When people ask me if they can use essential oils in cooking, my reply is – Why do you want to?
The response I get to that question is often a blank look! Most of those who ask haven’t really considered why they want to use essential oils in cooking. They just know that they had seen it “somewhere” and thought it might a good or a different or an exciting idea.
The real question, in my opinion is not “Can” you use essential oils in cooking, but “should” you. (And that doesn’t just apply to using essential oils. There are many things in life we “can” do. Whether we “should” do them is of course another thing altogether!)
But back to essential oils.
For myself, I rarely if ever use essential oils in my cooking. That surprises a lot of people! After all I’m an aromatherapist and I sell essential oils, so there are many people who assume I would be using essential oils in everything and in as many ways as I possibly could – everyday!
But I don’t. Generally it is because I know and respect essential oils, value them for their benefits and respect their limitations.
And when it comes to my food, I rarely if ever use essential oils and this is why -
- There are often other more tasty options than using essential oils in food.
For me, fresh basil torn over a tomato salad with some extra virgin olive oil will always beat basil essential oil added to the dressing.
- Using fresh herbs, fruits etc gives you health benefits as there are nutrients in these foods that are not in the essential oils such as vitamins, minerals and fibre.
- Essential oils are very concentrated. So unless you are making a huge batch of food, chances are a drop or 2 of essential oils, as little as that seems, will be just way too much. It is much easier to control the flavour with the actual herb etc. than it is when you use the essential oil.
- It’s often a waste. Adding essential oil to a sauce or a stew that is going to cook for some time, is wasteful. Essential oils are extremely volatile, so they will evaporate during the cooking process, leaving little flavour behind. The reason we often add dried herbs or spices early in the cooking process is to give them time to infuse into the dish. Fresh herbs are usually added towards the end to preserve their more delicate flavour and prevent the volatile molecules disappearing too fast.
- It can be dangerous. If you are adding essential oils to dishes without an oil or fat in it, there is nothing to dilute the essential oil. (Remember essential oils are not water soluble.) So they may cause irritation to the mouth or digestive tract. And as I already stated, essential oils are much much stronger than the actual plant material they are extracted from, so in the principle of “the dose makes the poison”, it is much easier to get the dose wrong with essential oils and this can potentially cause serious illness or damage.
So sprinkle ground cinnamon on your morning porridge, rub fresh rosemary into your roast lamb, or add a slice of fresh lemon to your glass of water. And save your essential oils or more appropriate use. You will get more nutritional benefits without the risk.