Essential Oils in cooking

essential oils

Put simply, it is best to use essential oils as a flavor substitute. They can come in very handy if you don’t have certain ingredients on hand. … or if the herbs themselves are just too downright expensive. You can also use them to enhance store-bought sauces to give them a little more “Oomf!” Oregano, thyme and basil oils can be used to dress up many Italian recipes. Just go easy – one drop is usually enough. With all the craze for internal consumption of essential oils generally – without medical advice – there has been a huge increase in national poison centers of essential oil related poisoning. I am not saying this to put you off using them, just to warn you that a little really does go a long way and MORE IS NOT BETTER.

The food industry uses many essential oils to flavor products, but in MINISCULE quantities, and as such, they meet FDA requirements. If the quantities were too great, the foods would become toxic. It is difficult to quantify what “miniscule” means as for each oil it may be different, which is why I recommend the toothpick method described below. Also, as with all food preparation, you can always add a little more, but you CANNOT remove it once added.

A little history – essential oils have been around for thousands of years. We can see 188 references to them in the Bible alone, the most famous being Frankincense and Myrrh of course. Also two of the most expensive.

There is documented evidence as early as 1550 BC that the ancient Egyptians were using oils both for treating ailments and for their aromatic scents. They were using an infusion method; similar to the one I told you about for storing herbs and spices in olive oil – steep it in there for long enough and the oil itself will be “flavored” by the plant that’s in it. This will not produce as potent an essential oil as the steam distillation method used today, (which was in fact discovered by the Romans,) but it is a method that you can do yourself at home and that, for cooking purposes, is most effective.

High quality steam distilled essential oils can be pretty expensive, for example 1 pound of pure Melissa oil sells for $9,000-$15,000. Although that sounds exorbitant, one must realize that to produce that 1 pound of oil you need 3 tons of plant material. Plus you only use a tiny drop at a time.

Why use essential oils? A nutritional deficiency within the human body (which is the cause of most diseases,) is basically due to an oxygen deficiency within the cells. Essential oils are lipid soluble and are capable of penetrating cell membranes, even if those membranes have hardened because of an oxygen deficiency. The essential oil contains oxygen molecules that help transport nutrients to the starving human cells. By providing the oxygen needed, they also work to stimulate the immune system. They are also very powerful anti-oxidants and have been shown to destroy all tested bacteria and viruses while simultaneously restoring balance to the body.

You can find many websites dedicated to educating you about essential oils and their uses – which are many and varied. You can start with these if you like, I personally use both:


You can use them topically – directly onto the skin, aromatically – diffused into the air, or internally – either taken in a vegetable based capsule, a drop in your water or tea, or you can use them in your cooking, which is what I’ll talk a little about now.

One 15 ml bottle of essential oil contains approximately 250 drops of oil. When you consider that a buying a sprig or two of fresh rosemary in a supermarket will set you back $3-4 and you may only get to use it once or twice, then 8 or 9 cents for one single drop of essential oil, which lasts for years if stored correctly (cool, dark place, lid closed tightly) seems like a worthwhile investment to me. (Price quoted is based on current prices for Rosemary oil from NYR organics.) Prices do vary from oil to oil and company to company, so it can be worth your while to shop around. Also the length of time they last will vary. You should be able to get the distillation period from your supplier (eg, summer 2017) and how long that oil should be good for, eg 2 years, 8 years, etc. If they cannot supply this, I would look at another supplier.

DO read the label! There should only be one ingredient – the essential oil itself. If there are any other oils listed, that means it has been diluted in a carrier oil and if there are any other ingredients on there, do not touch it with a barge pole!! However some companies (all European ones) will have the separate chemical components listed on the label; do not confuse this with added ingredients.

You only need one or two drops of a true essential oil to flavor an entire dish. For example, I used a drop of coriander oil and basil oil to flavor some cous cous in our restaurant. People loved it! And just those two drops was enough for 6 servings.

I have added a drop of peppermint oil to chocolate cupcakes – delightful! Wild Orange oil to fudge. Lavender oil to shortbread cookies. I am always using Thyme, Oregano, Basil and Rosemary in lasagna, pasta sauces, casseroles, etc. It’s just so much easier than dealing with fresh herbs and so much more flavorful than dried. Try adding a tiny drop of peppermint oil to your lemonade – simply divine – I cannot drink it any other way now.

pappermint oil

The recommendation, when adding it to cooking, is to use a toothpick to dip into the oil and to stir it through the dish. That way you don’t get such a concentration in just one area, which with non-saucy dishes (such as the cous cous) is very useful. It also helps you to control the amount used. It is very easy to get carried away shaking drops into a dish, particularly when it is often difficult to see if any has actually gone in or not. Another method would be to use a small pipette.

Add a drop, stir it, TASTE IT! If you need another drop, go ahead, but please taste it first as you really don’t want it to end up overpowering and you will be amazed at how little you need. And remember all the other therapeutic benefits you get from essential oils too. It really is a win win.

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