I love cooking with a variety of herbs and spices. I thoroughly enjoy coming up with new flavor combinations and interesting foods. Virtually every culture has unique spices and flavors from using the goodness of herbs and plants to season foods. Extending the use of plants as seasonings to essential oils gives us even more variety and ways to enjoy all that the plants have to offer. Cooking with essential oils adds both flavor and nutrition to foods.
The Safety of Consuming Essential Oils
Many people have concerns about the safety of ingesting essential oils. In fact, it is a topic that is often hotly debated. The important thing to remember is to choose your essential oils wisely. Select oils from a company you trust that are labeled specifically for internal ingestion. Make sure they are 100% organic, therapeutic grade essential oils.
The other thing to note is that ingesting essential oils is nothing new. People have been using essential oils as medicines and flavoring for centuries. Still, if you don’t feel comfortable consuming essential oils, then don’t do it. You can continue to enjoy the benefits of essential oils topically and aromatically.
Don’t Ditch the Herbs and Spices
Keep in mind that not every essential oil is a good choice for culinary creations. Cooking with essential oils can change the taste of foods, and in some cases the whole herb produces a tastier result. Because of this, there will always be a place for herbs and spices in your spice cabinet. But sometimes it’s easier to add a drop or two of essential oil in to a dish instead of spending time chopping, grating and dicing. Other times, an essential oil can take the place of an extract or artificial flavoring. For example, a couple drops of lemon essential oil can substitute for grated lemon zest in a pinch.
Cooking with Essential Oils: The Basics
Degradation of the Essential Oils
Some people worry that cooking with essential oils will degrade them and diminish their therapeutic properties. Remember that cooking with essential oils is primarily for the flavors they impart to food, with an added bonus of potential health benefits on the side. For more potent health effects, other applications are more ideal. The two primary concerns here are chemical alteration and evaporation.
To lessen the effects of cooking, you can delay adding essential oils to foods until close to the end of the cooking process. Although It is highly unlikely that cooking essential oils could alter their chemistry enough to create any harmful compound, delaying decreases the exposure to heat and can prevent excessive evaporation. Another option to prevent evaporation is simply to use a lid when cooking with oils in soups and sauces.
I said it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: Be choosy when it comes to selecting essential oils for ingestion. Always select essential oils that have undergone rigorous testing for purity. Low quality essential oils usually contain fillers, chemicals and other harmful substances which can be toxic. It is also pertinent to choose essential oils specifically labeled for internal usage.
Dial it Back
Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Remember how we learned to use glue back in school: “dot, dot, not a lot”? The same applies to essential oils. Start with a drop —or even less in some cases— and work from there. In smaller dishes, beverages, or when I use very potent essential oils, such as cinnamon bark or oregano, I start by dipping a toothpick in the essential oil and swirling into my food or drink. Because every essential oil is unique, there is not really a rule of thumb here. But rarely would any recipe require more than 1-2 drops of an essential oil. The key is to stir in a little, wait a few minutes, and taste test before adding more.
Since oil and water don’t mix, it’s also often a good idea to combine essential oils with a fatty oil before adding to a dish. This is especially important with soups, stews, and sauces. Diluting in an edible carrier oil helps ensure the essential oil will disperse throughout the entire dish and not end up floating on the top.
Best Essential Oils for Cooking
Some essential oils lend themselves to recipes better than others. When a recipe calls for an herb or spice that you want to substitute with an essential oil, make sure you enjoy the aroma and flavor of the given oil. Below are a few suggestions of some common choices when cooking with essential oils.
For desserts, smoothies, and beverages, like coffee, tea, or homemade sodas, the following may be good choices:
- Cinnamon bark
Citrus oils work best in place of zest in a recipe. Because they are cold-pressed from the rind of the fruit, the flavor is more pungent than juice, so be extra careful when substituting in recipes that call for citrus juices.
- Citrus Fresh
There are plentiful essential oils to replace savory seasonings in foods.
- Black Pepper
- Celery Seed
Time to Get Cooking!
Now that you know a few basics of cooking with essential oils, go ahead and start cooking with confidence! Do you have a favorite recipe with essential oils to share? Comment below and share!
When it comes to using essential oils, safety is key. To learn more about ingesting essential oils as well as loads of other scientific safety information, check out my book, Essentials: 75 Answers to Common Questions About Essential Oils and Supplements.