Why Did My Orange Cake Turn Out Bitter? Here Are All The Solutions You Should Know!

Popular all around, orange cake is an all-time favorite. I know it is one of mine. The fresh citrus taste, packed with vitamin C, combined with the moist texture, create the perfect sweet addition to any occasion. Most orange cake recipes are also not difficult to follow, thus increasing the cake’s popularity. But, in some cases, although you followed all the instructions, when you took that first bite, it wasn’t at all what you expected. Your cake had a bitter taste that could not be explained. So disappointing! Here are the reasons this can happen:

Improper handling of ingredients, mainly, orange zest, is one of the main causes of a bitter orange cake. When using fresh oranges, be sure that you steer clear of the pith- that white pulp under the peel. Zesting your orange to just the right depth can assure your cake stays sweet, citrusy and delicious.

Don’t despair! Let’s investigate all the reasons for your bitter dessert disaster and get the goods on how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.


Oranges have a bitterness to them. Let’s start by putting that out there. Many orange cake recipes call for use of the zest. What exactly is orange zest? Is it the peel? Not quite. Orange peels have two parts: the rind and the pith. The rind is the orange outer layer, and the pith is the white and bitter inner pulp between the rind and the orange itself. Orange zest is the outer layer of the orange rind, grated or delicately minced. If you grate too much and reach the pith, you are headed for a bitter cake. The amount of zest used is also super important. Use to much, or if the zest isn’t grated finely enough, and it will release bitter compound in your batter.

Another issue with oranges is ripeness. Overripe oranges tend to lose their sweetness as acidity increases. This can also cause bitterness. 

And finally, it is important to choose the right type of orange. Some are sweeter than others, for example, Valencia oranges are sweeter than Seville oranges, which have a certain bitterness to them. Some oranges have higher acidity levels and that can affect the taste of your cake.


This might be a little surprising but, both overmixing and undermixing can change the taste of your cake. Overmixing will cause the zest to have a chemical reaction and release bitterness. It might also affect the gluten in the flour, which will change the texture of your cake.

Undermixing, on the other hand, will cause the batter to be uneven and pockets of bitter ingredients won’t dissolve properly, leaving bitter elements. You want to make sure all your ingredients are evenly mixed in. It is especially important to thoroughly mix your dry ingredients because this is where those pesky pockets of baking powder may be hiding. Use a whisk and look out for clumps of baking soda or baking powder. So, best to follow the instructions in the recipe rigorously to make sure your orange cake is a delicious success.


Baking soda and baking powder, also known as “leavening agents”, are added to cakes to help them rise. They can also be behind an orange cake gone bitter. There are several ways that this can happen:

  1. The use of too much leavening will cause your cake to have a bitter metallic taste.
  2. If you have used baking powder containing sodium aluminum sulfate, your cake could also have a bitter taste. Using aluminum-free baking powder may help with this.
  3. It is also imperative to check the expiration dates on your leavening. Stale baking powder or baking soda won’t work properly and will alter the taste.
  4. You might be using baking soda INSTEAD of baking powder. This will turn your cake bitter.  


Orange cakes are based on a delicate balance between sweet and citrus tartness. If you haven’t followed the instructions properly and not added enough sugar or other sweeteners, you might be in for a bitter surprise, as the acidity in your oranges will take over and cause the taste to change. Be sure to follow the instructions to a tee and use the right amount of sugar as stated in the recipe.


No one likes a burnt cake, but that is especially true of orange cakes. This is because orange cakes can sometimes have a dense thick texture, and overbaking will bring on extreme bitterness. Keep an eye on the oven and follow your visual cues like color and toothpick testing to be sure you aren’t leaving your cake in the oven for too long.


Keeping an eye on your ingredient quality is key! Expired or old ingredients will alter the taste of your batter and might introduce bitterness. This is true especially in your basics such as flour, cocoa powder, or leavening agents, as discussed earlier.


When it comes to baking, even a small shift in balance, can put your cake on a course for failure.  It is tempting to skip steps and not measure your various ingredients with the right tools, but base things on what “looks” right. I implore you to stick the instructions. Keep your measuring tools close at hand and don’t do things based on instinct. Baking is an exact science and any change in the mixture will change the taste of your cake.  


If you are worried about ending up with a bitter cake, I hear you! No one wants to put in all the work just to toss your creation into the trash at the end. We previously went over all the key issues that can go wrong. Now, here are some guidelines to keep you in the “sweet zone”.


As we said earlier, oranges come in a wide variety of types. In general, you can divide them into sweet or bitter types. The sweet types will usually be used for consuming and baking, while the bitter types are best suited for making jam or marmalade. There are a few factors to take into consideration: size, color, flavor, and seasonality. Let’s look at a few types of oranges that are particularly suited for baking.

  • Valencia– With a lovely sweet and juicy texture, the Valencia orange is a great option for baking. Valencia oranges have a high level of acidity which can create a strong, pronounced flavor. They are also big! So you will have a juicier, tastier cake, with more pulp as well.
  • Blood Oranges– For adding a color boost, opt for blood oranges! Their unique color and sweet taste are perfect for baking, just make sure to take into consideration that they do have a high acidity level which will also introduce a tart element in flavor. Make sure to use ripe blood oranges to get the most flavor.
  • Navel- Being one of the most popular orange types in the world, Navel oranges are a staple in orange cake recipes. First of all, they are packed with vitamin C. They are also perfect for baking due to their sweet flavor, caused by high sugar levels, and their juicy texture. Another plus is the fact that they are very easy to peel. That makes them a great match in the kitchen.
  • Clementine Oranges– These oranges are actually a hybrid between mandarin orange and sweet orange. These small, sweet oranges are suited for baking due to their size, sweetness, and the lack of seeds.
  • Tangerine– Tangerines are also a popular choice for baking. This is due to their sweet flavor with a slight tangy element. Make sure to choose tangerines with no blemishes.

As we said earlier, no matter what type you decide to add to your cake, using oranges that are fresh is important for keeping flavor up and bitterness down. Feel your orange and make sure it is firm, and that the color is bright. Oranges are best kept in the crisper door in the fridge. If you leave them out on the counter, they will stay fresh for about a week, while in the refrigerator they can stay fresh for around a month.

Another general rule of thumb is to go for oranges with a thin peel. That way, you will also have less pith. I suggest experimenting with different types of oranges, until you find the one that best tickles your taste buds!


Many orange cake recipes call for zest, which can add a lovely citrusy aroma and tangy taste to your batter. But proper zesting has some basic ground rules. Here is a short primer on getting that right:

  1. Make sure to use the right tool. If you don’t have a zester; a hand grater, vegetable peeler or microplane will do just fine. Choosing the right tool depends on how you plan to use your zest. For cakes, microplanes are a great choice.
  2. Rinse the orange.
  3. Start to scrape the orange. The most important thing is to get the pressure right. Light pressure won’t scrape off bits of the rind, while scraping too hard might give you pieces of the bitter pith layer.
  4. Make sure you are grating extra small shavings. You want these very small and delicate.

Orange zest can also be frozen to use at a later date.


As we said earlier, problems with your leavening agents can be at the root of a bitter cake. Since baking powder and baking soda create a chemical reaction that is designed to properly help your cake rise, if they are old and not working properly, this can also leave a bitter taste. If you are not sure about the expiration date, don’t worry! I’ve got you covered. To check if your leavening agents are still good, here are helpful tests:

To check baking powder: Mix ¼ teaspoon of baking powder to ½ cup of hot water. If it fizzes, it is still working.

To check baking soda: Follow the previous instructions but add a ¼ teaspoon of vinegar to the hot water and check for fizzing. If it fizzes- it is good to go.


To avoid bitterness caused by overbaking, I have a few pointers. First of all, make sure to set your timer to the time stated in the recipe. Also, set your oven to the right temperature, and if you want to be extra careful, you might want to consider using an oven thermometer, because some ovens might not be calibrated. After you start, keep an eye on your cake. Look for a nice golden top and use a toothpick or wooden skewer to check if your cake is baked well. If it comes out clean and dry, remove immediately.


If your recipe calls for whole oranges, a good way to combat bitterness is to boil them. Boil the oranges for 2 minutes and then put them in ice to stop cooking. You can redo this a few times. This will remove the bitterness in the pith, make the texture thicker and it will make your orange cake stickier and moist- two things that can set your cake on the path to success.


If you are still concerned about your cake coming out bitter, here are a few small tricks to assure your cake is citrusy-perfect.

  • Adding a small amount of an acidic element can help diminish bitterness. Think lemon juice, sour cream, cocoa powder, cream of tartar or even vinegar.
  • Add a little more sugar to your batter. If not sugar, you can consider other types of sweeteners such as honey.
  • Soak orange pieces in syrup before mixing. This will drive sweetness from within.
  • Add extra flavors to mask the bitterness, for example: cinnamon, vanilla, orange marmalade or nutmeg can help even out the tastes.


So, you prepped, zested, mixed, baked and the whole house filled up with that warm thick “baked cake” aroma, but when you took a small taste, you were met with a bitter surprise. Is it a total loss? Or are there ways to turn the situation around? There are some simple things that can still be done to fix your cake. Let’s explore:


Frosting is a great way to scare the bitter away! By adding a layer of delicious creamy frosting made with a sweet and sour combo, for example- buttercream with a dash of lemon, you can create a rich, nuanced taste to your cake, that complements your basic citrus flavors. Get creative! There are many flavors of frosting that can take your cake up a notch and successfully mask bitterness. A nice glaze can also help even out tastes and make sure your orange cake is delicious. Frosting also adds an additional layer of moisture- and that helps in driving bitterness to the curb.


By lightly brushing your cake with orange juice, orange concentrate or a syrup created with orange juice and sugar, you can boost your citrus flavor and at the same time, add another layer of moisture. This simple trip can do a lot to get your cake back in the sweet zone and give you peace of mind.  


Another way to play with flavors, after baking is to add toppings. A light layer of orange zest, sprinkling a light layer of powdered sugar (icing sugar) or chocolate shavings can make your cake more interesting and add sweetness. Coconut flakes or chopped nuts could also be interesting additions to help diminish the bitter tone.


While I understand that you will want to do all that you can to salvage your orange cake, please be aware of some pointers.

  1. Toppings alone might not do the trick. While they will definitely add beauty to your cake, they might not be able to completely mask a bitter blunder.
  2. Be super aware of the texture. If you feel that you are going overboard with moisture, pause to be sure that you won’t be left with a soggy mess.
  3. Careful with the sugar. It will clearly be tempting to add sweetness, when panicking over a cake tragedy, but proceed with caution when adding extra sweetening, otherwise you might be solving one problem but a new one will arise.
  4. Take the time to think about your flavor combination. Don’t rush into a frenzy of masking the bitter taste with too many different additions and get stuck with a confusing cake! Make sure the additional ingredients work with the basics of your orange element and complement it.

Finally, if all else has failed, you can repurpose your cake. You can make a crumble and combine it with vanilla ice cream. If it is overbaked, you can mix with melted butter, crumble it and use it as a base for a pie. And lastly, you can crumble it and dip in icing to make cake balls or cake pops. Trust me, your guests will enjoy these great desserts just as much and will probably never know that there was anything wrong in the first place! Take a chance!


So, now you are on your way to a prefect, delicious orange cake! When starting out, it is important to take these pointers into consideration. By comprehending all the different causes that could lead to bitterness, you can master the delicate balance of sweet and tangy goodness, that is at the heart of orange baked goods. Keep your eye on fresh ingredients, proper technique and following recipe instructions, and you are on your way to success!  


Hi, my name is Amit. I started baking at a young age at my father's bakery. I hope I can answer some of your questions and hopefully you will find some hidden gems to help you out with your home baking skills.

Recent Posts