Cooking with essential oils: a little dab will do

May 4, 2018 Providence Health Team

  • A little essential oil goes a long way.
  • Always dilute essential oils when cooking or ingesting.
  • Cooking with essential oils may be dangerous if used incorrectly.

Essential oils are natural oil compounds that have been extracted from a plant, root, seed, leaf or blossom. This fragrant compound is then mixed with a carrier (base or vegetable) oil to create a ready-to-use product. The use of essential oils has become a popular alternative method for treating conditions such as insomnia, anxiety, depression and muscle pain. But, did you know a drop or two of essential oil may also be used to add a burst of flavor to your favorite dish?

Is it safe to add essential oils in cooking?
Adding essential oils to food is a controversial topic because they are highly concentrated and powerful. For this reason, some believe consuming them may be unsafe. Before adding any essential oils to your food, it is a good idea to consult with a medical professional, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding. If used incorrectly (undiluted or improperly diluted) they can harm your gut flora, digestive tract lining, liver or kidneys. In fact, some of the most popular essential oils should not be consumed above certain dosages, so it’s important to get all of the facts before cooking with them.

If you love essential oils and want to try cooking with them, don’t dismay. There are safe ways to cook with and enjoy the health benefits of essential oils. Adding small amounts of safe essential oils to your recipes can really boost the flavor and positive health impact of many foods. Aromatherapists agree the key to cooking safely with essential oils is making sure they are properly diluted and thoroughly mixed into a dish that contains fat.  Now, before you start sprinkling your favorite essential oil into your next meal, there are a few things to consider.

It is very important to understand which essential oils are safe for cooking as well as how much to use.

5 best essential oils for cooking
There are some oils that should only be used for aromatic or topical use like birch, cedarwood, eucalyptus, white fir and wintergreen. However, there are essential oils that are safe (and delicious) for ingesting and cooking when used properly, including:

  • Lavender
    In addition to its relaxing side effects, lavender oil is delicious in dessert foods like ice cream.
  • Peppermint
    Well-known for its digestive benefits, peppermint oil also adds a refreshing twist to many desserts.
  • Cinnamon
    Cinnamon is an antioxidant, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory, but it can also add a warm and spicy layer to your favorite meal, coffee or hot chocolate. 
  • Thyme
    Perfect for savory dishes like bone broth, soups or stews, this essential oil may also help lower your risk of breast cancer, acne and candida.
  • Ginger
    Like peppermint, ginger is a terrific digestive aid that can be delicious on sushi.

3 tips for cooking with essential oils
Here are some tips for cooking with essential oils:

  • Make sure your oils are safe
    Not all essential oils can be ingested. Make sure your bottle is labeled for internal use.
  • Don't overdo it
    Less is more when it comes to essential oils. Anything more than a drop or a dipped toothpick in the oil may overwhelm your recipe and be unsafe.
  • Use glass or ceramic bowls
    Essential oils can draw toxins from plastic bowls and cling to metal; use glass or ceramic instead.   

What are the benefits of cooking with essential oils?
Here are some claimed benefits of cooking with essential oils:

  • Essential oils such as garlic, thyme, rosemary, oregano and basil are said to help control bacterial growth on food products.
  • Many essential oils, including lavender and lime, may help control fungal infections in food products.
  • The flavor and fragrance of essential oils like lavender, peppermint and lemon can help your body with digestion by aiding in the release of enzymes and hydrochloric acid, a naturally occurring gastric liquid found in the stomach.
  • Using essential oils in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, diet and exercise may help with weight loss. This is largely attributed to essential oils’ ability to boost and uplift the mood.

Whether you’re interested in using essential oils to punch up the flavor of your main dish or boost the health benefits of your meals, it’s important to do your research. Essential oils can be used safely in cooking, but it’s important to understand which oils are okay to use, which you should avoid and how much is considered safe. See the Food and Drug Administration’s GRAS list of essential oils approved as food additives generally recognized as safe. Even if an oil is on this list, it should be kept away from children and ingested only after consulting a health care professional for guidance on the proper dosage and protocol appropriate for your health.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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