Agrio de Naranja (Bitter Orange Spicy Vinegar and Sauce)

Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce). A burst of flavor and heat in a few drops

One of our readers once pointed out that the recipe for Sancocho was not complete without “agrio de naranja”.

“What’s that?” you may well ask yourself: It’s an uniquely Dominican spicy sauce, homemade, and preservative-free. It arrived on our tables well before famous bottled brands arrived in our colmados. It adds the kick your stew might be lacking.

If you haven’t noticed yet, I’m a sucker for homemade, natural and frugal, and this is something that hits the trifecta. Let me share this “secret” with you.

Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce). A burst of flavor and heat in a few drops

If you know Dominican cuisine well you’ll probably have noticed that this picture depicts something that looks decidedly not like agrio de naranja. Calm down, trust me, I’m a professional (although not on anything cooking-related, just saying).

Dominican Agrio de Naranja Recipe (Bitter Orange Spicy Vinegar and Sauce)  is prepared with bitter oranges. Bitter oranges are the ugly stepsisters of the citrus family. Not only do they have a rough, thick skin, they are also very sour, and with a touch of bitter that makes them useless for the same uses as limes and lemons. Despite this, they are used extensively in Dominican cooking as an ingredient in meat dishes (used to scrub meat before cooking), and as the main ingredient in this recipe.

Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce). A burst of flavor and heat in a few drops

Another ingredient used in this recipe is hot peppers. As you probably know (or suspect), not all hot peppers are created equal. The variety that is most-commonly used in our cuisine is the Scotch bonnet pepper, those deceptively cute round peppers that look treacherously like the sweet variety also used in our cuisine (we call the non-spicy ones ajíes gustosos, or “flavorful peppers”).

Now, what’s with the sauce in that picture? Lest you think it was my idea, I have to confess I found this served at one of our favorite traditional Dominican eateries, Típico Bonao. The good old homemade vinegar gets all the more potent when blended, something we can appreciate in this home of spicy food lovers.

Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce). A burst of flavor and heat in a few drops

Something important about the traditional vinegar is that it is usually left to ferment (as are all vinegars). I am not entirely convinced my university chemistry classes allow me to go down that route. I like some fermented foods (guarapo de piña, for one) but this can be a little risky. If you want your vinegar to ferment don’t add the salt and keep it outside the refrigerator long enough for it to start to ferment, then refrigerate. Do this at your own risk. Since I find the fermentation does not add anything in the way of flavor, I add the salt (it makes it inhospitable for bacteria and yeast) and keep mine refrigerated at all times. I also prepare mine in small batches to keep it fresh.

Yes, I am a wuss.

Aunt Clara
Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce)
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
Agrio de Naranja (Spicy Bitter Orange Vinegar and Sauce) is a uniquely-Dominican spicy sauce, homemade, and preservative-free.
Serves: 1 small jar ( about 4 oz)
  • A large, clean glass bottle or jar
  • 5 bitter oranges
  • 10 Scotch bonnet peppers, halved
  • 3 cloves of garlic, halved
  • 3 sprigs of fresh oregano
  • A sprig of thyme (optional)
  • ½ teaspoon of kosher salt (or whatever salt you have)
  • 1 teaspoon of peppercorns (optional)
  1. Wash the bottle or jar with soapy hot water, rinse well and let it dry completely.
  2. Wash the sour oranges and halve.
  3. Squeeze the juice and sieve.
To make the vinegar
  1. Fill up the bottle with the bitter orange juice and add the remaining ingredients.
  2. Macerate for a few days in the refrigerator.
To make the sauce
  1. Mix the bitter orange juice with the remaining ingredients (only use the leaves of the herbs), and blend until it turns into a coarse paste.
  2. Keep refrigerated.
  3. Use to season stews (usually it is put on the table so each person adds enough to their liking).
If you cannot find Scotch bonnet peppers use any other type of spicy pepper you find.

Unfortunately no substitution is possible in the case of the bitter oranges. You can find the juice bottled in Caribbean and some Asian stores.
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{ 6 comments… add one }

  • Lydia May 20, 2015, 6:02 PM

    Thanks for this recipe!! The photo is amazing! I will definitely do it. However, the last ingredient in this recipe is written in Spanish.

    • Aunt Clara May 20, 2015, 6:39 PM

      Ah, a brain fart. :)

      Thanks a lot for letting us know.

  • Ambika March 19, 2012, 4:08 PM

    Wow!! This looks absolutely delicious! Love your pics!

  • Sandra B. February 4, 2011, 8:09 PM

    Oh how many great memories! my mom always had a bottle of naranja agria!, funny that a few days ago she called me from Tampa Florida and said "aqui estoy haciendo unas botellas de naranja agrias" she even put in sprigs of oregano from my dad's vegetable garden! Love It!

  • Carmen Rosa February 1, 2011, 2:09 PM

    Gotta try this one too.

  • Mari January 31, 2011, 6:37 PM

    Me encanta el agrio de naranja!!! That's what I use to cook too, and like you I also keep my refrigerated, do it in small batch and put it on almost everything. I am lucky to have three bitter orange trees and I have to say it is a blessing.

    I just leave it with the sprigs though, I do not blend it.

    Have an awesome evening Clara :)