Updated: Jun 29
Cooking with essential oil is a hot topic. There is plenty of controversy out there on the interweb, and while I am in the pro-camp and attempt to shed some light here, ultimately everyone needs to research this for themselves and make their own decision.
It might help to know that essential oils are commonly used as flavouring agents in processed food, so using them internally is nothing new - personally I prefer essential oil flavouring to a synthetic concoction. It stands to repeat though, that I work with some of the purest oils available on this planet, so I feel totally safe using them.
One of the reasons I like cooking with oils is convenience: If I am time poor, adding a drop of basil or lemon saves me slicing leaves or grating the rind. There can be a nutritional difference between the use of the herb or spice and adding a drop of oil. For example the Vitamin C from Lemon is stored in the pulp of the fruit, and not its rind. The rind is used to distill the oil, but there are other benefits to be found there.
To me, cooking with essential oils means mainly that you enjoy the fragrance and flavour, with just a splash of additional healthy effects - if you are after therapeutic benefits, then there are probably better applications.
If you stick to some basic rules, cooking with essential oils can be fun and safe:
First of all, it is important to dilute your oils in a lipid. We want the flavour to be dispersed throughout the whole dish - always place your oil into a teaspoon of your cooking oil of choice first. When using it for sweet dishes such as ice cream or baking, mix with honey or syrup first.
Secondly, less is more. Start with adding one drop, stir, taste. Essential oils are very flavour intensive, and it may easily take over the taste of your dish. Time to mention my massive essential oil fail when I accidentally placed 3 drops to Melaleuca (Tea Tree) instead of Marjoram into my pumpkin soup. 3 drops ruined the entire pot for meant for 10 people, so be cleverer than me and read the label first.
Heat alters the chemical constituency of essential oils, and losing some of the properties cannot be helped, When adding oils to a hot dish you’ll add them at the very end, when you turned off the heat. When you use essential oils for baking this is not an option, but you will still be able to enjoy the flavour.
Here are some of my favourite uses:
Peppermint The obvious choice, right? Refreshing and cooling, try mint and grapefruit flavoured lemonade. Prepare some sugar sirup using sugar of choice and water, add a couple of drops into the sirup and add to your sparkling water, this is a super cooling drink during the hot summer months. As you’re not cooking this one, you also get the therapeutic benefits. Citrus Oils Wild Orange, Lemon, Green Mandarin, Grapefruit, Tangerine, you are spoiled for choice. Add to meringues, smoothies, whipped cream, salad dressings, into ice creams or sorbets and flavoursome cakes. Again, if you use them in a creation that does not need heating (for ice cream wait until the melange is cooled before adding the oil), you’ll benefit from the cleansing and energising properties.
Geranium That does not sound like your first port of call for flavouring, but I promise you, it is divine - a very grown-up sweet treat. Try flavouring a chocolate ice cream with wild orange and Geranium. Or melt chocolate, add a drop of Geranium and spread over the base of a blueberry fruit tart with a basil and orange meringue - sublime blends that will have your dinner guests pause in appreciation when they are trying to place the flavours after the first bite.
Cinnamon Caution with this one, as it is a hot oil. I sometimes rub my finger along the rim of my bottle and place a fraction of a drop on the roof of my mouth to quell sugar cravings. Ideal for french toast, cinnamon rolls, chocolate and coffee flavoured ice creams and smoothies, but also try adding to red meat or bean casserole dishes.
Herby Oils, such as Basil, Rosemary, Thyme and Marjoram Place in a spoonful of cooking oil of choice before adding to casseroles, pasta sauces, quiches or bread dough for a distinctive flavour.
To read more about which oils are safe to ingest, read this article