The use of essential oils, which are derived from plants and are inhaled or combined with lotion or massage oil, in aromatherapy, an alternative medical technique, is well known. However, there has been an increase in interest in other applications for these oils, such as cooking.
Many blogs and social media influencers have claimed that adding essential oils may improve the flavor and nutrition of dishes. Some essential oils are even promoted as edible.
“Essential oils are concentrated sources of flavors and aromas, so you don’t have to chop a bunch of herbs or peel a bunch of lemon zest to get the flavor you’re looking for in a particular recipe,” explains Sharon Palmer, RDN, an Ojai, California-based vegan registered dietitian nutritionist.
However, adding a few drops of essential oils to your food without thinking it through might be a mistake. According to the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing at the University of Minnesota, essential oils can be collected from the roots, stems, leaves, flowers, or fruits of plants, but just because something is natural doesn’t imply it’s safe. “A lot of plant material is required to produce a small amount of oil. According to David S. Kiefer, MD, clinical assistant professor and director of the Integrative Health Consult Clinic at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health in Madison, “essential oils are very concentrated as a result, and they have a strong impact on humans.
Furthermore, nothing in their name suggests they should be a staple of your diet. According to Operation Supplement Safety (OPSS), the Department of Defense’s nutritional supplement program, it really refers to the substances that have an impact on a plant’s aroma, or “essence,” instead.
So, should you use essential oils for cooking or just inhale them? Find out by reading on.
Can You Eat Essential Oils?
Direct ingestion of essential oils is often frowned upon. Essential oils attach to your tissues and harm the mouth and esophagus if you consume them directly from the bottle or if you mix them with something like water, warns Megan Voss, DNP, RN, the director of education and an associate professor at the Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing. According to the International Federation of Aromatherapists, essential oils in particular can irritate or burn these tissues.
The use of essential oils in combination with other substances, however, may have benefits. Essential oils will be more equally disseminated and diluted if you combine them with a fatty substance like olive oil or milk, so they won’t be as harmful to the tissues when consumed, according to Voss. With a few restrictions, using essential oils in cooking may be safe in this way. (More to follow on this.)
Be aware that some producers advertise their goods as essential oils suitable for use in food. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate this phrase, which is only used in marketing. The OPSS warns against interpreting this to imply that essential oil is safe to consume.
Which Essential Oils Are Typically Accepted as Safe for Cooking?
“You can use essential oils for culinary purposes safely, but some essential oils are better choices than others,” asserts Amanda Lattin, an aromatherapist who is registered with the Aromatherapy Registration Council and the dean of aromatherapy at the American College of Healthcare Sciences in Portland, Oregon.
The FDA’s list of essential oils that are generally acknowledged as safe (GRAS) is your best bet. According to the FDA, there is evidence that these compounds are safe when used as food additives. The Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing reminds people that, unless they are promoted for therapeutic uses, essential oils themselves are not subject to FDA regulation. There is thus no assurance that the essential oil you are consuming has the components or provides the advantages listed by the producer.
The Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing advises looking for a product that provides the following details when looking for essential oils to use in cooking:
Latin names for the plants that were used to make the essential oil
The nation’s name where the plants were raised
A claim regarding purity (100 percent pure essential oil, changed, or combined with another substance)
Following that, Lattin advises sticking with the essential oils of the herbs, fruits, and spices you may typically use in cooking. Here are some excellent choices and their possible health advantages (although you might not be able to achieve these advantages in the proportions used in cooking):
Citrus limon (lemon) Fish, chicken, baked products, pasta, and sauces all benefit from the light, refreshing flavor of lemon oil. Lemon essential oil’s zesty, invigorating aroma may help you feel better and induce relaxation. A 30-minute inhalation of lemon essential oil after orthopedic surgery was found to reduce anxiety in 82 participants. Additionally, lemon oil works well as an antifungal: Lemon essential oil has been shown to be useful in treating yeast infections, thrush, and athlete’s foot, according to a review published in Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Rosmarinus Officinalis L. or rosemary Rosemary is a herb that is frequently added to give soups, stews, and casseroles a woodsy taste. According to research, rosemary essential oil may also promote concentration and attention. In a short research, prolonged inhalation of rosemary essential oil was linked to improved performance on tests of serial subtraction and visual processing. Another investigation including 53 secondary school students discovered that when rosemary essential oil was sprayed over the testing space, the subjects were better able to recall both pictures and numbers.
(Mentha Piperita L.) peppermint Adding peppermint oil may give baked products and cold desserts like ice cream a reviving, minty taste. According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, it’s also frequently used to relieve headaches, cure coughs and colds, enhance alertness, and calm muscular pains.
Lavandula Officinalis Chaix, or lavender According to Lattin, lavender essential oil gives ice cream and baked items a pleasant soft flowery character. A popular choice for relaxation, it also has relaxing properties. In fact, a review and meta-analysis of 90 research, published in 2019, found that eating or inhaling lavender oil considerably reduced anxiety.
What Could Go Wrong If I Consume Essential Oils?
According to the National Capital Poison Center, directly ingesting essential oils can result in seizures, hallucinations, and coma in addition to stinging and burning the oral and esophageal tissues. Some could even be toxic. According to a 2019 article in The Medical Journal of Australia, “increasing frequency and severity of essential oil poisonings have been reported in Europe and the United States.” Essential oil toxicity via ingestion is on the rise.
Drug interactions can also occur while using essential oils. According to Voss, “Some essential oils use the same receptor sites that medications use, which can decrease the effectiveness of our medications.” She continues, “They can also increase the quantity of medicine that is circulating in our body and cause toxicity.
Anise essential oil, for instance, has been shown in studies on mice to improve the effects of medications that affect the central nervous system, such as the opioid painkiller codeine and the antidepressant fluoxetine.
The National Capital Poison Center cautions that children may be particularly susceptible to negative consequences from ingesting essential oils due to their smaller bodies and underdeveloped digestive systems.
Use these essential oils sparingly
Even at very small doses, the use of several essential oils has been associated with negative consequences. You should never consume any of the following essential oils:
Spruce Oil Research has demonstrated that sage oil has antibacterial effects and a lovely earthy fragrance. However, the National Capital Poison Center reports that sage oil has also been linked to seizures in young children.
Oil of Wintergreen Trace quantities of oil of wintergreen is used to flavor food, but ingesting more than a very small amount can be harmful or even fatal. The National Capital Poison Center claims that using wintergreen oil is similar to taking several adult aspirins. Children are particularly at risk from this.
A wise piece of advice is to stay away from any essential oils that the FDA hasn’t deemed to be generally safe. Check the list if you are unsure.
How Are Essential Oils Used in Cooking?
Here are some recommendations to follow to make sure you’re cooking safely if you’re still interested in experimenting with essential oils.
Apply a gentle touch. You might be surprised to hear that only one or two drops of essential oil are required to provide a potent flavor and scent, according to Lattin. She points out that adding just one drop of basil essential oil to a big pot of marinara sauce, for instance, can give it a powerful taste. It’s also difficult to remove an essential oil after you’ve used it, so Lattin advises starting with the lowest quantity and tasting the dish first before adding more.
Dilute. Before adding the essential oil to the recipe, combine it with a fat source such as olive oil, honey, or chicken stock. According to Lattin, dilution of essential oils in a fatty substance can facilitate their equal distribution, which may aid in preventing irritation of the mouth, throat, and intestines’ soft tissues.
Keep to GRAS. Only utilizing essential oils that are on the FDA’s GRAS list is what Lattin advises. By doing this, you may be sure that the essential oil you’re adding has previously been accepted as safe for use in cooking. Remember that the FDA does not regulate essential oils, therefore it is crucial to conduct your own research before using any products.
Look up recipes. Find a recipe that uses the essential oil you’re interested in testing from a reliable source, such as the American College of Healthcare Sciences, before doing your own essential oil experiments. Lattin says, “Experimentation can be enjoyable, but if it doesn’t turn out to be edible, you could waste food or essential oil.” You may start creating your own recipes after you have a general understanding of the taste characteristic each essential oil produces and how much to use, she continues.
Summary While usually used for inhalation or topically in massage oils, essential oils may also be utilized to enhance flavor and scent in food. To do it safely, use only essential oils that have been approved by the FDA as generally recognized as safe for culinary use, follow a recipe from a reliable source, and use no more than one or two drops at a time. Never consume essential oils in their pure state; doing so has been linked to a variety of health problems.