Healthy living is often a direct result of healthy cooking. While reaching into the spice cabinet for herbs such as rosemary and peppermint has become commonplace, you may find another effective way to cook with herbs and plants is by using essential oils for cooking.
Essential oils (EO) offer several benefits including the ability to know the source of your flavorings, saving money as it only takes a drop or two, and convenience because you’ll always have what you need on hand instead of having to run to the store.
What are they?
Essential oils are made from aromatic plants through natural processes to concentrate the “essence” of the plant into a liquid form.
Not technically oil, they are actually hydrophobic liquids that are distilled or cold pressed from various parts of the plant such as the leaves, stems, petals, needles, twigs and branches.
Some are also extracted using chemicals or solvents, but cold pressing and steam distillation are the preferred methods to keep the essence of the plant in its purest form.
The tradition of using EO is an ancient one, dating back thousands of years. Used for physical healing as well as emotional well-being, these are powerful, natural substances that provide a healthy boost when used in the kitchen.
Although creating a collection of these hydrophobic liquids may seem a bit on the pricey side, over time this is an extremely economical way to cook.
Because of a significantly longer (indefinite!) shelf life, they ultimately trump dried herbs and spices for imperishability.
When determining what essential oils to use for cooking, it is important to understand where they come from and what grade they are. Some cheaper versions are only useful for perfumes and scents because of the quality of plants they come from and how they are extracted.
Higher grade substances that can safely be used for cooking will be labeled 100% pure and should indicate that they are Food Grade. Young Living, doTerra, LorAnn, and other brands offer products which, when used in proper amounts, can be not only safe but beneficial to the body’s health.
For certain items, such as nutmeg, using the essential oil may be safer than using the plant because components that may be toxic in the plant become non-volatile through the extraction process.
It is definitely necessary to avoid products that are extracted with harmful solvents, but those are usually used for Perfume Grade components rather than for Food Grade ingredients. When in doubt, contact the manufacturer to find out what kind of processes or solvents are used in the extraction process.
Ideally you’ll find that substances used for cooking will be extracted through cold steam distillation or cold pressing. The use of high temperatures in the extraction process can break down the structure and change the chemical compounds so it’s best to avoid those that have been exposed to high temperatures.
This also means that you’ll want to find a room temperature place for storage—obviously not in the cabinet directly above the stove!
Nature-identical substances should be avoided as they compare chemically to the natural product but are made of synthetic components, so you are not eating the actual plant but rather a synthetic chemical made to mimic its qualities.
No one wants that.
For instance, horseradish is a food that is perfectly safe to eat, but horseradish essential oil contains allyl isothiocyanate, which is an irritant to the skin, eyes, nose, and mucus membranes and should not be ingested.
The best way to be sure that what you are using for cooking is safe is to check the Latin name on the bottle and compare it to the IFRA (International Fragrance Association) restricted and banned lists, which can be found here.
Speaking with an herbalist, aromatherapist, or nutritional therapist may give you more confidence in using these in the kitchen.
In addition, even products that are safe to ingest can be extremely powerful. You should consult a doctor prior to ingesting these strong substances if you have any sort of medical condition.
For instance, those with high blood pressure should avoid using peppermint, rosemary, eucalyptus, black pepper, pine, and other essential oils that can be hypertensive. Be sure that your family (or any guests you might be cooking for) are healthy and well before feeding them food cooked with these substances.
Varieties to AVOID in Cooking
This is not a complete list by any means, but here are some of the essential oils you might think are safe because of their names, but actually are not:
- Bitter Almond – Prunusamygdalus var. amara
- Camphor- Cinnamomumcamphora
- Horseradish – Cochleariaarmoracia
- Mustard – Brassica nigra
- Sassafras – Sassafras albidum
- Wintergreen – Gaultheria procumbens
Essential Oils Used for Cooking
Always check the Latin name of your essential oil first, and make sure that it is 100% pure.
Here are some essential oils that can typically be used safely in cooking (always check labeling or check with the manufacturer first – Foodal is not responsible for any misuse):
Used in Cooking
- Black Pepper
- Cinnamon Bark
- Juniper Berry
- Lemon Verbena
How to Cook with Essential Oils
Essential oils are typically added at the end of the cooking process in order to preserve their flavor. However, if you find that your flavor is coming out too strong, then let the dish simmer for just a bit before serving.
Use just a single drop.
They never go bad so you don’t have to run to the grocery store if someone in your family ate that last orange you were going to zest! This is especially helpful in winter when fresh herbs or fruits run at a premium price.
Frozen Peppermint Mocha Coffee
Guaranteed to clean out your nasal cavities while providing your chocolate fix, this coffee drink is sure to please those who love their Starbucks, without the hefty price tag.
This chutney is great to use as a garnish for meats or as a dip paired with cream cheese and crackers.
About Julie Workman
As a freelance writer for over 15 years, Julie Workman has been published in various magazines, books, and online media. She holds a college degree in Home Economics which she uses every day in overseeing her household and making her home a happy place for her family.