Bitter Orange Marmalade

Bitter Orange Marmalade is a sophisticated jam made with a shot of whiskey, Irish style! It pairs perfectly with thick slices of toast, biscuits, and English muffins.

Bitter Orange Marmalade

When my sister and I meet for dinner we usually eat somewhere halfway between our houses so neither of us gets stuck with a long drive home. We also split the second glass of wine. Being scrupulously equal is one of the sisterly survival tactics we learned long ago, and helps make up for the years when I found all the Easter eggs. It’s nice, too, that to this day, we both look exactly the same age 😉  One of our regular spots is an old school French bistro/bakery. It’s been in the valley for decades, one of those places where the tables aren’t crammed in like sardines, the windows are huge and look out over the sidewalk, and you can always get a good glass of wine, a decent quiche Lorraine or salad Nicoise. It’s also almost always empty, which is why we like it, but also why, I guess, on this occasion we found it replaced by a sushi bar/bakery with a flashy black melamine interior. It’s so sad to see these old European restaurants dropping like flies. But that’s off my point.

It sits on the corner of a residential street, so we usually troll for a parking spot to avoid the valet. We got lucky the other night and both found spots right on the corner, under two huge orange trees, loaded with fruit. Do you see where I’m going with this?

The tree was right on the curb, overhanging the street, and it was on the property of an apartment building, giving me just enough ethical wiggle room to grab an armload and stash them in the backseat. All I could think was, why in the world weren’t all these gorgeous oranges already picked clean? See where I’m going now?  (refer back to the title of the post, if you need to)

Turns out these oranges are sour as heck. I was shocked, I never knew oranges could taste that way. They are as sour as a lemon, with a bitterness like the peel of a grapefruit. But after a little research I learned that the sour, or bitter orange is a variety that’s been around forever and is used a lot for perfume, flavoring, liqueurs, and, yes, marmalade. I had no idea.

Bitter Orange Marmalade

I’m not a huge marmalade fan, so I made a batch for my husband, who is. I spiked it with whiskey, which is how they do it in Ireland. The marmalade, while sweetened up considerably, retains the sour and bitter notes of the oranges, which gives it a very grown-up, sophisticated flavor. Pair it with some sweet butter and a thick slab of wheat toast.

Whenever you’re making a marmalade, which uses the entire fruit, including the rind, be sure to get organic fruit, or use fruit from a backyard (or curbside!) tree. Either way, give it all a good bath. My friend Mary just posted on making your own fruit and vegetable wash here.

Sour oranges have more pectin than the sweet ones, so they make quick work of marmalade. This one only took a little over 30 minutes of boiling. The only time consuming part is thinly slicing all the rinds. But the beautiful orange color and scent make it pleasant work.

This marmalade is slightly bitter and sour, so add more sugar if you prefer a sweeter taste. You could use lemon, grapefruit, or a combination, to get a similar bitter/sour marmalade. I used elements from two online recipes… this one from David Lebovitz, and this one from Dos Gildas.

A jar of bitter orange marmalade

3.1 from 61 votes

Bitter Orange Marmalade

Bitter Orange Marmalade is a sophisticated jam made with a shot of whiskey, Irish style!  It pairs perfectly with thick slices of toast, biscuits, and English muffins.
Course preserves
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 1 hour
Yield 2 cups
Author Sue Moran


  • about 10 small to medium bitter oranges well scrubbed
  • a weight of sugar equal to the orange peels
  • 1/4 cup whiskey
  • 1 leftover vanilla bean


  • Cut the oranges in half and juice them. Set the juice aside.
  • Put the seeds and pulp into a saucepan with 2 cups of water and let boil for 30 minutes. Remove all the seeds and discard them.
  • Meanwhile slice all the rinds into small strips.
  • Put the rinds, the juice, pulp and the vanilla bean into a heavy bottomed pot. Use a smallish sized one since this is a small batch marmalade.
  • Bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes.
  • Add the sugar and whiskey and boil for another 20 minutes, or until the marmalade is thickened. Stir often, scraping down the sides of the pan. You will see it darken and turn translucent at the end. Watch it carefully at this stage so it doesn't scorch. You can test a little bit of the jam on a cold plate to see if it gels, but if you have cooked it long enough, and it has reduced down and is thickening in the pot, you will be fine. Marmalade will continue to gel as it sits in the refrigerator.
  • Remove the vanilla bean and ladle the marmalade into glass containers with tight fitting lids.
  • Cool completely and then refrigerate. Use within a month.

Cook's notes

This is a small batch, those 10 oranges cook down to fit in this 1/2L Weck jar.  Just keep it refrigerated and it will be fine for at least a month, if not more.
The nutritional information for recipes on this site is provided as a courtesy and although tries to provide accurate nutritional information, these figures are only estimates.

Bitter orange marmalade pin

Other jams to try—

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    Leave a Reply

    Please rate this recipe!

  • Reply
    January 22, 2022 at 10:04 am

    My marmalade is far too stiff and bitter. Can I recook it with more water and sugar?

    • Reply
      Sue Moran
      January 22, 2022 at 10:45 am

      Yes, heat it up gently and loosen it with the water and add sugar to taste.

  • Reply
    Steve Carlson
    May 30, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    4 stars
    Hi I made this tonite, turned out good. I used Chinotto oranges. I had one question: I boiled the pulp and seeds as you suggested. What are you supposed to do with the resulting liquid? I figured it had a lot of pectin and flavor, so I put the liquid in the with the sliced rinds, and cooked it down. That worked fine, so I guess I did the right thing, but wasn’t sure. I will say the booze was a nice touch!

    • Reply
      May 30, 2020 at 9:06 pm

      You use all of the juice from the oranges, you did it just right.

  • Reply
    Sally Sadler
    May 17, 2020 at 2:56 am

    Hi. I’m part way through making a double volume. I’m not confident. How do I remove the pips? Some are really small. Worried now!!

    • Reply
      May 30, 2020 at 9:07 pm

      You’ll need to fish them out by hand, just retrieve all the ones you can.

  • Reply
    March 21, 2020 at 5:57 pm

    I had 3 cups juice when I started the bitter orange marmalade. Had 1 # 14 oz of rinds. Had to slow simmer boil for two hours more than your recommend 35 minutes. It turned dark but never clarified. Also added 1 and a half cups more sugar than the 1 # 14 oz. Not to my taste but my son might love it!

  • Reply
    March 21, 2020 at 3:38 pm

    Do you cover the pot when making the bitter orange marmalade?

    • Reply
      March 21, 2020 at 4:39 pm

      No, I want the liquid to evaporate, so no cover.

    • Reply
      March 21, 2020 at 6:00 pm

      Maybe covering pot was why it took me so long. I finally uncovered it towards the end.

  • Reply
    Neville Grady
    March 31, 2019 at 6:43 am

    Putting the whisky in with the sugar is the daftest thing to do. The boiling point of ethyl alchol, the alcohol in whisky, is around 65 celsius, so all will be lost in the boiling. I put the whisky in my marmalade after boiling and cooling to below 65 celsius so the alcohol is retained. Much better flavour! Using demerara sugar adds to the flavour and colour too.

  • Reply
    March 3, 2019 at 8:18 am

    I dont have a scale. What would measurements be in cups, etc

    • Reply
      March 3, 2019 at 8:22 am

      You might start with a cup and then add more to taste, Karen.

  • Reply
    Delia M Bottoms
    February 3, 2019 at 10:36 am

    The marmalade was delicious this morning on toast. Very fragrant and intense in flavor. Made me curious as to the variety of orange that I used. I did a google search and discovered that there are 80 varieties of sour oranges worldwide. But the ones I used have a very distinct bumpy rind. So based on photos and description, it was easy to learn which group they fall under. They are part of the Bouquetier group. The oils from the flowers are highly prized and used in France for the production of perfume and aromatherapy. So that explains the intensity in flavor. :0)

    • Reply
      February 3, 2019 at 11:24 am

      This is all fascinating, I love the history of citrus, and learning about all the different varieties.

  • Reply
    Delia M Bottoms
    February 2, 2019 at 8:08 am

    Sue, you can use sour oranges as a marinade for meat. Do a google search and you will be surprised with what you can do with sour oranges. Many cultures (Mexican, Asian, for example) have embraced sour oranges and incorporated them into some delicious savory recipes.

    I will try this recipe. It sounds easy, and delicious. I love making my own jams at home because the store bought ones usually have so much sugar in them and that does not allow the flavor of the fruit to come through. I can control how much sugar to put in my homemade recipes.

    This recipe, however, will obviously need more than the norm in sugar because of the sourness of the oranges. My husband brought a few pounds back from Tucson, Arizona where they grow in abundance. After I make my marmalade, I will juice the remainder and freeze the juice for future use. My husband is a chef, so I am sure he will make good use of it.
    Thank you for sharing this recipe!

    • Reply
      February 2, 2019 at 8:26 am

      Thanks for the info Delia, I’ll have to find another sour orange source!

      • Reply
        Delia M Bottoms
        February 2, 2019 at 2:27 pm

        question: for the right amount of sugar, do you weigh the peel before you cut them up in strips or afterward?

        • Reply
          February 2, 2019 at 2:49 pm

          I don’t think it matters Delia, either way.

          • Delia M Bottoms
            February 2, 2019 at 3:33 pm

            Thank you! I will let you know how it turns out. I did not have whiskey like I thought I did, so I searched and found grand Marnier. So I used that instead. I am at the final stage of boiling, so I need to get back to the stove. The aroma is delicious. :0)

          • Delia M Bottoms
            February 2, 2019 at 4:27 pm

            5 stars
            It is done and tucked away in the fridge in 1/2 pint jars. These oranges really were sour, so I had to add extra sugar. But I did it a little at a time until the flavor was right. My husband offered to help in the preparation and he julienned the rind very finely. That was so nice of him! It is delicious!! What I like about this recipe is its simplicity. And yes, you are right…sour oranges do have a lot of pectin! it jelled just lovely when I did the test on a chilled plate. I am looking forward to trying this in the morning on buttered toast. :0) Thanks again!

          • Sue
            February 2, 2019 at 4:43 pm

            I’m thrilled that this worked out so well for you, and how nice that it was a joint effort between you and your husband 🙂

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