From olives and celery stalks to dehydrated flowers and mini sandwiches, when it comes to what can be used as a cocktail garnish, it seems the limit does not exist. But as the realm of cocktail garnishes continues to expand, there’s one that remains tried and true: the citrus twist. Whether a lemon, lime, grapefruit, or orange, citrus twists are admired for the refreshing, crisp flavors even a slight expression provides.

Despite the popularity of twist garnishes, bartenders and at-home mixologists need to keep one thing in mind when handling their citrus: pith. Characterized by its bitter flavor, pith is in every citrus fruit and has the potential to alter a cocktail’s aromas and flavor profile. To learn more about pith, and to discover how much is too much when it comes to garnishes, VinePair caught up with Megan Lazar, head bartender at Koloman in NYC, to learn more.

“Pith is a spongy tissue found in plants, citrus fruits being one of them,” Lazar explains. “In citrus, however, it’s going to be that starchy tissue between the outer skin and the meat of the fruit itself.”

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Lazar describes pith as having a very strong, bitter flavor that is considered unusable in most culinary instances. Lazar says the less pith on a garnish, the better — she and a fellow bartender have even competed with one another to see who could shave the most pith off their twists.

“Oftentimes when a citrus twist is added to a drink, it’s going to offer a really nice essence, a nice aroma for your cocktail. However, many people drink their cocktails quite slowly, and you have to take account of this,” she explains. “What could start as a really great drink could end up undrinkable because it’s gotten too bitter. For example, a Martini with a twist can go from being really nice, crisp, and refreshing to overwhelmingly bitter and unpalatable.”

While not a fan of pith herself, Lazar says there’s a slight caveat: “There are a ton of bartenders out there who are working to achieve zero waste, and zero waste includes pith. There’s now ways to use pith creatively, like what Iain Griffiths and Kelsey Ramage have done, to make it taste less bitter and more like citrus by pressure cooking citrus with water and acids to create a citrus stock.”

Lazar advises at-home bartenders looking to reduce the amount of bitterness in their cocktails to put appearance aside and forgo the garnish altogether.

“If I were at home making a drink with a citrus twist, I would express the citrus oil around the surface of the cocktail, the rim of the glass, and then just toss it,” Lazar says. “At home, aesthetics don’t have to be perfect.”