A topic of hot debate both in and out of essential oil circles is the controversy over ingestion of essential oils. Everyone has an opinion as to whether or not it's safe. But is it really?
The simple answer is yes, you can eat CERTAIN essential oils. In fact, you probably already have. When we consider what essential oils are—volatile aromatic compounds extracted from plants—we begin to understand that when we eat certain plants, we have already ingested its essential oils. Certain essential oils have a rich culinary history and can be used as dietary supplements supporting a variety of healthy conditions. When you sprinkle cinnamon on your oatmeal, sip a mug of peppermint tea, or add fresh basil leaves to your spaghetti, you are actually consuming some volatile aromatic essential oil compounds. Would you think twice about some fresh coriander in your salsa or basil on your pizza? Probably not. In fact, the food and beverage industry has been using essential oils to flavor and preserve foods for years, so you've probably already ingested them in a wide range of products. I would rather ingest these natural pure therapeutic compounds than any synthetic flavorings often put in our foods and drinks.
What the buzz is happening with essential oils?
It seems that we are seeing a rise of interest in essential oils as of late. It is an ancient craft, so what could be the reason for this sudden rise in interest? From my personal experience, I feel people are exhausted from side effects and environmental toxic overload. Plants were the original medicine, dating back thousands of years, and pharmaceutical synthetic medications are a recent development. Plants work on a holistic level, are effective, and essential oils cost cents per drop in comparison with the ever rising costs of Western prescribed medications. I also think more and more people want to feel empowered by taking their health into their own hands and not feeling dependent upon increasingly rushed doctors. The health care system around the world is not serving the needs of most people. In addition, as an ancient craft, more and more people are returning to the ways of their elders as a way to have real connection to what they use in and on their bodies, whether it be in the form of farm-to-table eating, learning to knit & sew, or making bread from scratch. I think it comes down to a strong desire to feel empowered and connected as well as more self-reliant.
Are all essential oils safe to cook with?
Essential oils are potent, effective and fast-acting plant medicine. People need to do their research & work with someone who is knowledgeable because many of the oils are very strong, yet I know them to be safe if used correctly. Not all essential oils are created equally! Most essential oils that are inexpensive and readily found in supermarkets are not organic, or, if they are, they have fillers in them which is why they are at the price point that they are. Many are not steam distilled or pressed produced. Many oils are expelled using hexane, a chemical which is toxic. I look for the CPTG essential oils because they are the only oils which are regulated and independently tested for purity. CPTG, again, stands for Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade. Oils which have a Supplemental Facts area on the bottles are safe to ingest. Many of the blends do not have this on the label and are not safe to take internally.
How do you cook with essential oils?
Best practices to keep in mind are that essential oils are very strong—one or two drops are all you need and due to their chemical compounds, it is best to use the oils toward the end of the cooking process as heat does change the therapeutic qualities. For the basics of cooking with essential oils, remember to:
Reduce. Remember that the essential oil is a concentrated portion of its original source. Just like cinnamon sticks take up more space than cinnamon powder, the essential oil should be used in much smaller quantities than the whole substance.
We don't quite have an actual proper rule for substituting essential oils for whole herbs and spices, but a good rule to follow is that a drop will replace a teaspoon and that you don't need more than one or two drops for a full recipe.
Dilute. Another thing to remember when cooking with essential oils is that they should still be diluted into a lipid first. This not only keeps us safe, but it helps to ensure the oil (and flavor) gets dispersed throughout the whole dish.
For savory recipes, dilute into a bit of olive or coconut oil. Stir, then add to the recipe.
For sweet recipes, agave or maple syrup works well, however, this is better done with non-liquid dishes as neither are sufficient to keep the essential oil safely dispersed in water, tea, etc.
Delay. Finally, for hot recipes, wait until the end of the process before adding the essential oil. These are called “volatile oils” for a reason – they are relatively fragile and will dissipate quickly in high heat!
For hot cooker recipes, after the cooking is finished, stir your diluted essential oil into the dish. For baking, you'll simply expect to lose a bit of the properties in the process. Dilution throughout the recipe will help, and you'll still be able to enjoy the flavors of cooking with essential oils, no matter what!
Cooking with essential oils and the benefits of doing so
I love cooking with essential oils as I get absolute purity of flavor in such a concentrated form! It cuts way down on waste because I only need to use a drop or two of oil, and can have the bottle of essential oil for months! Often people only need a squeeze of lemon or orange and then are left with rind, pulp, etc. For a home cook, often this can be incorporated into something else, though for many people, it winds up in the compost bin, which is a huge waste. With the oils, especially if an ingredient isn’t in season, the cost and waste factor are greatly reduced. My family and I enjoy using essential oils in our food for a number of reasons:
They make eating more enjoyable. Essential oils create an invigorating eating experience with their powerful, uplifting aromas.
They restore flavor. Because modern farming practices have depleted nutrient levels in soil, and because so much produce now travels thousands of kilometers between the time it’s picked and when you buy it at the supermarket, many fresh foods don’t taste the way they used to. Those of you who are old enough to remember what fruits and veggies once tasted like understand the difference. Cooking with essential oils brings back that flavor bust!
They’re more economical. What’s cheaper, purchasing a €3 organic lemon to zest for your icing or using a couple drops of lemon oil? One drop of essential oil is the flavor equivalent of about one teaspoon of your average dried herb. Essential oils also have a shelf life that is two to three times longer than dried herbs.
They’re easier than herbs. It’s much less time consuming to simply open a bottle and pour in one to two drops of an essential oil than to wash and chop fresh herbs - and there’s no knife or chopping board to wash either.
They enhance food safety. In addition to flavor, doTERRA essential oils are regularly tested by researchers for their potential to improve food safety. Antimicrobial oils, the theory goes, might be able to minimize foodborne illness or food poisoning if manufacturers added them to packaging.
Now that you have these quick tips for how to cook with essential oils, you’re ready to get in the kitchen and start having fun! Need some ideas to get started? Get your free copy of these eBooks, doTERRA - Cooking with Essential Oils or Top 10 Culinary Essential Oils. So don't be afraid - jump in with abandon. A whole new gustatory experience awaits you.