Cooking with Essential Oils

Fresh cooking with essential oilsCooking and ingesting essential oils can be the subject of much controversy, but it’s nothing new.  If you’ve ever enjoyed pasta with sauce, devoured a piece of peppermint chocolate candy, put cinnamon on French Toast, or enjoyed a gingerbread cookie during the holidays you’ve ingested an essential oil!

Both real and synthetic essential oils– have been used as flavoring agents for years.  So, the idea of us cooking with essential oils in our home kitchen is not a new idea.

If you’ve never tried it, there are some important things to remember:

  • There is a difference between the fresh herb or spice and its essential oil.
  • Not every essential oil is a good choice for cooking.
  • Some essential oils don’t taste quite as good as the herb.

In this post, we’ll discuss the basics of cooking with essential oils and

General Guidelines to Cooking with Essential Oils

Everyone has different tastes and likes some expect some experimentation before you find the exact formula that matches your taste preferences.  With that in mind, here are some basic guidelines when cooking with essential oils.

  • Typically, 1 drop of a citrus oil (lemon, lime, grapefruit, bergamot, etc.) can substitute for 1 teaspoon of citrus zest. If the recipe calls for the zest from 1 the whole fruit, use 8–14 drops of the citrus essential oil.
  • For minty oils (peppermint and spearmint), substitute 1 drop for 1 teaspoon of the dried mint leaves or 1 Tablespoon of fresh mint leaves.
  • Cinnamon and cassia are pretty similar. However, their flavor strength is quite a bit different. Start by substituting 1 drop of cinnamon for 1–2 Tablespoons of ground cinnamon and 1 drop of cassia for 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon or cassia.
  • For herbaceous oils (basil, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, cilantro, dill, etc.), start with a toothpick dipped in the oil and stirred into the mixture. You can add more to taste as needed.
  • You can use floral herbs like lavender in cooking; but because floral flavors are uncommon in American foods, you’ll want just a hint of the flavor. Start with a toothpick dipped in the oil and then stirred into the mixture. Add more if needed.
  • For other flavors, a good rule of thumb is to substitute 1 drop of oil for 1–2 Tablespoons of dried spice or herb and 1 drop of oil for 1–2 teaspoon of fresh spice. If you think the oil is strong, or the recipe calls for less than the above quantities, use the toothpick method instead. Always taste, then add more if needed.

For hot recipes, it is best to add essential oils at the end of the cooking process. Essential oils are called “volatile” for a reason.  They are relatively fragile and will dissipate quickly in high heat!

For instance, in stovetop recipes, wait until the cooking is almost finished.  Then stir your essential oil into the dish.  Allow to simmer a few minutes longer, then serve.  For baking, unfortunately, you’ll lose a few the essential oil’s properties in the process.

Essential Oils For Cooking

Here are some of the most common essential oils for home cooking.

  1. Lavender

Lavender is one of the most gentle oils, and a good oil to begin with when learning how to cook with essential oils. The flavor is delicate and floral; it is an excellent choice for a variety of cooking options.  Begin with lavender in dessert recipes like cookies and scones.  Add to beverages like lemonade.  As you learn how the flavors behave, try lavender in a savory dish like a baked fish. Just a couple of drops for the whole recipe will add just a unique floral touch to make your recipe noticed.

  1. Peppermint

Cool and refreshing, peppermint essential oil is another easy one to begin using in cooking. A drop of peppermint essential oil added to honey turns an ordinary mug of tea into a refreshing, energizing drink.  A drop of peppermint in hot cocoa makes a cold, rainy day much better.   Peppermint also blends well in lemonade.  For the adventurous, try a lavender, peppermint, lemonade mix!  You’d be surprised at how well these three essential oil flavors work together.

  1. Citrus

Citrus oils are pressed directly from the peel of the fruit, which means they’ve yet to undergo heat; making citrus essential oils potentially more sensitive to heat applications.  They work best in cold drinks and foods but do work in hot dishes. Just be aware of that when you set your expectations.

Use citrus oils in drinks, smoothies (orange-cream, anyone?), and treats. Add to stir-fries and casseroles, one-pot wonders, and even in dips. The sky’s the limit with these delicious, fruity oils.  Add a couple of drops of lemon essential oil to your drinking water.  The oil helps flush toxins from your body.

  1. Bergamot

While bergamot is technically citrus, it deserves special mention. Since it’s not a fruit that we eat so generally don’t relate to its flavor.  Bergamot’s flavor is mildly citrus-like and blends well stirred into honey for tea. Try bergamot in scone recipes and treats to take advantage of its excellent pairing with mild flavors.

  1. Cinnamon/Cassia

Cinnamon and Cassia essential oils are strong in both flavor and effects. It’s more important than ever to dilute properly to protect sensitive membranes and to only use a drop or two for a recipe.

Obviously, these two oils work very well in sweet dishes (think cinnamon rolls).

  1. Cardamom

Cardamom is a strong antioxidant with potential digestive benefits. Use cardamom and cinnamon as part of a chai flavor blend or in any spice-flavored dessert or treat.  Cardamom powder is also included in some savory recipes, adding a warm flavor touch to meat dishes and main courses. Adding cardamom essential oil in place of the powder may add digestive benefits to the recipe as well as tons of flavor.

  1. Ginger

Ginger essential oil is great when working with sweets (like ginger snaps, gingerbread, and spiced drinks). But you should try it in sauces for savory dishes like stir-fries and marinades. Fresh ginger has to be peeled and grated, so ginger essential oil can be a quick and easy addition when time is short, but flavor is needed.

  1. Thyme

Thyme is a flavorful culinary herb.  As a savory flavor, add thyme essential oils to meat dishes. The herbaceous flavor blends well into soups and stews.  Thyme also is good for baking. Add to marinades to add a herbaceous touch without being limited to dry rubs. For a surprising twist, experiment with thyme in desserts and treats to offset the sweetness.

  1. Coriander/Cilantro

Coriander is the seed of the plant and cilantro is the leaf of the same – but their flavors and applications are much different. Their essential oils work in a similar way. Use cilantro essential oil where you would use cilantro, in salsas, dips, and savory cuisine. Coriander essential oil works well in sauces, vegetable dishes, pickling, and other delicious recipes that use herbs.

Beside cooking essential oils have a myriad of health benefits for your body. When you incorporate essential oils into your cooking, it’s just one more way you help yourself stay healthy.