In contemporary cocktail circles, bartenders have gone bananas for a certain fruit. It has injected a playful tropicality to Boulevardiers (or Bananavardiers), Daiquiris and even a Martini or two. But while, historically, many of these cocktails have relied on banana liqueur or fresh bananas, there’s one part of the fruit that’s long been overlooked: the peel. Today, thanks to a growing interest in low-waste cocktails, the ingredient has finally slipped itself into the spotlight.
Compared with the flavor of the fruit, which ranges from lightly sweet and starchy to honeyed and tropical depending on ripeness, the peel is “earthy, complex, slightly bitter and green,” according to Brandon Ristaino, co-founder and beverage director of Good Lion Hospitality in Santa Barbara, California.
At Strange Beast, one of Ristaino’s bars, banana peel features in a decadent house Old-Fashioned. Japanese whisky forms the base of the drink, which gets a tropical edge thanks to a pandan leaf–infused rum, a macadamia nut liqueur and a banana peel and pandan syrup. The latter is made by blending full banana peels with sugar, water, salt, pandan leaves and orange peel, yielding a complex sweetener.
Across the pond in Manchester, England, bars Speak in Code and Project Halcyon are using banana peels to reimagine the classic June Bug, a saccharine, neon green serve born and bred at TGI Fridays. Instead of the typical recipe, which calls for Midori, pineapple juice, coconut rum, banana liqueur and other unbalanced components, Speak in Code founder Nathan Larkin pulls inspiration from those flavors and augments them for a more sophisticated serve. Larkin’s take uses a housemade soda comprising fermented pineapple, melon and banana. He infuses the leftover banana and pineapple peels into a coconut rum via sous vide, then the two parts are married together in an elegant, fruit-forward highball.
Nearby at Project Halcyon, the bar sought out ways to use peels—a byproduct from the house Martini, which features clarified banana juice—to use the whole ingredient and avoid waste. According to general manager Adam Montanaro-Taylor, the bar experimented with a host of banana peel garnishes: a “bacon” made by flavoring and dehydrating the peels (inspired by a technique used at Speak in Code) and pickled banana coins, but in the end, what stuck was an easy-to-make banana skin “oleo.”
To make the banana oleo saccharum, the bar simply macerates the peels in sugar for two days. The result is a concentrated, almost tannic syrup that’s mixed into Project Halcyon’s Old Dog, New Tricks, a tropical clarified cocktail. At home, the uncomplicated ingredient could replace simple syrup in a classic Daiquiri or an Old-Fashioned; adding a dash of saline solution makes the banana peel’s subtleties pop.
It’s easy to categorize the peel as a second-rate ingredient—it’s usually considered waste, after all—but it lends its own set of characteristics. Banana peels contain tannins that the fruit does not, so they’re capable of lending an astringent texture or a bitterness to balance certain flavors. It can even work alongside the fruit to help ground a banana spirit infusion.
The humble ingredient’s unique flavor profile has even become so appreciated that it’s finding its way into bottled products, too. In the U.K., Discarded, a brand that features waste products in its spirits, launched a banana peel rum in 2020, unlocking easy-to-make Daiquiris and more with subtle fruit flavor and no cloying sweetness.
At home, though, the possibilities with banana peel are still underexplored, and nearly endless, from creating syrups and cordials to infusions and ferments. To start, it’s best to keep things straightforward. For those experimenting with the ingredient, Ristaino offers a general rule of thumb: “Use the banana fruit in shaken cocktails or rich cocktails like a Piña Colada variation, and banana peel in stirred cocktails or hot cocktails,” he says. The key is considering the flavor profiles of each element: “In a way, the banana fruit itself is the treble, and the banana peel is the bass.”