Cooking With Essential Oils: One of the Best Chefs Secret in Cooking
Cooking with essential oils has come into the cooking scene, rising into its own limelight, with an exponentially growing number of advocates, professionals and home cooks alike.
Though the use of these oils for its therapeutic properties has been a practice in existence for centuries, the lack of published clinical studies has kept it away from possible applications in the kitchen.
But little do some of us know that we have been ingesting these oils from our very young age. That choco-peppermint ice cream we so craved for contains, well, you guessed it right, essential oil of peppermint. Oh yes, cooking with essential oils ain’t that new at all.
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What are Essential Oils?
For clarification, the term essential oil will be used mainly in this review in the context of culinary and food-related applications.
Essential oils are naturally occurring volatile oils extracted via the process of cold-press or by distillation. They possess the distinct aroma or flavor of the plant from which it was derived.
Essential Oils Improve Culinary Practices
Definitely. It would be best to start the discussion on the benefits of essential oils with the fact that use of them reminds us of nature’s abundance on things essential to our existence in a state of wellness.
Essential Oils Enhance Complexity of Flavor
The availability of essential oils for cooking indeed opens up an entirely new avenue for recipe development. Ever had ambitions of beating grandma’s signature strawberry jam?
No need to modify recipes here. Add a drop of lavender oil. Done. The jam will end up with an entirely new aroma that will surely make grandma jealous.
Purity of Flavor
Essential oils are in every essence the purest aromas and flavors of nature made available for use in a highly concentrated extract. It’s that distinct flavor from an individual plant, herb, or spice stripped out of all its impurities.
It’s getting that sweet citrus smell of orange without the bitterness from the pulp. Think of cooking with essential oils like something to the effect of using high-dosage flavor steroids sans the harmful side effects.
Convenience of Cooking with Essential Oils
Even the best chefs working on the task of recipe and menu development stress over one undeniable consideration – the availability of ingredients which are affected by several factors. So would that explain why chefs are so grumpy? Perhaps.
- Local availability. Fancy to make some banana bread to go with your coffee? Simple. There are a lot of good recipes online. But, they all call for fresh bananas! Not available on the market!
A drop of the banana essence in your trusted pound cake recipe will certainly work like magic.
- Seasonal produce. What if while browsing through some cooking website, you stumble upon a recipe for Orange-Scented Quinoa, and oranges are out of season?
Go ahead, grab that little bottle of orange oil and save yourself from the hassle of looking for that zester that only shows up during the orange season.
- More economical. Ever tried to bake lemon pie? Most recipes call for let’s say a quarter cup of lemon juice and two heaping tablespoons of zest.
The only way to come up with that much zest would also mean a couple of lemons ending up in the compost bin. So why not opt for a lemon oil instead? Makes sense right?
- Rare ingredients. No Biryani or Paella would come close to the authentic without saffron threads.
The problem is, these minute strands come rare, costing too much, and lose potency over time. Good news is, they are available in highly-concentrated oil form.
- Antimicrobial properties. Perhaps not much concern for someone interested in cooking with essential oils, the use of these oils as an effective substitute for conventional antibiotics has grown popularity in certain segments of the food industry.
It's organic origin also makes it an entirely sensible improvement from the use of chemicals in the livestock and agriculture sectors.
Is Essential Oils Safe for Ingestion?
If you’ve read to this point, chances are, you’re really interested in the possibility of cooking with essential oils. And the good news is - yes, cooking with essential oils is certainly safe as long as you adhere to safe guidelines which I’ll be discussing shortly. Read along.
With a rising interest in cooking with essential oils, certain associations would have to step-up along its popularity to regulate the distribution of these new products safely.
The United States Food and Drug Administration has a designation for food additive substances, essential oils included, called GRAS which stands for Generally Recognized As Safe and is based on the following criteria:
- that the product must be recognized safe by qualified experts;
- that these experts must have the appropriate training and experience to make a correct evaluation of the product;
- that safety is determined via scientific procedures or through a rigorously referenced common use in food prior to 1958;
- and that GRAS be determined by the conditions of intended use in food.
In the last criteria or conditions of intended use, associations like the Flavor and Extract Manufactures Association (FEMA) come into play to set estimates for safe human consumption of these oils. Experts look at essential oils for the following properties:
- Toxicology – at what strength does an oil become poisonous to a human adult?
- Organic chemistry – what is the oil’s chemical nature?
- Biochemistry – How will the oil interact with the natural chemistry of the human body?
- Metabolism – what path will the oil take when ingested into the human body? How quickly will it be absorbed and excreted?
- Pathology – if the oil reaches toxic concentrations, how will it affect the human body? What disease would it cause? Which organs will be most affected by it?
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Guidelines for Cooking with Essential Oils?
Simple. Be guided by the keywords CONVERT, DILUTE, DELAY.
Convert. When trying to cook with essential oils, determine the volume of oil you’ll need by looking at the corresponding ingredient called for in the recipe.
As a general rule-of-thumb, use a drop of oil for every teaspoon of a corresponding herb or spice, without using more than 2 drops for a given dish.
Dilute. Your best bet to even distribution of essential oils in your preparation would be to dilute it within a carrier, preferably another lipid, to disperse it throughout the dish in concentrations that our bodies can readily assimilate.
Diluting it with a liquid of lower density just won’t be advisable. Think of mixing oil and water as an analogy.
Delay. When cooking with essential oils, always add them at the end of the cooking process. The heat from various cooking methods would break down the chemical structure of these oils making them less potent in flavor, aroma, and in their therapeutic capabilities.
This may consequently leave you tempted to adding more than what the recipe practically needs. Also, these oils may simply transpire by evaporation causing the same effects.
For added safety, use only food-grade cooking essential oils classified as GRAS.
I’ve written a simple recipe to get you started cooking with essential oils below the table. Would definitely love to hear about your own recipe creations too.
Essential Oils Popularly Used in Cooking
Energizing, pain relief
Energizing, antimicrobial, weight regulation
Beverages, casseroles, dips, pastry
Beverage, mild savory dishes
Antioxidant, antimicrobial, energizing
Meat dishes, breads, beverages
Digestive aid, anti-nausea, anti-inflammatory
Bread, beverages, stir-fry
Immunity boost, antimicrobial
Soups, stews, roasts
Sweets, preserves, marinades
Digestive aid, antioxidant
Sauces, salads, pickling
Until further clinical studies prove otherwise, the amazing benefits of cooking with essential oils warrant for serious consideration and advances in practical application.
With government agencies and certain associations putting in resources and effort into its regulation for safe human consumption; chefs and home cooks alike can narrow their focus on creativity when cooking with essential oils, without any fears of causing intoxication.
Let me end this article by leaving you a savory recipe to get you started on cooking with essential oils.
Tarragon-Infused Chicken with Capers and Spanish Chorizo
2 chicken breast quarters
1 Spanish chorizo
½ Cup capers
1 Bulb garlic
1 cup chicken stock
½ cup dry white wine
2 tbsp. clarified butter
1 drop food-grade essential oil of tarragon
1. Season chicken quarters with salt and pepper on both sides.
2. Heat about a tablespoon of olive oil in a pan and sear chicken pieces.
3. Set chicken aside and add in chorizo to lightly render its fat.
4. Add capers and garlic and sautee briefly.
5. Deglaze the pan with white wine.
6. Arrange seared chicken back in and add the chicken stock.
7. Poach covered for about 15 minutes
8. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
9. Turn off the heat and stir in essential oil of tarragon diluted in 2 tablespoons of clarified butter.
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