning. Remember to check on the garnishes frequently — about once every hour — until they’re dried and firm.

That’s all it takes to create your own stash of dehydrated garnishes, ready to deploy in all your favorite cocktails.

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