This is a post I’ve REALLY wanted to write for a while, but I’ve been too afraid…
Not because cooking with oils is scary, or even complicated, but rather because I know this can be controversial, and I didn’t feel like dealing with haters in the comments section. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but that’s the truth.
But I’ve decided to write this post anyway. Why? Because cooking with essential oils is something I really, truly do– not every day, but at least a couple times per month. Having a stash of essential oils has been extremely helpful for me, not only as a homesteader who loves to cook, but also as someone who lives way too far from the grocery store to run in if I’m out of something last-minute. So yeah. I decided I’m not going to keep it to myself any longer.
Cooking with essential oils isn’t complicated in the slightest, and with just a few considerations in mind, I think you’ll find essential oils to be valuable addition to your kitchen cupboards. But first, a few notes:
Reasons You Might Cook with Essential Oils
Why not just use herbs, you ask? Well, I still use herbs in cooking– lots and lots of them. And in many cases, I actually prefer herbs over oils, as I have an easier time controlling flavor when using dried herbs. However, there are a couple times when I’m extremely happy to have essential oils on hand:
- When I’m out of an herb — This happens more than I care to admit, and since we live around 40 minutes away from the closest grocery store, I can’t just run in to get something if I need it for a recipe. I frequently substitute essential oils for their herb counterparts if I’m out.
- If a recipe calls for a slightly rare ingredient — I almost never have fresh limes on hand, nor do I ever have cilantro hanging out in my fridge. (For the life of me, I can’t get cilantro to grow in my garden…) However, I can still make my favorite pico de gallo salsa by substituting in lime and cilantro essential oils.
- When I needed a concentrated pop of flavor — Essential oils are extremely concentrated. Sometimes a recipe really requires extra flavor, and for whatever reason, adding copious amounts of dried herbs won’t produce the same result.
Safety of Cooking with Essential Oils
First off, I want to make it extremely clear this post is about cooking with essential oils, not ingesting essential oils in therapeutic doses. There is a big difference. I have a whole other set of opinions on the topic of ingesting essential oils for therapeutic purposes, but we will not be diving into that today. (And any comments attempting to open up that can of worms will be deleted.)
Secondly, whether you know it or not, you’ve already been eating essential oils. Scandalous, I know.
Herbs and citrus peels/zest contain essential oils (obviously– because that’s where essential oils come from) and food companies have been using oils as flavoring for a long time anyway. So essential oils in food is nothing new.
The other part of this story is dilution. When you are cooking with essential oils, you will be using a very teeny amount, usually “diluted” in a large quantity of food. This alone negates many of the debated safety concerns associated with ingesting essential oils.
For these reasons, I am comfortable cooking with oils and showing others how to do the same.
My biggest safety suggestion is if you’re cooking with an essential oil, make sure it is on the Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) list. Why? Because there are certain essential oils that you should avoid ingesting, due to the constituents they contain. (Wintergreen is one of these– because of it’s primary constituent, methyl salicylate. It’s best to avoid ingesting it, especially in substantial doses.)
The brand of essential oils I use (d0TERRA) has the FDA Supplement Label printed on any oil that is on the GRAS list– that’s an easy way to know if it’s one you could feasibly cook with.
Please understand– just because an oil is on the GRAS list doesn’t mean you can chug a whole bottle of it without ill effects, nor does it mean the oil is “FDA-approved”. (There is no such thing as an FDA-approved essential oil.) It just means it is considered to be safe as a food additive.
Does Cooking Ruin Essential Oils?
I get this question a lot. My answer? No, yes, and I don’t know. How’s that? 🙂
We know that high temperatures can destroy some of the therapeutic benefits of essential oils, but even that is a bit fuzzy. However, even if some of the constituents of the oil are destroyed by heat, some will remain and will likely still give you the flavor you desire.
My suggestion? Use essential oils in cooking for flavor, and if you need oils for therapeutic reasons, use oils in a different format for that.
Because heat can decrease the flavor of an oil, I usually try to add oils to the recipe at the very end of cooking, if at all possible. However, I’ve made many a pan of brownies that still have a fantastic peppermint or orange flavor, even after 30 minutes of baking.
Yes, Quality Matters!
I know you can get essential oils in the bargain bin at Walmart these days, and I even saw some on the clearance shelf at TJ Maxx the other day.
And no, you couldn’t pay me to ingest those. Or actually use them at all. Why? Because a bottle of oil can say “100% pure” all day long, and that means nothing. I recently saw testing results from some of the “bargain bin” oils, and it was scary. Their “100% pure” peppermint wasn’t real peppermint, their “100% pure” lavender wasn’t real lavender.
There’s a lot of deception that happens in the essential oil industry, and you better be darn sure the oils you’re using are truly pure before you start adding them to your recipes. Otherwise, who knows what you’re ingesting…
As many of you know, I’ve used doTERRA oils exclusively for 4+ years. I’ve been to some of the fields where the oils are grown. I know the owners. I’ve seen the process. Each batch of oil is stringently tested (at least 7 different tests by third-party labs) and I’m confident in their commitment to purity. I TRUST this company, and for that reason, these are the only oils which I’ll use for cooking for otherwise.
How Much do I Use?
Eh, I wish there was an easy answer to this question, but I don’t have a tried-and-true formula for you because it really depends.
It depends on your recipe, your quantities, and the oil you are using.
However, my rule of thumb is this:
- If you’re making a large bowl, pan, pot, or dish of something, start with ONE drop and go from there.
- If you’re making a small serving or recipe, start with ONE toothpick* and go from there.
Start small, y’all. Always start small. Otherwise you’ll end up throwing a whole lotta food in the trash, because essential oils can easily overpower a recipe. Add one drop, taste, and then add more if you need to. I’ve found that usually one drop is plenty for a large mixing bowl of food, especially with the stronger oils like oregano or cilantro.
*Sometimes one full drop is too strong for a recipe, so I use a “toothpick”. Simply poke a clean toothpick into the bottle of essential oil, and the swirl the dipped toothpick into your recipe.
Jill’s Top Ten Essential Oils for Cooking
- Lemon (for adding to any recipe that calls for lemon zest)
- Lime (for adding to marinades, salsa, tortilla soups, and any recipe that calls for lime juice or lime zest)
- Wild Orange (add to recipe that calls for orange zest, or mix with chocolate concoctions. Chocolate orange ice cream or brownies are heavenly.)
- Ginger (to replace fresh ginger in some recipes. I made my homemade chai concentrate with ginger oil the other day and it was perfect)
- Cardamom (makes amazing chai-flavored vanilla ice cream, or add to brownies for a twist)
- Peppermint (amazing in brownies, or anything chocolate!)
- Thyme (if a recipe calls for thyme and I’m out of the herb, I’ve substituted in thyme essential oil many times)
- Cumin (amazing in soups, tacos, or chili)
- Dill (add to homemade dressings and dips)
- Black Pepper (add to marinades or meats)
Other Notable Mentions:
- Cinnamon Bark (just be careful with this one– it’s very strong)
Some of My Favorite Essential Oil Recipes:
Brine for Roasting a Turkey (add lemon and thyme oil)
Homemade Pico de Gallo Salsa (add cilantro and lime oil )
Homemade Chai Concentrate (add cardamom and/or ginger oil)
Homemade Caramel Corn (add cinnamon bark oil)
Crockpot Taco Meat (cumin oil)
Homemade Cranberry Sauce (wild orange oil)
- Peppermint Chocolates (peppermint oil)
- Chai Coconut Ice Cream (I add 1 drop cardamom oil to this)
- Roasted Butternut Squash Soup (cardamom and cinnamon oil)
- Cucumber Dill Hummus (dill oil)
- Mini Pumpkin Pies (ginger, clove, cinanmon)
- Roasted Marinara Sauce (basil and oregano)
Other Essential Oil Posts
- 30 Essential Oil Hacks for Homesteading
- Top 10 DIY Cleaners with Essential Oils
- 21 Gifts You Can Make with Essential Oils
Listen to the Old Fashioned On Purpose podcast episode #35 on this topic HERE.
I agree with this post too. Essential oils really help add flavor to food especially in a pinch, and they’re very cost effective. As you said, many essential oils have been generally recognized as safe to use, there’s no reason not to use them. I use peppermint and lemon essential oils all the time, but I’ll have to try out lime and especially cumin soon.
Orange in the Cranberry sauce, brilliant! I’ll be adding that to the Thanksgiving table for sure!
Jill Winger says
It’s SO GOOD!
Can I use dill oil in the dill pickle jar instead of dill weed?
Crazy silkie person says
Jill, you inspire me so much. I love how when something doesn’t work out, you keep finding a solution. My friend showed this website to me almost two years ago, and now I am hooked. I will definatly be trying your essential oil cooking tips. Thank you so so much.
I only buy food grade or pharmaceutical grade EOs because of their powerful ability to heal when ingested. When I first smelled oregano oil (used to heal a friend’s sepsis in 10 days), my first thought was “That is soooo going in my next Sbatch of pizza sauce!”
I have been making a faux Gran Marnier for several years now. I have to zest 20-24 bitter oranges (lots of work) then soak them in cognac for a month (lots of time). But it’s really good. Well, I ran out, but still had cognac waiting for me to zest more oranges, etc. I pour a small glass about 2/3s full and added about 4 drops of food grade Orange EO (stir stir stir) and then topped it off with about another 25% of the volume of simple syrup (stir stir stir) and I ended up with a pretty good orange liqueur that I could sip on over the evening. And I made it in about 3 minutes. Realistically, soaking orange zest for a month is to extract the orange EO, right? It would have been better with the exact type of orange, but it was decent anyway. so Cheers!
Hi Jill, I know this is not essential oils but please consider updating your till free mulching article to include your experience with hay that is doused with pesticide. No where in the article do you state any warning, clearly and adamantly enough (imo) to alert people to the horror that you experienced using pesticide sprayed hay and the consequences you experienced. It is such a well written and informative article. Your article comes up at the top of the list when searching for organic mulching, no till method. Please put a warning in plain, clear terms and not just a link in the text? . Hay that is 2nd or 3rd cut can be used if sprayed in early spring only. 2-4-d will be barely traceable in 30 days. Most hay farmers will spray with a mixture of 2-4-d and a liquid nitrogen in the early spring alone. People need to know this before going with the mulch method you prescribe. Thank you for your consideration. Danni
And I was just beginning to get into your blog and podcast. Rats.
Thank you for this article. I’ve read about using oils in cooking, but I wasn’t sure the amount to use and so I have not tried it yet.
Also, I never thought to use oils in the recipes you mentioned. Thank you for the ideas! I can’t wait to go home and try the salsa!
Awesome! I never actually thought of doing this before!!! I have some lemongrass oil that I am thinking would be nice in a spot of iced tea in the summer! Thank you for sharing this!
I love to cook with EOs too! One of my favorites is Lime oil in our guacamole. Yum. Oh and Peppermint & Spearmint in homemade mint choc chip ice cream. And Wild Orange in smoothies. And… 😉
Jane Savage says
Are the human grade i get from the bulk apothecary good? They are bottled differently than the ones my daughter buys. Hers are much more expensive but I think they are more concentrated.
Jill Winger says
I don’t know anything about that brand, sorry. DoTERRA is the company I use and trust. 🙂
Thanks for the tip to use oils in place of lemon or lime zest! Many times I have passed over a recipe because I did not have the zest, or then just used juice which isn’t as flavorful, while all that time I had essential oils in my cabinet!
Jill Winger says
Yes– it’s so handy!
Amazing, love your way to cook, from scratch, and your food photography is just awesome.
Jill Winger says
Have you every tried using an essential oil in a cheesecake. I was thinking lemon, but I didn’t know how well it would work with the cream cheese. Love the idea of using the wild orange in a cranberry sauce. I use doTERRA also.
Melissa Eickhoff says
At one point, I tried making my own essential oil, I cannot remember which one, but decided after that moment, that it wasn’t worth making. Are there any that you would make, or would you also prefer buying them?
I’ve used lemon EO before in a baked fish dish along with butter and garlic. I could taste the lemon like it would’ve been from a lemon, no difference.