Essential oils are not only fabulous for your health and wellbeing, they’re actually quite amazing when it comes to cooking and there can be much satisfaction and appreciation for these intense flavour agents when used correctly.
As you dive deeper into the qualities and properties of essential oils, you’ll discover that a number of them belong just as much in the kitchen as they do in your diffuser or bathroom, like orange, basil, rosemary, lemon, lime, clove and many more.
But before you even think of adding a drop to any recipe, be sure that the oils are generally regarded as safe (GRAS). For a complete list of essential oils that are safe for cooking, check out this list from the FDA.
Another tip if you’re unsure which oils are best, make sure they are actually something we would eat in nature. If you have a favourite blend of essential oils, make sure they are all oils that come from a food source. You would not eat a pine or eucalyptus tree for example so it might be best to avoid using a blend with these oils in your cooking.
Understanding that essential oils are highly concentrated, often up to 100 times more than the herb or plant they came from, is one of the most important things to note. The key when using essential oils in cooking is less is best.
When making a savoury dish like a sauce for zucchini noodles for instance 3 drops of basil may be all that is required to flavour the meal. One or two drops of lemongrass into some steamed rice can do wonders for a Thai dish. 3-4 drops of peppermint into a chocolate chia cake brings it alive and of course, a few drops of lime into a coconut cream icing is heaven! Using a few drops only, it is the herbal, spicy and citrus oils are most effective when it comes to flavouring foods.
Essential oils are also a wonderful substitute if you don’t have certain ingredients on hand. If you see that a recipe calls for lemon zest and you’re out of fresh lemons at home, a few drops of lemon oil can easily take its place. You could try lemon, grapefruit, lime and orange oils in many recipes that require these fresh citrus fruit flavours.
Similarly, oregano, thyme and basil oils can be used for many Italian and Mediterranean recipes. I love to add a drop of basil or rosemary to my extra virgin olive oil which can give it that wee pep and a little more flavour. Keep in mind, though, that these oils are very potent, so a drop or two of each will give you the exquisite flavour you are after.
I’ve mentioned it already and I’ll repeat it one more time: Essential oils have a huge amount of flavour. This means a few drops of an oil is equal to about a teaspoon of a comparable extract (think vanilla, lemon, almond or mint).
Another key element is to know when to add your essential oils to a recipe. A good rule of thumb is to add them towards the end of the cooking process to preserve their most potent flavour. If you’re making something that requires the flavouring before then, it is not a problem to add to the batter or mixture you are working with (which can happen when making desserts!
As you become more familiar with using essential oils in the kitchen you will notice some oils are stronger than others. Oils like cinnamon, clove, oregano and thyme are naturally very intense oils, so be careful. I remember making Mushroom and Thyme soup once and it very quickly became Thyme Soup with a little mushroom – it was inedible!
So, when you use these essential oils in your cooking, you may like to dip a toothpick into the bottle to pick up a small amount of oil instead of using the bottle drop by drop.
One final thing to take note, essential oils do NOT dilute or mix well in water. Adding a few drops of lime to a glass of water is not ideal. The globules of essential oil will often arrive in your gut in one big strong hit and considering all essential oils have wonderful antibacterial qualities to a greater or lesser degree, and the gut is made up of trillions of bacteria, it makes sense not to compromise the amazing microbiome flora and digestive tract.
Always make sure when using oils in cooking or with food that there is a fat present in the recipe so the oil can be mixed and used efficiently and safely.
So, there you have the basics of cooking with essential oils and can see they are even more versatile than maybe first thought.
Remember these main tips:
- A little goes a long way
- Cooking with essential oils can be dangerous if used incorrectly
- Use oils that come from a food source only
- Essential oils must be diluted in a fat when using in a recipe
Some favourite essential oils to use when cooking include basil, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, ginger, grapefruit, lemon, lemon balm, lemongrass, lime, mandarin, marjoram, orange, oregano, peppermint, rosemary, sage, spearmint, thyme and vanilla. Some of the floral oils like chamomile, lavender and rose make an interesting and amazing offering in recipes too.