What is Triple Sec?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Triple sec is a liqueur made from the dried peels of Curaçao oranges. The is used to describe any generic beverage made from Curaçao oranges, and technically specialty beverages like Cointreau, Curaçao, and Grand Marnier are all simply forms of triple sec. Many liquor stores and major markets carry generic triple secs, along with fancier branded versions of this liqueur, and it is a common staple in most bars as well.

Triple sec is often used in orange cocktails.
Triple sec is often used in orange cocktails.

To make this liqueur, producers need dried skins of Curaçao oranges, oranges unique to the island of Curaçao in the Caribbean. The history of the Curaçao orange begins in Spain, where orange farmers selectively bred oranges to produce the famously sweet Valencia Orange. When Spanish settlers moved to Curaçao, they brought some of their favorite oranges with them, and discovered to their chagrin that the fruit turned out extremely bitter in the climate and soil conditions of the island.

Orange peel, one of the ingredients in triple sec.
Orange peel, one of the ingredients in triple sec.

The oranges were allowed to run wild on the island, since no one could come up with a use for them. In the mid 1800s, however, someone seized upon the idea of marinating the dried skins of Curaçao oranges in alcohol and then distilling the results to create a liqueur. The result was an early form of triple sec, which in turn generated a demand for the once-useless bitter oranges of Curaçao. Today, demand is so high that many distilleries use bitter orange peels from other varieties of orange to make this liqueur, with Curaçao liqueur being the only version which is certifiably made with Curaçao oranges.

Classically, the orange peels are steeped for 24 hours in a plain alcohol before being distilled three times to make an extremely concentrated liqueur. Sugar is often added to triple sec to cut the bitterness of the oranges, and the clear beverage may be colored to make it more visually interesting. Some producers also add other spices and flavorings to the beverage.

The quality of this orange-flavored beverage varies considerably. Some brands are good enough to drink on their own as aperitifs or digestifs, while others are more suitable for mixing with other drinks. Triple sec is an ingredient in a broad array of mixed drinks, and it is also sometimes used in cooking to flavor various foods. Triple sec-soaked cakes, for example, are a not uncommon sight during the holidays in some regions of the world.

Cointreau, often used to make Cosmopolitans, is a type of triple sec.
Cointreau, often used to make Cosmopolitans, is a type of triple sec.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I know that triple sec is usually thought of for cocktails, but I like to mix a splash into all different kinds of juice, especially orange juice. It adds a nice color and just a hint of an extra flavor.


@SZapper - Yeah, I bet those settlers had no idea how in demand those oranges would be in the future. But they basically invented a new kind of liqueur. And thank goodness, because without triple sec, I wouldn't be able to drink my favorite drink: the triple sec martini.


I had no idea that Curaçao oranges and Valencia oranges were actually the same thing, just grown in a different location. It's so interesting how differences in soil and climate can really affect the taste of a fruit or vegetable.

Anyway, I think it's really great that people on Curaçao found something to do with the oranges that were too bitter to eat. I can imagine how disappointing it must have been when they first started growing the oranges and realized they couldn't eat them.


@indemnifyme - I've always liked triple sec drinks, but I just didn't know it. One of my favorite drinks is made from blue Curaçao. I had no idea this was a kind of triple sec until I read this article. I should have guessed though, because it does taste a bit orangey.


@anon29067 - I'm not an expert, but I imagine you could keep triple sec around for quite some time before it would go bad. I've never heard of a liqueur actually going bad. I've only heard of beer going bad if it's kept too long (although then you can use it for beer bread.)

Anyway, I like triple sec cocktails. I really like the faint orange flavoring, and you can mix triple sec with a lot of other things to make a delicious, fruity, sweet cocktail.


this stuff makes me extremely violent. never having it again.


The base alcohol in triple sec is probably, not necessarily, derived from sugar cane. Sugar cane, which is also used to produce rum, is common in the Caribbean and South America. Spirits produced from sugar cane are common in lighter or clear liqueurs, most likely due to availability and low cost. Grand Marnier is made from Cognac, which is why it has a darker color and richer flavor. Alcohol acts as a preservative, which basically means that liquor and liqueur, such as triple sec, will never spoil. Alcohol has a very long shelf life.


What type of alcohol is used in making triple sec? Is it grain based or brandy based?


Does triple sec go bad?


Please tell me which has the least amount of sugar:

Cointreau or Triple Sec.

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